'A blessing and to bless'

Question: After the Mass at our parish on the feast of St. Blaise, the blessing of the throat was given by extraordinary ministers of holy Communion. Is this allowed? Don't only bishops, priests and deacons have the power to impart blessings? Lay blessings seem to me to blur the distinction between those in holy orders and the lay faithful of the Church.

-- Joseph Warakomski, Hanover Township, Pa.

Answer: The Church has no difficulty with the idea of lay blessings. In 1989, the U.S. Catholic bishops, with the approval of the Holy See, issued a 799-page Book of Blessings to be used in a great variety of occasions.

The blessings are of persons (children, mothers before and after childbirth, the elderly), buildings and various forms of human activities (libraries, means of transportation, animals), objects in churches (baptisteries, church doors, bells), articles meant to foster devotion (rosaries, religious articles, scapulars), feasts and seasons (Nativity scenes, Easter food, homes), various needs and occasions (parish councils, lay liturgical ministers, departing parishioners).

The General Introduction to the Book of Blessings makes it clear that those in holy orders (bishops, priests and deacons) are given the primary task of blessing in the church and many blessings are reserved to them.

However, it points out that "laymen and laywomen, in virtue of the universal priesthood, a dignity they possess because of their baptism and confirmation, may celebrate certain blessings, as indicated in the respective orders of blessings, by use of the rites and formularies designated for a lay minister. Such laypersons exercise this ministry in virtue of their office -- for example, parents on behalf of their children -- or by reason of some special liturgical ministry or in fulfillment of a particular charge in the Church, as is the case in many places with religious or catechists appointed by decision of the local ordinary [bishop], after ascertaining their pastoral formation and prudence in the apostolate" (No.18).

The Book of Blessings contains the Order for the Blessing of Throats on the Feast of St. Blaise. It indicates that, "The blessing of throats may be given by a priest, deacon or a lay minister" (No. 1626).

You seem to indicate that the priest himself did not perform the blessing of throats. Unless there was a good reason (age or infirmity), this is not in accord with the liturgical norms of the Church. Whenever bishops, priests or deacons are present, they are the principal ministers of blessing.

The imparting of blessings is one of the fundamental duties of a Christian. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, "Every baptized person is called to be a 'blessing' and to bless" (No. 1669).

Mass hymns

Question: In our church we have lately been singing songs that have a Protestant background -- for example, "Shall We Gather at the River?" Does the Church require us to use only music with a Catholic theme?

-- Martin Murphy,Springfield, Ky.

Answer: There is a long tradition (centuries-old) of Catholics borrowing from Protestant musical sources.

However, it is essential that hymns (whether of Catholic or Protestant origin) match the liturgy. They should reflect the themes of the liturgy and of the liturgical seasons in particular.

When was the last time a Catholic parish gathered at the river? Baptizing outdoors is not in the Catholic tradition. Therefore, I think a song on this theme not particularly appropriate for the Catholic liturgy.

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 mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.