Question: At the local nursing home, a religious sister conducts a Communion service. During Communion, the non-Catholics are also brought forward and she traces the cross on their forehead and gives a blessing. Is this allowed?
— Pat Reagan, Davenport, Iowa
Answer: The conferral of a blessing, even with the sign of the cross, is not forbidden to the non-ordained in all circumstances. For example, parents should be encouraged to bless their children, even trace the cross on their forehead. In some settings and cultures, elders often bless youngsters. Laypeople even bless themselves whenever they make the sign of the cross.
However, in the liturgical setting, some parameters should be observed. The moment of the distribution of holy Communion at a Mass or Communion service is not the time for people to seek other sorts of blessings. In a Mass, the priest will surely give the general blessing at the end of the liturgy with the sign of the cross over the congregation. Hence, all those present will receive a blessing.
There are, however, pastoral concerns of how best to deal with a practice that has become widespread and is not done in bad faith. Frankly, most pastors overlook the practice and when requested confer blessings in the Communion line. Even if they do dissuade their parishioners from the practice, many visitors still often come forward requesting blessings. Thus, the matter may better be resolved at the diocesan or national level.
While the situation you describe is wrong, sister is probably trying to make the best of a difficult situation wherein people expect such blessings, even if they are not Catholic. Finding a teachable moment to gently instruct the faithful is not always easy.
Nevertheless, the goal to move toward is to teach that the distribution of holy Communion is not really the time to seek other blessings.
Question: No priest or deacon could be at the burial of my husband at a national military cemetery, though he did have a Catholic funeral Mass. Should the grave be blessed?
— Rose Belt, Kingsville, Texas
Answer: The priest or deacon at the burial should bless the gravesite. If for some reason this did not happen, it can be done at a later time. Hence, it may be good for you to ask a priest or deacon to come and pray the prayer of blessing with holy water.
This is especially the case in non-Catholic cemeteries. In Catholic cemeteries, the bishop has already generally consecrated the ground. But in non-Catholic settings, this is not the case.
Be assured that the fact the grave was not blessed in no way affects your husband’s status with God. But it is our custom that burial sites should be blessed.
A related pastoral problem is that many cemeteries, especially national cemeteries, make it increasingly difficult for us to fulfill this custom. For it is often the case that people are not able to go to the actual gravesite, but are moved off to a separate chapel or pagoda nearby.
This makes it difficult for the clergy to know where the gravesite is. Perhaps the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops can most effectively address this problem since it is a national trend.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.