St Simon's Parish Blog

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For nine years up till July 2010, I was parish priest at St Simon Stock Catholic Church, South Ashford, Kent, England. From July 2010 until June 2011 I was Associate Pastor at St Peter's Cathedral, Marquette, Michigan USA and then Pastor at St Anthony Parish, Gwinn, MI until October 2013. I then transferred to the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon to serve as Director of the Tribunal. And that's what I am currently doing. Since February 2015 I have also been serving as Pastor at St Stephen Parish, South East Portland. I miss "da UP" (Upper Peninsula of Michigan) but love being here in the Pacific North West.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Blessings at Holy Communion

Whilst going along with the custom of giving blessings to those who approach the altar rail but who are unable to receive Holy Commuion, I have always considered it somewhat anomalous. At the time of Holy Communion, there is an unavoidable distinction made between those who can receive and those who can't. In the past, the latter would stay in their places. Now they come for a blessing. However, there are some who, seeing everyone go up, simply follow and receive Holy Communion even when they shouldn't.

It seems someone has sought clarification as you will see at I reproduce the contents of this clarification here. At present, I will not introduce any change in the parish but perhaps this might be the beginning of a re-evaluation of this practice, endorsed as it is by the Bishops of England & Wales, Scotland and Ireland in their teaching document One Bread One Body no. 43:
Even though some may not receive sacramental communion, all are united in some way by the Holy Spirit. The traditional idea of spiritual communion is an important one to remember and reaffirm. The invitation often given at Mass to those who may not receive sacramental communion - for example, children before their First Communion and adults who are not Catholics - to receive a 'blessing' at the moment of Communion emphasises that a deep spiritual communion is possible even when we do not share together the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ.

With all due respect to our Bishops, I feel this interpretation of Spiritual Communion is flawed. To benefit from Spiritual Communion one needs to have all the dispositions necessary for actual Sacramental Communion. Whilst approaching the altar for a blessing might be the expression of a desire for Sacramental Communion, it cannot bring about a spiritual Communion with the Body and Blood of the Lord and with those members of the Church who can fully participate in the Eucharist in this manner.

According to a letter dated 22nd November 2008 from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments the matter is under review. And that's how I shall leave it for the present. For the present, the Congregation makes the following observations, as posted at
1. The liturgical blessing of the Holy Mass is properly given to each and to all at the conclusion of the Mass, just a few moments subsequent to the distribution of Holy Communion.

2. Lay people, within the context of Holy Mass, are unable to confer blessings. These blessings, rather, are the competence of the priest (cf. Ecclesia de Mysterio, Notitiae 34 (15 Aug. 1997), art. 6, § 2; Canon 1169, § 2; and Roman Ritual De Benedictionibus (1985), n. 18).

3. Furthermore, the laying on of a hand or hands — which has its own sacramental significance, inappropriate here — by those distributing Holy Communion, in substitution for its reception, is to be explicitly discouraged.

4. The Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio n. 84, “forbids any pastor, for whatever reason to pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry”. To be feared is that any form of blessing in substitution for communion would give the impression that the divorced and remarried have been returned, in some sense, to the status of Catholics in good standing.

5. In a similar way, for others who are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in accord with the norm of law, the Church’s discipline has already made clear that they should not approach Holy Communion nor receive a blessing. This would include non-Catholics and those envisaged in can. 915 (i.e., those under the penalty of excommunication or interdict, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin).

As adoremus comments:
The Congregation’s clarification that extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion(always laity), cannot give sacramental blessings within Mass is very helpful; and could be especially useful to pastors in parishes where inappropriate blessings during Communion have become common.

Although the CDW letter did not mention young children, we often see little children who have not yet received first Holy Communion accompanying their parents in the Communion line, with their arms crossed over their chests — both as a signal to the minister that they are not receiving Communion, and as an expression of the child’s reverence for the Blessed Sacrament.

This reverent gesture of a young child is laudable and appropriate. But sometimes a minister (or extraordinary minister) interprets the child’s gesture as an implicit request for a special blessing as a sort of “substitute” for Communion. While the intention of blessing the child may be good, it should be made clear to all that the priest’s blessing at the conclusion of Mass includes everyone, and that there should not be separate blessings for any person during the Communion rite.

Let's see where this ends up.



Blogger gemoftheocean said...

FWIW, our Ordinary in San Diego has forbidden the practise, largely on the same grounds that were mentioned. This was forbidden in the last 18 months or so, give or take. I've been trying to find a copy of the reasons given for the ban, but as I recall they are largely the same objections you cited. [If it's possible our diocesan website is more poorly designed than the Vatican's website, ours is.]

I saw this post and have asked a retired priest I know if he's kept a copy of the bishop's statement. He was rather relieved at the time it came out. If he sends me a copy, I will put up a link to the letter.

As an EM myself, I must say that:

1) I find it pulls my focus from concentrating on assisting with giving Communion - for one thing, as you cite, it's not really appropriate for a lay person and even if I could I don't want to extend my "Communion hand" over someone for a blessing.

I think conscientious EMs, Deacons, Priets etc. try and keep the thumb and forefinger together for one thing. Given the amount of little bits and pieces of the Sacred Host than can gather on one's fingers this is a problem. I try and be as careful with the Sacred Species as possible. I was having to stop and say: "Father will bless you after Mass." And father didn't like to do them because it also pulled his focus too, with the same attendent problem of dealing with Particles of the Host.

The final blessing during Mass is the time for this - but if people didn't mind waiting until after Mass for a separate blessing, he was happy to give it.

It's a very awkward practise at best. The problem one runs into are not so much the older people, but the little ones between say 2.5 to before Communion age. They've been incorrectly trained in the practise, and would then have to be untrained. Which is hard to do, if they get their feelings hurt and don't understand why.

If you tell the parent: "Father will bless your child after Mass" the kid still tends to stand there until the parent bodily hauls them away. Not fun for sometimes STILL Father gives the blessing so as not to hold up the line.

We also have a lot of tourists, whose Ordinaries blissfully let the practise go on. One thing to give instruction to one's own parish, they'll eventually catch on to the reasoning why, and can be instructed accordingly. But then you have the rest of the world coming's a never ending battle between trying to balance sensibilites.

I'm happy for the directive, but unhappy that the practise still continues to an extent.

6:09 am  
Blogger Father John Boyle said...

If "Gabriel" would care to contact me please do so by email: as I'd prefer to respond to your comment privately.

2:42 pm  
Blogger Jeff Pinyan (japhy) said...

Fr. John, I am Jeff Pinyan, the author of the inquiry to the CDWDS (and the recipient of their response). Thank you for publishing their response on your blog.

Have a blessed Paschaltide!

5:06 pm  

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