Blessing sick child

Question: You referred in a previous column to the Church’s official Book of Blessings, which provides a rite called Order for Blessing a Child Not Yet Baptized. Where can we obtain this prayer? It would be wonderful to say a bedside prayer when a child is ill but not dying. 

— Mary Fry, Sandy, Utah

Answer: The Book of Blessings is a fairly hefty tome, but you could ask your parish secretary to loan you a copy to study and make notes. (You can, of course, always buy it from a Catholic bookstore.) There are two rites given for children: an Order for the Blessing of a Baptized Children and an Order for the Blessing of a Child Not Yet Baptized. 

More useful for the circumstances you mention — a child who is sick but not dying — is the rite found in the smaller and more accessible book titled “Pastoral Care of the Sick” under the heading Visits to a Sick Child. The introduction states: “The ... readings, prayers and blessings will help the minister [who may be a layperson] to pray with sick children and their families. They are provided as an example of what can be done and may be adapted as necessary. The minister may wish to invite those present to prepare for the reading from Scripture, perhaps by a brief introduction or through a moment of silence” (No. 62). 

The introduction continues: “In praying with the sick child the minister chooses, together with the child and family, if possible, suitable elements of common prayer in the form of a brief Liturgy of the Word. This may consist of a reading from Scripture, simple one-line prayers taken from Scripture which can be repeated by the child, other familiar prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, litanies, or a simple form of the general intercessions” (No. 65). 

(The volume is one I recommend to all Catholic households not only because it contains the prayers just mentioned, but also has the Commendation of the Dying, which can be used with anyone who is dying when a priest is not available.) 

It is useful to remind Catholics and amenable medical personnel from time to time that if a child who has not been baptized is dying, he or she may be baptized by any adult (including non-Catholics) simply by the pouring of water on the child’s forehead with the formula, “N., I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Altar bells 

Question: Our parish has just begun to use bells at the consecration again. No explanation was given. What do you think of this practice? 

— Name and address withheld 

Answer: Liturgical changes unaccompanied by proper explanation are not a good idea. Personally (since you asked), I have no great objection to the use of altar bells as part of a move to bring about greater reverence toward the Eucharist. However, in none of the parishes in which I have served have bells been thought necessary.  

The original reason for using bells was to bring the attention of the people to the consecration narrative of the Mass. This made more sense when the Mass was in Latin and people could easily get distracted during the eucharistic prayer and not know what part of the Mass was being celebrated. Now that Mass is in the vernacular, it is easier for the people to know when the bread and wine are being consecrated. 

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.