Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What's wrong with blessing children in the Communion line?

Fr. Cory Sticha has stated, “I despise blessing children in the Communion line (and yes, I chose that strong language very carefully), and encourage other priests to stop immediately.” [read the article here]
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf has seconded Fr. Sticha’s article with the phrase (in his typical red-ink), “Do I hear an ‘Amen!’?” [here]
But I ask, What is wrong with a priest giving blessings to young children in the Communion line?
For what it’s worth
Fr. Sticha is a good friend of mine, as we are both priests of the Diocese of Great Falls – Billings in Montana, USA. He is a few years ahead of me in the priesthood, and I am currently serving in what was his first assignment. Fr. Sticha was recently appointed by our Bishop as the diocesan liturgist.
That being said, friends are able to have differing opinions. And in this case, I think that both Fr. Sticha’s and Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s articles are not at all helpful.

Limits of this discussion
We will discuss only the question of a priest giving a blessing to young Catholic children in the Communion line. This act of blessing is common in the United States at least, and perhaps also in Europe.
We will not discuss the “blessings” given by lay extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. Nor will we consider the question of giving a blessing to non-Catholics or to Catholics who are not disposed at the time to receive Communion.
There is only one particular case we will be looking at, because this is what Fr. Sticha has addressed exclusively – the question of whether a priest should give a blessing to Catholic children who have not yet received their First Communion but who have joined their parents in the Communion line. [Fr. Zuhlsdorf broadens the question slightly, but still centers his argument around this one issue of a priest giving a blessing to Catholic children.]
The case against giving a blessing: It’s not in the rubrics
“Say the black, do the read”, says Fr. Zuhlsdorf. To be sure, there is nothing in the liturgical books which states that the priest should give a blessing to the young children who are in the Communion line with their parents.
Fr. Zuhlsdorf emphasizes this point stating: “This [practice] is not to be done, because it is outside what is prescribed at this very important moment during holy Mass.”
Fr. Sticha does the same, referring to the Second Vatican Council’s statement that “no other person, even if he be a priest ,may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 22), and concluding that “a priest does not have the authority to add a blessing to the liturgy for anyone.”
To this, I respond first that Fr. Zuhlsdorf is disingenuous in his critique. He has many times encouraged priests to wear the maniple (a vestment worn upon the left arm) while celebrating the Novus Ordo (i.e. the post Vatican II Mass), even though this vestment is nowhere indicated in the liturgical books. If a blessing cannot be given to child simply because it is not explicitly prescribed in the liturgical law, how can Fr. Zuhlsdorf justify the wearing of the maniple when it too is not mentioned in the revised rubrics of the Mass?
[Now, I am not here contending that the maniple should or should not be worn – that debate, to me at least, does not seem profitable. I only point out that Fr. Zuhlsdorf is not consistent in his approach to the liturgy.]
On the other hand, it is good to note that, compared to other parts of the Mass, there are very few liturgical guidelines regarding the distribution of Communion to the faithful. In times past, there was no mention of the Communion of the faithful in the liturgical books. In the Missal of 1962, the Communion of the faithful is simply indicated without any significant description of how this takes place. In the revised liturgical books of the Novus Ordo (the new Mass), there is a bit more on how the priest distributes Communion, but it is still quite minimal.
Further, we must recall that the practice of regular Communion has only fairly recently come back to prominence in the life of the Church. And, whether this is always to the spiritual benefit of the faithful (since many, it seems, are unaware of what is required to be well disposed for the Sacrament), the widespread practice of both the father and mother regularly coming forward in the Communion line is not much more than one hundred years old (at least in North America).
When it was less common for both the mother and father to come forward, it was more common for the young children to remain in the pew with one or both of their parents. However, now that it is more common for both parents to come to Communion, it has also become the practice that the parents bring their infants and young children with them in the Communion line (rather than leaving them alone in the pew).
This practice of bringing the young children forward in the Communion line is a bi-product of the practice of frequent reception of Holy Communion by parents. And, since regular Communion is rather new, it is no surprise that the liturgical books have not yet addressed the issue. The Church does not tell the parents what they are to do with their infants – neither does liturgical law tell the priest how he is to handle young children when they accompany (or are carried forward by) their parents in the Communion line.
In any case, a simple sign of the Cross made over an infant can hardly be said to disrupt the distribution of the Blessed Sacrament. This little blessing, given to young Catholic children, does not do any great violence to the liturgy but can instead be seen as a legitimate adaptation brought on by the rather recent phenomenon of both parents regularly coming forward to Communion.
The case against giving a blessing: Not in the presence of the Sacrament
Some will argue (though I am not aware of either Fr. Sticha or Fr. Zuhlsdorf doing so) that it is wrong for the priest to bless the young children in the Communion line because a priest is not to give a blessing in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
In fact, it has generally been the case that priests do not give blessings before the Eucharist when our Lord is not residing within the tabernacle – whether these be blessings of the incense, or of people, etc.
I respond that the current liturgical books (of the Novus Ordo) no longer follow this norm. In the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, before the procession with the Eucharist to the altar of repose, the priest is directed to place incense in the thurible and bless it even though he is in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
Another option: A Spiritual Communion?
Some will recommend that children who are too young to receive Communion should not be blessed but should instead be allowed to make a spiritual communion. These persons suggest that the Host be held before the child and that the priest allow a brief moment for the child to bow or make some other gesture of worship [or they recommend some other variation on this theme].
I do not think this practice is reasonable, on two accounts. First, a child too young to receive Communion is not capable of making a spiritual communion – if he is, then he should be receiving sacramental Communion. Second, providing this pause for a spiritual communion would be even more disruptive to the liturgy than the act of a simple blessing. Finally, this substitution would still be an “addition” (in legalistic terms) and would thus not really solve the so-called “problem” anyways.
A reason for blessing the young children
One reason for blessing the young children who are brought forward in the Communion line is that they are united to the Church by the living faith which they received in their baptism. Now, the Communion line is a sign of the unity of the Church; therefore, these little ones do no harm in coming forward with their parents, for they are truly united to the Church by the theological virtues of faith and charity.
However, according to the practice of the Roman Rite (a practice which, in my opinion, is very wise), children below the age of reason are not to take Communion. Still, I can see no reason why the communion with the Church, the mystical body of Christ, in which they share through their baptism cannot be expressed through a simple blessing given by the priest.
Now, I do not say that any parish or priest should introduce this practice. If, however, it is already a custom in a given parish, refusing to bless the children hardly seems a battle worth fighting. In any case, the parents clearly cannot leave toddlers and infants alone back in the pews, so the children will generally be brought forward in the Communion line when both parents are communicating.
What should be avoided
If a priest does give blessings to children, a few things should be avoided.
First, the priest should not be touching the children with the fingers which he uses to distribute Communion. The danger of the profanation of the Eucharist is far too great. Sacred Particles will surely be dispersed, resulting in sacrilege.
Second, extraordinary ministers ought not to make the sign of the Cross. It would cause great confusion, and they have not the authority. Indeed, they should not give any sort of “blessing”. Perhaps they could say something like, “Receive Jesus in your heart” (as Archbishop Chaput suggests) – personally, I see no easy solution to this aspect of the question.
Third, it seems to me that the situation of a Catholic child (who is too young to receive Communion) should not be lumped in with those who are non-Catholic or who are not disposed to receive Communion on account of mortal sin. The persons in these last groups are not visibly united to the Church through living faith, and so they are quite different from the little ones. Still, again, there is no easy solution to this problem.
Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me
Though I think it is a really low blow to attack Frs. Sticha and Zulhsdorf with Matthew 19:14 (since the question is not whether to bless children, but when), I do think that there is a point to be made here.
Fr. Sticha, in his original post (which has been updated) said: “I despise blessing children” [later, “in the Communion line” was added]. He has stated that he chose this language carefully and purposefully. Fr. Zulhsdorf seems to agree, since he offers a positive comment on these words over on his own blog “WDTPRS?”.

[Update: I contend that Fr. Zulhsdorf has long ago abandoned a dignified and priestly approach to discussing the Sacred Liturgy - ever since he adopted the pro-abortion battle cry "safe, legal, and rare" to describe his views on concelebration (I'm not sure what is supposed to be funny about the legalized murder of unborn children).]
Now, I cannot see how such language is at all helpful in attempting to sort out the very sensitive (and recent) issue of what to do with young children when both parents wish to come forward for Communion.
In truth, I am not convinced that either Fr. Sticha or Fr. Zulhsdorf realize that the whole issue is only one part of the much bigger question of ensuring that, as often as possible, as many people as possible are well disposed and able to receive Communion worthily at Mass.


Anonymous said...

Wow... I didn't even know anyone took issue with that! Interesting. I've always appreciated the gesture of blessing my children when i go up to receive the Eucharist. I guess I am hoping it might help their behavior, hehe ;)


kkollwitz said...

A blessing seems to be a modest acknowledgment of this admonition:

Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." And he laid his hands on them and went away.

James Joseph said...

For the sake of being a pain and in good humour, but deadly seriousness:

There are no children that too young to receive Our Lord; an exception perhaps in regards to children living within the womb.

Regarding the distracting blessing practice: I have found it distracting at times, but my being affected by this in a negatively perceived way is more than likely only perceived badly. I could offer a suggestion. Let us make the practice into a rite. Conduct the Sign of the Cross with the Eucharist Himself. I write this only in that it is the ancient and still living practice to bless with a Crucifix and also the Eucharist in hand.

A greater emphasis through widespread edifying homilies on the reality of the Eucharist would be the best solution however. I might not be exact but I wouldn't be suprised if 99% of the Faithful had any idea of what is going on a holy Mass; that is, why they perform the Greater Penance done before kings (to stand, kneel, stand, and then kneel) leading up to and during the Consecration. Abbot Vonier was very good to us to let us know that it is precisely at the second kneeling of the Greater Penance that we are being showered with gifts by submitting ourselves to Him, and that the reception of His Body and Blood by anyone other than the priest staying at the holy spot is a secondary act that does not neccessarily and is not required to follow because they have already been exposed to a pre-eminent grace.

(the mumblings of confused man)


Regarding Confession: What does kind and number mean? I can't seem to find the answer?

Keviin Shook said...

I used to attend Mass at a parish where immediately prior to Communion, the Preist would invite all up asking that non-Catholics and those who have not received First Communion come with their arms crossed over their chests. And "yes" the "Eucharistic Ministers" we're instructed to give blessings.

JP said...

Dear Father,
You have stated your case succinctly and with due sensitivity. As a Father who regularly brings his 1 year old to mass I cannot at all understand Father Sticha's reasoning. There are much more important battles to be fought in the Church and this line of attack is bordering on the ridiculous. With the recent controversy surrounding Cardinal Schonborn, yet again, perhaps a few words on apostasy within the highest levels of the Church demand some considered thought rather than wasting precious time on such nonsense. His choice of the word "despise" to describe his attitude is over the top to say the least. I shall say no more to save grace in this easter season.

God bless


Anonymous said...

If we went back to kneeling at communiion rails, this would not be an issue, would it?

c matt said...

I don't really have strong opinions one way or the other (as far as a Priest giving the blessing). I have always felt uncomfortable for a layperson, any layperson, to give a "blessing" in a religious setting. It always seems to me that God is the one who gives blessings (that's why we say "God bless you" when you sneeze), and only the Priest acts as alter Cristus.

a priest does not have the authority to add a blessing to the liturgy for anyone

I don't think Fr. Z is being inconsistent here, at least not completely. There seems to be an express prohibition on adding blessings, but there does not seem to be an express prohibition on using a maniple. I don't know how specific the rubrics are for liturgical vestments, so I am open to correction.

c matt said...

FWIW, even is this were considered an "abuse", it would be waaaaaay down on the list.

Anonymous said...

Would Jesus not bless children if they happened to intrude on the Last Supper? I'd like to envision Him including and inviting all children in His presence to receive His blessing always and everywhere. Isn't the celebrant a representative of Jesus?

Anonymous said...

Father, I understand where you are stating your observations and opinions. My question would fall that our Holy Father has stated when we add or take anything away from the Liturgy, in essence of movement and actions, we then create a "play" not the Mass. You point that wearing the maniple during the Mass. This would more a GIRM issue, than the Roman Missal. So, I would say that is not a fair apples for apples comparison. Look at Good Friday liturgical action. The Holy Father wears a fiddleback, while in a Novus Ordo liturgical action. My final observation would be reverence of the Blessed Sacrament while blessing children. Offering blessings to children and making the sign of the cross or other movements would cause particles of the Blessed Sacrament to fall onto places where proper handling would not occur, i.e on the floor, on cloths, and so on. This may be splitting hairs but the Rite takes so many precautions to keep this from happening: corporals, purificators, pattens, and so on. I am neutral on this standpoint. I just wanted to add some more thoughts to your observations.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@c matt,
There is no express prohibition against such blessings in the GIRM or in the Missal.
Fr. Z's contention is simply that they are not mentioned and (he says), if they are not mentioned, then they cannot be added.

However, neither is there any mention of the maniple -- positive or negative.

So, the liturgical law deals with the blessings of children at Communion time in just the same way as it deals with the maniple -- there is no mention made.
One difference is that, while there is much detail about the vestments a priest wears, there is little said about the distribution of Communion -- so there is certainly more rubrical wiggle-room with giving the blessings to children than there is with wearing a maniple.

Anonymous said...

Who wouldn't want their little ones to receive a blessing? The problem is, that when a priest or deacon blesses children in the Communion line, then those in the EMHC lines will want *their* children to receive a blessing, too. And lay people giving blessings in this way is just flat wrong. It's confusing and further blurs the line between the ordained and laity... and IMO, is especially problematic when a woman EMHC is doing the "blessing." So it is a "slippery slope" problem as far as I can see. If the rubrics (which are there for a reason) are followed, then none of these shenanigans would be allowed to "organically" unfold. ~Southern Mom

Salmanticenses said...

Dear Father!

Being used to the EF in Europe, I was accustomed and very edified to see the priest blessing young children at the communion rail with the host (over the ciborium). It seemed to me that this is a very quick but beatiful gesture.

In the United States I saw priests in the EF performing a blessing without the host, obviously holding the index finger and thumb together, then proceeding.
I prefered the costum I was used to much over it, but this is maybe just my preference.

As far as I see it, the practice of blessing and touching the children is in vogue in the OF in Europe, too.
Generally speaking, one should not be to scrupulous about a layman blessing. This is a very ancient Christian practice, maybe still more known in the Eastern Churches than in the West. Of course, it should be understood that it is not equal to the blessing of a priest, also I do not think it belongs to the context of a liturgical function.

Thank you, Father, for you article.

In Christo,

avowerls said...

Fr. Erlenbush,

I'm having a panic attack at how many times we have allowed our children to be blessed by our parish priest who places his hand on their forehead. Here I am receiving on the tongue and not even relating their blessing to profaning the Holy Eucharist. Thank you for bringing this to my attention but now, I'm not sure how to approach our priest regarding their blessings.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Please understand, Fr. Cory Sticha is not a terrible person. He is, in fact, a friend of mine.
We really must not speak about priests as you have.

Still, I can understand that you are upset ... but don't let it disturb your interior peace!
In any case, I do hope that my little article will re-assure you.

Let us pray for one another and for all! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Somehow two comments were lost ... I will paste them here:

From Kathy
Fr. Ryan - You have the Spirit of our Shepherd in you and I thank you for disagreeing with your friends! They are beyond wrong and truthfully I think they should be ashamed of themselves. I fear both are too like the Pharisees who are more interested in their phylacteries and tassels than the teachings of Christ. I was so angry when I read that truly hate-filled statement of Cory Sticha’s that I had to wait 24 hours to respond. Then I realized: he really needn’t worry about blessing children for families who learn of his belief will seek parishes and priests who do as Jesus asked.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

And another missed comment...

From Alessandro
Dear Father,
your comparison with the maniple issue isn't at all compatible with the matter of the blessing of children. First of all, because the maniple is genuinely traditional, while the blessing of children at Communion is not. Secondly, because the use of the maniple has been official and approved by the Church for centuries, so abandoning it doesn't mean that it is wrong or harmful, but just that it is no more useful (though the Vatican Website repeats that the maniple has never been abolished). Thirdly, because Communion is a very specific moment within the liturgy which is dedicated exclusively to the reception of Christ's body and blood and any other action would change the function and meaning of that part of the Mass. Finally, as Anonymous (April 12, 2012 7:54 AM) rightly pointed, the hands of the priest have touched the Host, which means that fragments of the Eucharist may be dispersed as he makes the Sign of the Cross.

There's already one blessing common to all baptized people - the one at the end of the Mass, performed by the priest rightly where it is supposed to be. Why double the blessing for children, when children could be blessed on other occasions? I'm not contrary to the practice per se, but to tell the truth I've never seen it here, in Italy, and I've never missed it.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, at all the SSPX chapels I've been to I've never seen a priest not bless small children or infants. That leads me to wonder if it isn't a custom that's been around for awhile?
Quid est Veritas?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

And also, I notice that (from my experience) most of the priests of the FSSP seem to bless infants and toddlers as well.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Fr. Z's point was that the blessings aren't mentioned in the rubrics, therefore they cannot be added.
He didn't say that they are not traditional, nor did he talk about the protection of the Eucharist.
He simply said that the Missal and the GIRM make no mention ... therefore, it is not to be done.

In this single respect, the maniple is in the same boat as these blessings.
And that is the only point I am making. +

Father S. said...

Dear Father,

Regardless of my opinion on this matter, I think that you have made a logical error. Fr. Zuhlsdorf does not say that maniples are allowed because they are not forbidden, as you contend. (Please correct me if I am over-simplifying.) He contends, rather, that maniples are allowed because they were once prescribed and have never been proscribed; they have simply and largely fallen into disuse. On the other hand, the blessing of children is something that has not (at least since Trent) been prescribed. As such, its addition would be an innovation.

If my summary is correct, then the reason for each action--the use of a maniple or the blessing of a child during the distribution of Most Holy Communion--is different.

Does that seem fair to you?

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Clinton R. said...


The big issue, as stated by some here, is the EMOCs giving blessing during Communion. If their "blessings" are efficacious, then one would gather that any baptized person could consecrate bread and wine into the Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord. And of course this is erroneous, but that is the slippery slope we have fallen into ever since the laity was allowed to take on the duties of the priest during Mass.

Mgoog said...

Dear Father:
Not being a theologian, I cannot respond to this question at that level. However, I appreciate your efforts to give some of that background. To me, this actually is a serious issue on a more practical level. Offering blessings to anyone in line for Holy Communion is a bad precedent. If children, why not this one or that one? And, why not EMHC to offer the blessing? Where does it end? Of course, a priest can explain his position to the congregation but, in the end, people will still be confused and expect this as right? What’s more his explanation becomes his rubrics and not those of the Church. To put it another way, does a practicing lesbian at her mother’s funeral desire/require/have a right to a blessing at the time reserved for reception of the Blessed Sacrament? Thank you for listening.

David Meyer said...

The blessing by the priest and the EMHC cannot be separared so easily as you do in your post. I am a father of 5 small children and almost always need to take a baby in my arms when I go up to recieve. In my church I have a 1 in 5 chance of recieving from a priest. 1 in 5! With that in mind, hear this: The EMHCs do say "bless you" to the baby in my arms which I am offended by. I dont think I should feel ashamed of being offended by that. It is an abuse for sure.
When I used to take my older children (who are not ready for cummunion yet) children up with me, I would have to look to see where the priest was. Then I would tell them to either sit or come forward for a blessing. Of course they get disapointed then 4 in 5 times when it is an EMHC in the line.
The whole thing just got to be too much! I now have them stay seated even when it is the priest to avoid problems. At that special time, I dont need the hassle! I want to think about Christ not this issue.
My point is that the liberty that has been taken in this issue is out of line. It causes confusion and trouble. It turns the communion line into something new. A communion and blessing line. And according to you, there should be 2 different types of lines (priest line and EMHC line) for us all to sort out as well, and only for kids not adults. That sure is a lot to sort out for a practice that is not even in the rules.

Your point with the maniple, if true, at best only shows Father Z to be a hypocrite. It still means that something is being added to the mass illegitimately.
Also there is a BIG difference between different them. The maniple is traditionally used in SOME valid rubrics at least (i think?) wher the "blessings" by EMHC and blessings by priests in the communion line are a new addition. This goes right along with the holding hands durring the Our Father. People think they can just do whatever they want in mass.

Marko Ivančičević said...

Dear Father.
As you notice the apparent inconsistency of Fr.Z i wouuld like to mention that we all recieve the blessing at the end of the Mass(someone already said that). Also, i would like to add that there is a practice in the Byzantine Rite that the ones who do not recieve Communion, aproach the priest who is administering Communion, bow their head and recieve blessing with the Chalice(which is of course filled with Christ's Body and Blood), something what i would call, an Eucharistic blessing, blessing by the Eucharist itself --> somoemone already noted that it would be a good practice to bless such people with the Host...

So, in conclusion, i wouldn't do away with the the blessing itself, but i would think about the manner of blessing, i.e. it shouldn't be from the priest alone but from the Eucharistic Lord "handled" by the priest...

Joanne said...

Thank you for this post Fr.

While I really don't have an issue with a priest who doesn't want to bless my children, I've been very bothered by those who think that I shouldn't take my young children in the communion line.

As a woman who is open to life and has children spread across every age group and as a wife of a deacon who isn't sitting in the pew with me, what am I supposed to do with my young ones? Sometimes my older children attend other Masses and there isn't anyone to stay in the pew with little ones (I've leave my five year-old there, but if I left my 3 year old, he just might burn the church down). I really am surprised by those who think that I should refrain from receiving the Eucharist if it means bringing my children with me.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Clinton R.,
There are, in fact, many circumstances in which the Church permits (and even encourages) lay persons to give true sacramental blessings ... and these are efficacious.

Consider, for example, that a parent may bless his child (even according to the official book of blessings).
Also, consider that there has long been a tradition of the Mother Superior blessing her nuns.

Now, this ought not happen in the context of the Liturgy ... but people are able to understand that deacon cannot consecrate the Host even though he is assisting the priest at the altar ... how hard is it to make sure that lay extraordinary ministers do not imitate the priest in the manner of blessing?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@David M, (and others, regarding the maniple),

Fr. Z didn't say that the blessings were bad because they aren't traditional ... he said that they are bad because they are not included in the Rubrics.
And I say that the maniple isn't included in the rubrics either -- and there are far more rubrics about the vestments than about the distribution of communion.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@David M, (and others, regarding adding things that aren't in the rubrics),

Well, the GIRM states that those who are to receive communion come forward in a procession (generally) and that the priest approaches them to distribute communion - GIRM #160.

There is no mention in the GIRM of anyone coming forward who is not going to take communion. (and no provision for this practice)

So, if you want to be real strict and "follow the rules" without adding anything at all ... then infants and toddlers cannot be brought forward in the communion line.
I guess parents should just leave their 4 week old baby lying on his back in the pew? That seems reasonable?!

This is the point I am making ... a point which you utterly fail to recognize ... the whole situation is brought on by the (very laudable) practice of frequent communion -- if both parents come to communion, then they will surely bring forward their little children.
And, since this practice of bringing the kids forward is new (since frequent communion is rather new), we have to figure out how to deal with the situation.

Almost any reasonable person can tell that this isn't a matter of "radical innovations" or "liturgical abuse" ... it is simply responding to a new situation, a situation which is not even envisioned by the current GIRM or the rubrics of the Missal.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Father S,
Please see my response regarding the maniple, above -- 9:54am.

Peace to you! +

Alessandro said...

Dear Father,
you wrote: "And, since this practice of bringing the kids forward is new (since frequent communion is rather new), we have to figure out how to deal with the situation." That's the point I don't really get. There's nothing to deal with: children can accompany their parents and receive nothing at all, neither blessing nor Communion. I don't see the problem in "child inactivity" during the very few minutes before the reception the Body of Christ by their parents. Infants and toddlers don't actually even understand being blessed by the priest. For older children, that could rather be the right time to teach adoration - rather then waiting for a blessing, children may be taught to bow their head in worship to the Host, which is even more fruitful from a catechetical point of view then a simple blessing might be. Also, the comparison with the maniple still fails to persuade me. The use of the maniple has been valid "ab immemorabili", which means it has the force of a consuetudinary law, until it is officially forbidden (and the maniple isn't forbidden, as repeats). On the contrary, blessing of children during Communion is an innovation, something on which only the Church at its highest authority has the right to decide.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

To have the children (including infants) come forward at all would already be considered an innovation which is neither forseen nor permitted by the liturgical law.
GIRM 160 says that those to receive communion come forward ... so, if you really wanted to be strict, you would have to insist that parents abandon their infants in the pews rather than bringing them forward.
[obviously, the rubrics need to be adapted to meet the current situation ... because we ought not tell parents to leave infants alone in the pews]

So, you suggest that the kids come forward and bow their head ... that isn't in the GIRM, or the rubrics! That is an INNOVATION! What gives you the authority to suggest such a thing?!
[i hope you can see how silly the whole debate becomes]

Now ... if you suggest that it is ok for individuals to add gestures of worship and for those who are not receiving communion to come forward (i.e. be brought forward by their parents) ... why is it so bad that I suggest a "nihil dicens" blessing?

Regarding the maniple ... as I said above, Fr Z didn't attack the blessings as not being traditional ... he attacked them as not being in the rubrics.
Neither is the maniple in the rubrics (and there are far more rubrics about vestments than about communion).

As to whether the rubrics allow for immemoriable traditions to be retained, hear the decree of Bl John XXIII:
"Likewise, statues, priveleges, indults, and customs of any kind whatsoever, including those that are centenary and immemorial, even if they are worthy of special and individual mention, shall be revoked if they are opposed to these rubrics."
(From the motu proprio giving the new rubrics for the Mass)

And if you say: "But the rubrics don't forbid the maniple!" ... then I say: "Neither do they forbid the blessing".

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

This will be my last comment to you.

You said, "Infants and toddlers don't actually even understand being blessed by the priest."

Which suggests to me that you don't really understand what a blessing is all about in the first place ... the thought that an infant ought not be blessed simply because he doesn't understand what is happening! Shall we transfer that logic to other aspects of the Church's pastoral care of children (like baptism)?!

dominic1955 said...

If that is the case, that the whole issue of frequent communion has necessitated the bringing of children along with the parents to the rail/communion line, I don't see how it follows that we have to do anything with the children. They are there with the parents for a very brief period, they do not need some sort of special acknoledgement.

As it is the traditional practice to not bless people/things in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament outside the tabernacle, that alone should put a stop to such a practice but I've see every stripe of priest do this (liberal to traditionalist).

While I think they whole thing is silly, I don't think its the end of the world either. Since this practice is also so wide spread (and truly so, all across the spectrum in the Church)it would be terribly difficult to get people to stop expecting it-especially in the Communion line. When I was a seminarian, people would expect this for their kids. Granted, I didn't like acting as an EMHC (I'm actually an acolyte, so maybe Ordinary-Extrordinary minister of Holy Communion...) anyway, but its allowed and I figure it was better to have someone who knew how to properly do it up there. Seeing that this isn't really the time or place for a theological/liturgical lecture, I'd just tap the kid lightly on the forehead (thumb and forefinger firmly closed together...) and say something quick in Latin like, "Sit nomen Domini benedictum" that made it sound special but didn't presume to actually perform a blessing that I couldn't give anyway. They seemed happy with it and I didn't have to feel squeemish about attempting to do something I couldn't do. Seemed like a win/win.

It would be easier to get around this using the rail...

Maria said...

"Man himself cannot simply 'make' worship. Proper worship is received from God in faith."

--Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yes ... and I have seen Pope Benedict XVI bless children many times at various times throughout the Mass.

A real question: Do you think that man is "making" worship when he (contrary to the rubrics and the GIRM - see above comments) brings an infant forward in the communion line?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Someone above mentioned the idea of "blessing" with the Host in a mini-benediction. This, of course, is the traditional action before distributing communion.

I suppose that this would be the best way to do it ... a small sign of the Cross with the Host over the paten before the child.
But, a simple nihil dicens sign of the Cross would hardly cause confusion and make the people think that the priest's power of blessing was greater than Christ's power of blessing (which is why we generally don't bless in the presence of the Eucharist in the first place).

And, do recall that the priest (for many years) would make the sign of the Cross over the people in the presence of the Sacrament after their confiteor before communion -- he said the words, "Indulgentiam absolutionem ..."
The sign of the Cross over a child (nihil dicens) is certainly less than this traditional action.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your article. While I respect much of what Fr. Z writes, I think that his analysis of this subject is very cramped.

Michelangelo said...

Dear Father,

Have you and your pastor preached on this subject in your churches at Sunday Mass? This is one of the many reasons why I decline to be an EMHC. I couldn't give a blessing, and those cute little kids with their arms crossed over their heart would break my heart. If the guv'ner presented himself for Holy Communion, I couldn't distribute the Sacred Host to him, etc. So I'm throwing myself out before I begin to save my dear pastor the trouble ;-) I'm a simple guy... Now, if the GIRM were to be amended to address this matter, how might it read?? God bless you, Father.

Father S. said...


I think that you are still making the same error. It seems to me that you have reduced the argument so much that you have misrepresented the position. The position is that the maniple, even though it is not in the rubrics, is still permitted by previous rubrics from which there has been no derogation. On the other hand, the blessings (so goes the position) have never been within the rubrics and so are not permitted.

I think that I can put this another way. It seems to me that what you are saying is that the position rests solely on the current (i.e., not 1962) Roman Missal. That is not the position. The position is that the permission to use the maniple rests both on the 1962 and current Roman Missals.

In this way, the two are not equivalent. If we only look at the current Roman Missal (and its accompanying rubrics) then you would be correct. As it stands, the only way to justify the use of the maniple requires a broader view.

Peace to you, too!

Kind Regards,
Father S.

A seminarian said...

Thanks for this balanced article Fr.
Keep up the good work!

Alessandro said...

Dear Father,
I don't know why you got so angry with me. I didn't to offend you. Nevertheless, you must also accept people with different opinions. And my opinion is that the private devotion of bowing the head in front of the Host is a private devotion which is always allowed and even encouraged and not a part of the Mass. On the contrary, a blessing is a true rite (a sacramental) performed by a minister in the Holy Orders. That's something I don't really understand: why is it necessary? What is it for? That blessing for children is something entirely unrelated to the Sacrament being distributed at that specific moment of the Mass. That's out of place. It is risky for the distribution of the Eucharist, as it may mean the dispersal of fragments. It may even confuse people in those countries which are not used to that practice (as in my country, where children are never blessed during Communion).

I didn't mean that children must show consent to be blessed - that's a bad interpretation of my words. The true problem is WHY we should have children blessed during Communion. If the problem - that's what I was saying - are blessed just to keep them calm by active participation (i.e. they are blessed in order to be motivated to get in the Communion line). That's plain and simple to me, but maybe it's not to you.

And if you want my true opinion, children shouldn't come in the Communion line at all. It would be much better if parents didn't come together in the Communion line: one should wait for the other parent for a turnover, as it happens in the Mass EO I attend in Bergamo, Italy.

Nevertheless, you are free to believe whatever you want - I insist in believing that this practice should be discouraged or that different solutions to the matter may be looked for with far better results. That would really be a matter to discuss at a magisterial level.

On the maniple: "The maniple is an article of liturgical dress used in the celebration of the extraordinary form of the Holy Mass of the Roman Rite. It fell into disuse in the years of the post-conciliar reform, even though it was never abrogated." (

I ask your forgiveness for my words, if they offended you.

Clinton R. said...


Was any of this an issue prior to the changes in the Mass?

Mgoog said...

Whether one is in favor or against this practice, whether it is allowed or not, I beleive we still need to worry about precedence and the slipper slope. BTW, I remember walking in the line to recevie Holy Communion with my parents and kneeling at the rail next to them and going back to my seat. This seems like blessing enough.

dominic1955 said...

You are right, but then everyone got blessed so then in that case there is no need for individual repetitions or we could just standardize everyone getting the mini-benediction whether they receive or not.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I apologize, I was trying to write a response quickly and used far too strong of words.
I was not at all offended by your comments and I am sorry for offending you.

When I said "this is my last response" ... I meant to say, "I'm sorry, but I just don't have time to continue the back-and-forth".
Not that there is no room for diversity of opinion (as you rightly point out), but only that I simply cannot keep responding to the various interesting arguments on both sides.

The last point, though, which I am making is that it is an "addition" (which is not envisioned by the rubrics and is even somewhat contrary to them) for parents to bring up their infants in the communion line at all.
However, I say that this shows that the Church is still trying to figure out what to do with infants when both parents come to Communion -- and thus we simply cannot follow the rubrics in a strict manner here (because that would mean leaving the infants in the pews by themselves!) ... so, the practice of a "blessing" is something of a response to this new phenomenon.

... as far as parents coming to communion separately ... I suppose this is one possible solution, but would be extremely difficult in most parishes -- the Traditional Parishes I attended in Italy did not have this practice, but I never was lucky enough to get to Bergamo! :-)

Again, sorry for the harsh/direct language in the previous comments ... it is always good to discuss with you! Please always feel free to comment!
However, as I say, I will not be able to respond further on this topic, on account of all the things going on in the parish this weekend for Divine Mercy Sunday.

Blessings to you always! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Clinton R,
Given that every FSSP parish I have been to gives blessings to the kids and (as I have heard) this practice is also common to the SSPX ... I would suspect that the practice was common in at least some places even before Vatican II. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Father S,
I should put my own cards on the table ... I myself am very much in favor of using the maniple in the celebration of the Novus Ordo ... because I do believe that it is an ancient custom and that the Novus Ordo rubrics do not need to be interpreted in such a strict manner (as compared to the traditional rubrics).

However, Fr Z's argument against the blessing was not that it isn't traditional, or that it is something new ... but simply that it is not in the explicit rubrics of the Novus Ordo Missal.

And that shows a real inconsistency in his thought -- if a practice is called an abuse purely on the basis of it not being explicit in the rubrics, then the maniple would also have to be considered an abuse.
[if, on the other hand, Fr. Z had said that the blessings are a new innovation, or that they weren't in the 1962 Missal, etc. ... then he would have a more consistent argument]

Blessings to you and your flock on Divine Mercy Sunday! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I agree that it is a slippery slope ... but simply allow lay persons (and even women) to distribute communion already puts us way down that slope ... but, according to the present wisdom, the Church allows this in the USA at least.

Now, the threats and dangers of priests offering blessings is far less than the dangers involved in having lay persons (and women) distribute the Sacrament ... so I'm not too concerned.
Though, of course, the priest should give instruction to the Extraordinary Ministers ... and, if they really can't be trusted to follow basic instructions about "blessings", how can they possibly be trusted with the distribution of the Blessed Sacrament?

No doubt, these are difficult times! Let us persevere in prayer. +

mgoog said...

Dear Father;
Thank you for your response to my slippery slope comment. You can guess that I am not keen on the overuse of EMHC, so no argument there. My answer: let's preach and practice worthy reception of Holy Communion. I suggest that these issues will disappear with kneeling and reception on the tongue, even if some tradionioalist parishes alo engage in this practice. This would certainly bring a sense of holiness to our reception of the Sacrament.

Mary De Voe said...

Abbot Vonier was very good to us to let us know that it is precisely at the second kneeling of the Greater Penance that we are being showered with gifts by submitting ourselves to Him, and that the reception of His Body and Blood by anyone other than the priest (the lay faithful, my emphasis) staying at the holy spot is a secondary act (the Mass of the Lord's Supper is over. This is the Apostles in the person of Alter Christi coming to the faithful laity) that does not neccessarily and is not required to follow because they have already been exposed to a pre-eminent grace(having Persona Christi consecrate the Sacred Species).

Stomachosus said...

Father, I certainly agree with you that Fr. Zurhlsdorf is being inconsistent. It seems to me that we often suffer from a positivistic attitude with rubrics and laws. The role of custom is quickly forgotten, despite the fact that custom is very powerful. It not only is the best interpreter of the law, it can even abolish laws and add laws.

In the old liturgy there were numerous examples of this. Not just in filling in the gaps (there were no rubrics for the laity, e.g.) but even in other manners. For instance, the use of a processional cross is reserved to a pontifical Mass and a couple of liturgical days with procession (Holy Saturday, Candlemas, etc), yet contrary custom introduced it (at least in the English speaking world) to parochial Masses. And Rome said this was fine when asked. Fr. O'Connell discusses this in his book when he talks about custom (there are also examples of prescribed practices being abolished through custom).

We see this with the new rite with various postures, such as kneeling and striking the breast at the Agnus Dei, all of which, when asked, Rome said could be retained with custom, even though not in the GIRM...

As far as the issue at hand, I don't know the history of it. I know anecdotal stories from pre-VII, such as a lady I know who forgot her shawl and had an immodest top. She went to the rail communion and the priest made the sign of the cross with the Host (as is done in the old rite), leaned over and told her next time to cover up, and moved along without giving her holy communion. She explained he would give blessings to those not receiving in order not to draw attention to them, since it looks like he is giving communion!

In anycase, if someone does come up, not receiving, you seem to have two options. Ignore them or make some gesture. When it is the case of Catholic children and it is a priest, I don't see why a blessing would be out of order. There was a letter from the CDWDS that spoke against blessings at communion time, but it seems the chief concern there was giving blessings to those who ought not be blessed and lay extraordinary ministers making a priestly gesture.

It does seem to me that we shouldn't tell those not receiving to come up for a blessing, and in general it needs to somehow (with gentleness) be imparted that going up is for communion, not other things, but there will still be the children issue and there will still be some who come up who shouldn't receive. I suppose with kneeling at a rail it is simple enough for the priest to pass over little children (a little more difficult with those who come up but are not receiving). But that is not the norm. So we should have some protocol that even extraordinary ministers may use. Clearly a priestly blessing is the wrong answer for this except when it is a priest doing it and say a Catholic child. Absent some law given explicitly by the lawgiver, we need to exercise common sense and prudence, rather then screaming "innovation, evil!" which would be to ignore the role custom has in law.

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