We celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi each year on Oct. 4. On or near this date, the Church suggests that a public blessing of animals might appropriately take place. These events are rife with dogs and cats and occasionally welcome a fish, hamster or snake.
Further from the city, one might even find livestock at a blessing of the animals.
Simultaneously, the month of October is dedicated to Mary, especially through devotion to the rosary, with the feast of the Holy Rosary on Oct. 7. Communal recitations of the rosary often include a blessing of the rosary or other personal religious articles.
Both the blessing of animals and the blessing of a rosary are official rites of the Church found in a ritual book called the Book of Blessings. It contains well over a hundred specific blessing rites for all sorts of people and situations throughout the liturgical year.
Perhaps surprisingly, it also includes a very large section of blessings for objects, both living and inanimate: food, cars, boats, planes, houses, schools, hospitals, musical instruments, farm equipment and so much more.
Blessing a goat or boat or a rosary might seem odd or even superstitious to observers. Do Catholics believe these things are magical? Do they worship these things? Why lavish so much attention on them?
We don’t worship objects, but we do acknowledge that the good things God gives us reveal something about God’s love for us. The affection we give and receive from a pet, for example, draws us more deeply into respect for creation. Animals give us comfort, protection, labor, food and clothing. In a very real way, we depend on them, and God provides.
The rosary is a simple string of beads, but it points us to holiness through the example of Mary. It is a tool to help us be more disciplined in our prayer life.
Furthermore, the language of these blessing rites shows that the blessings aren’t really for the object, but rather for us, who use and benefit from it.
For example, for food: “Bless us, O Lord, and these your gifts.”
For a boat: “Let those who sail it realize their just desires and arrive safely in harbor.”
For a house: “Bless all the members of this household and surround them with your protection.”
The blessing of objects is the sanctification of the everyday. God is present to us not only in worship and through the sacraments, but also in the mundane and routine aspects of our lives. The blessed object represents God’s tender care and generous provision for both our physical and spiritual needs.
Finally, it’s important to note that many of these blessings can be given by laity. The Catechism no. 1669 reminds us that “every baptized person is called to be a blessing and to bless.”
In the absence of a priest or deacon, you can bless your own pet or house or fishing pole. I recommend the Book of Blessings (or the more condensed, family-oriented version, “Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers”) for every Catholic’s bookshelf. It’s a wonderful resource for everyday liturgical living.
Dr. Karen Shadle is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville Office of Worship.