Liturgy Matters — On blessings

Dr. Judy Bullock
Dr. Judy Bullock

By Dr. Judy Bullock

What is a blessing?
The term “blessing,” as we commonly use it, has numerous meanings. When good things happen, we say it is a blessing.

Blessing is sometimes used as a synonym for gift.

In its purest form, however, a blessing comes from God. One definition describes it this way: God looks favorably upon persons or things.

From the liturgical viewpoint, a blessing consists of the sign of the cross over a person or object. In most instances a blessing also includes a text, as well. During the Mass there are a number of blessings: The bishop or priest gives a blessing to the deacon before he proclaims the Gospel; the bread and wine are blessed during the Eucharistic Prayer; and the people are blessed before they are sent out at the end of Mass.

Sometimes there are additional blessings that take place after the homily or intercessory prayer, such as, the blessing of a couple celebrating a wedding anniversary or the commissioning of ministers for service.

At the end of Mass, those persons taking holy Communion to the sick may be called up for a special blessing and dismissal. On occasion, before the final blessing, the children can be gathered for a blessing.

May deacons and lay people give blessings?
Outside of Mass deacons frequently serve as leaders of prayer in which a blessing is part of the ritual, such as the funeral vigil service. There are times when a layperson is permitted, even expected, to include a blessing as a part of a prayer service or even as the focus of a particular rite.

Although the form for the blessing differs for a layperson, the “Catholic Book of Blessings” contains many blessings that allow for a lay leader, when needed.

During distribution of holy Communion
The most frequently asked question posed by extraordinary ministers of holy Communion (EMHC), the laypersons helping with the distribution of holy Communion, is this: How should we respond to children too young to receive holy Communion or adults that come forward with arms crossed over their chests as an indicator that they are not prepared to receive holy Communion?

Does this call for a blessing or some action or words by the EMHC?
The church is clear on the responsibilities of the Communion minister. They have one very important role: to distribute the sacred host and the precious blood reverently and safely. This requires their full attention and the use of both hands.

Even though the church never envisioned that there would be the expectation of response to the non-communicant in the Communion procession, it has become common practice to acknowledge them in some way. What should the non-communicant or parents bringing infants and young children expect when they come forward in the Communion procession?

Communion ministers are instructed to respond with a warm smile, conveying as much as possible the love of Christ in their facial expression. Even though it is not their place to give blessings at Mass, or to place their hands upon the non-communicant, the Communion minister may say, “God bless you,” or “God loves you.”

Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

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