25 April 2012

Blessings at Communion

Father Cory Sticha, who was a year or so behind me in the seminary, had a thoughtful post two week's ago (I'm slowly working at catching up on my blog reading) about why he refuses to bless children [and, presumably, adults] at Communion.

I'm very sympathetic to his position and he raises several interesting points to support his argument, the first of which is the clear teaching of the Second Vatican Council: "Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22).

He wisely notes, "people don’t like to hear that. They think it makes the kids feel “special” that they receive this blessing. (As an aside, I think the parents and grandparents get the warm-fuzzies more than the kids do.)"  From my own experience watching children and their parents at Communion when a blessing is given, he's quite right about that aside.  I would add that helping someone "feel special" is not the same as helping them know they are loved, both by people and by God.

Father Sticha thinks "this 'feel good' approach is sending the wrong message about the liturgy."
I’ve also become concerned that this has dangerously damaged their relationship with God, and they are blissfully unaware that any damage has been done. Instead of liturgy being the community focusing their minds and hearts on worship of God, it has become a social activity, focusing on ourselves. Now, we don’t come to liturgy to turn to God, but to ourselves.
Here again, I think he is spot on.  Be sure to read his entire post.

Another aspect worth considering is the customary - at least in the U.S.A. - of the "pew-by-pew" line-up to receive Holy Communion.  Yes, it's orderly, but it also leads to some feeling as though they have to leave their pew and go with the flow, as it were.

We must remember the obligation to attend Holy Mass on Sundays and holydays is not the same as receiving Holy Communion.  If those who should not be receiving Holy Communion - because of unconfessed mortal sin, not keeping the Eucharistic fast of one hour, not spiritually having prepared to receive Holy Communion, etc. - would not receive Holy Communion, there would be people remaining in the pews.

Now, there, everybody - or nearly so - comes up either for Holy Communion or a blessing.  I've even been at school Masses where Muslim students attending a Catholic School come forward to receive a blessing, which makes no sense at all.

We should not forget that at the conclusion of Mass - presuming, of course, we don't leave right after receiving Holy Communion - that everyone receives the priestly blessing.  Hence, receiving the priestly blessing at the time for the reception of Holy Communion is somewhat redundant.

Now, I know that many people will disagree with me and with Father Sticha about this and they are free to do so.  However, if comments are left, which I welcome, please do not accuse either of us of disliking children or of ignoring Jesus' call to "let the children come to me."  Neither of us - or others who agree with us - are saying children should not come to Mass, only that they should be brought forward to receive a blessing at the time of Holy Communion.  Neither should adults.  Nor are we saying children should simply be left in the pews on their own; that would be ridiculous.

A discussion can certainly be held about this issue, but it must remain charitable.


  1. CarpeNoctem9:24 AM

    As for me, the jury is still out. I like what Fr. Sticha has to say, and I think deep down he's probably right.

    On the other hand, I was watching Midnight Mass from St. Peter's a couple of years ago, and what happened when a little one too young for Holy Communion approached the pope with his dad? The pope gave him a blessing.

    Now the pope always has plenary authority to do whatever he wants in whatever situation he might be in which would be understood to be particular to his ministry as pope. He could reserve such an action as blessing children at Communion to himself. That being said, he also leads by example... how many bishops, for instance, now bless folks with the Book of the Gospels--a JP2 innovation, if I am not mistaken?

    When I saw the pope blessing children at Communion time, I realized that it would be a losing battle in the parish, and so I (and I alone... EOMHCs are instructed against it, and on my part I do so without touching (as in a laying on of hands), etc) will say a short formula from the book of blessings over children who expect it. Oh, and I will also bless the children of those who are obviously pregnant as well.

    Is it right? I don't know. It would be nice to have directives from someone can speak with some authority on the topic.

    1. I, too, have seen the Holy Father offer such blessings, and so I do the same, although reluctantly.

      I say no words, but simply make the sign of the cross over the one who asks a blessing.

    2. Dear Fr. Please be mindful of the fact that most people in the pew are not educated to privileges held only by the Holy Father. It is always better to inFORM, than it is to reFORM. There is a difference between stupidity and ignorance. Not that I even suggest you are calling any one stupid. You did not. I will only say that, those with the knowledge should share it with those of us who don't. Also, I believe that for a priest to refuse to bless a child, no matter the occasion or the faith of that child, goes against reason. The Gospels time and again speak of the Lords heart towards the most innocent. For it is as these, you must be, to enter into the kingdom. Let the children come to me. Etc. Reluctance is understood. Rejection is unacceptable.

    3. Anonymous7:13 PM

      I'm 100% with Fr. Sticha on this one.
      The practice of having the priest and extraordinary ministers of Communion bless children in the receiving line has always made me feel "odd" but I could never put my finger on why. I thought it was just me being legalistic again.
      But Fr. Sticha clarified my feelings in his post when he writes about "entitlement." That's it! That's the odd feeling - I don't like the blessing of children in the communion line because it gives
      the impression of entitlement.
      I agree with you Fr. Daren that little children should not be left in the pew alone, but that does not mean they should "get" something in the communion line. Just as it does not mean that the non-Catholic should "get" something so as not to feel left out. Nor should the person in grave sin
      "get" something so they don't feel embarrassed.
      I have seen assorted ages of persons in the communion line with their hands crossed against their chest designating that they will not receive
      for whatever reason. Yes, it it a sort of "fuzzy, feel-good" practice but I don't think it belongs at communion.
      What could any person possibly "get" in the communion line that vaguely comes within a thousanth of a thousanth of an inch to receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. And doesn't the priest become distracted from that fact too when he has to bless someone instead of giving them the Body of Christ.
      That's it . . . that's the odd feeling I felt.
      The practice of blessing children or others during communion is simply out of place.

    4. GARY: That's why I have this blog ;)

      BCB: A most excellent question!

  2. ssnider10:34 AM

    On the plus side, as an RCIA Catechist I have counseled candidates and catechumens to come forward for a blessing and have received the near universal feedback that it has heightened their desire for the Eucharist.

    1. That's true, but it doesn't really move the argument in either direction. And for every person you show who is so moved, I can easily show 2 or 3 others who are not.

  3. I see your point, Father, about a blessing at Communion time being redundant with the dismissal blessing. However, isn't the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel at the end of Mass--which of course is used in the Diocese of Springfield--redundant with the Our Father's closing lines earlier in the Mass: "Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil." When the prayer to St. Michael was added to the end of the Mass last year, it struck me not as a bad thing in and of itself -- but redundant, yes, with the Our Father. Isn't it? But there could be something I'm missing here.

    1. Not exactly, no. First, the Lord's Prayer was not added "to the end of Mass," but was authorized to be prayed after the conclusion of Mass; the Mass concludes with the final response, "Thanks be to God."

  4. Fr. Daren. Now if I can only get all 6+billion Catholics in the world to read your blog. Peace.

  5. Anonymous9:29 PM

    For those who are wondering why it wouldn't be right for a priest to routinely bless children and others not receiving Communion when the Pope does it, I can think of one possible reason:

    Most lay people who approach the Pope in a communion line will do so only once in their lifetime. The Holy Father, I am sure, is aware of this -- that most of the lay people he sees coming up in the Communion line will never be this close to him again -- and so he will not deny anyone who approaches him (particularly children too young to receive Communion) a blessing.

    A parish Mass which one attends every week and at which the pastor or another familiar priest is always present is another story, and in that situation, care must be taken not to set up an "entitlement".


  6. Susan9:21 AM

    My grandson attends one of the Catholic grade schools in Springfield. At their weekly Mass, all the children go up at Communion to receive a blessing or the Eucharist, depending on their age. The practice also continues at the Sunday Mass. When we go to a different church, my grandson asks if he can go up to receive a blessing, if it is not practiced at that church, he is very disappointed. As a first grader, I don't think he sees it as anything but a blessing, it's not that he "expects" to receive something. It also makes him more excited about receiving his first Holy Communion next year.

  7. Our church use to give blessings to children until recently when we got a new Priest. Now the kids are turned away. Whether it is the correct way to do things or not it seems a bit ungodly to turn away children. Do you think Jesus would turn away a child that approached him? I don't think my child is entitled to anything but what are we teaching them by turning them away? And talking about that we don't want them to feel special??? Are we not all special to be chosen to be Cathoilc and participate in the Sacraments? Isn't Communion a gift, Confession a gift because we are Cathoilc and choose to follow the rules? I think it helps the children to understand what a Blessing it is to receive Communion. It helps them anticipate receiving Communion one day. And if you have Foster children like I often do, receiving a blessing may bring them back to the Catholic Church later in life. Foster children could certainly use this blessing for their life....especially if they feel like no one else can bless them, they know God can.