Offering blessings

Question: I am an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist and have been taught that it is not correct for us to give blessings to little children when they come up in procession. But there has not been any catechesis from the altar about this, and so many children come forward asking for a blessing. What am I to do?

Terry Kenosk, Wheatland, North Dakota

Answer: Strictly speaking, it is inappropriate for anyone, even a priest, to distribute blessings during holy Communion. Lesser things should not eclipse greater things, and only those prepared to receive holy Communion and in a state of grace should come forward. A blessing is extended to all by the priest at the end of Mass, and that is where a blessing should be given.

All that said, pastoral realities do not always exist in pure and strict circumstances. As you point out, the people have not been properly formed by the clergy, who then put the onus on you to either give a blessing or awkwardly wave the person off.

To be fair to your local clergy, the problem is not simply a parish one; it is a national one. Thus, even if your clergy instructed the parishioners, visitors still come forward. Perhaps the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops can address this definitively at some point, but, as for now, things are awkward, and strict adherence to liturgical principles is almost impossible to maintain.

A couple of thoughts to lessen your anxiety. Regarding children, it is not inappropriate for a parent to bless a child. Likewise, an elder can extend a blessing. A small tracing of the cross on the forehead of a child and saying “God bless you” is a true blessing. One should avoid overtly priestly gestures such as the full sign of the cross over the child and the fuller priestly blessing, “May almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” While it generally is true that parents and elders will defer to a priest or deacon if they are present, the clergy may be in another place in the church, and blessing a child is fine.

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As for blessing adults, there are more significant issues. A layperson really should not give a formal blessing to another adult (with certain exceptions, as in the case of a catechist blessing their students). However, it is not wrong to say to them, “I pray that God will bless you.” No sign of the cross should be traced on the forehead or waved over them, however.

As you point out, this is all rather awkward and likely requires a national instruction from the bishops to end it. Until such time, charity in all things. Simply turning people away likely is not the best solution.

Communion twice?

Question: Sometimes I lector at a daily Mass and later the same day at a funeral. Can I receive Communion at both Masses?

George Hinson, via email

Answer: Yes. As long as you participate fully in both, you are free to receive Communion twice in one day. The rule against receiving Communion multiple times seeks to prevent a kind of superstitious notion or superfluous piety that merely receiving multiple Communions would increase graces in a kind of magical sense. Mass is an act of worship of God that should be celebrated fully. There are some who, for good reasons, must participate in more than one Mass per day, and receiving Communion twice is permitted. For pastoral reasons, a pastor can permit even more, but twice in one day under the stated context is fine.

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 msgrpope@osv.com.