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The Place of Blessings in Catholic Life

In the first reading of the Mass on New Year’s Day, the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, we read of the Priestly Blessing that the Sons of Aaron were encouraged to offer to the people: “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace”.


As the new year begins it is a natural thing for us to seek God’s blessing on what lies ahead. We have our plans and hopes for the year and we want to ask God’s blessing on them. We are also aware that a new year is an open book. We do not know what will impact our lives and so we ask for God’s presence and protection for whatever lies ahead.

It is the most natural thing for a person of faith to turn to God and seek a blessing on their life and future. The Gospels, for instance, record Jesus blessing little children when they were brought to him. Just prior to the distribution of the loaves and fish the Gospels note that Jesus blessed the food.

Blessings are an integral part of Catholic life. They are known as sacramentals. Blessings can be made over persons or objects, especially those intended for sacred use.

In its Book of Blessings the Church provides a comprehensive array of prayers of blessing for a wide range of circumstances, ranging from pastoral meetings, to crops, to pregnant women.
It belongs to the priest to dispense a blessing, though all the baptised, sharing in the priesthood of Christ, can give a blessing, for example, parents over their children. The ordinary minister, though, is the priest. At the end of Mass the priest bestows a blessing on those who have participated in the Liturgy before sending them forth. The ordinary means of blessing is the use of Holy Water.

It is not unusual for a person to approach a priest and ask him to pray a prayer of blessing on them. It may be general in nature or it can be quite specific.

In seeking a blessing the person is expressing their desire to live the Christian life more fully and asks for God’s help.

In this there is the presumption that a person wants to break free from any sinful ways and live more closely according to God’s moral law.

On 18 December, 2023, the Vatican released a document titled, Fiducia supplicans, approved by Pope Francis, that provided “the possibility of blessing couples in irregular situations and same sex couples”. Such irregular situations might include cohabitating relationships, non-sacramental civil marriages, divorced and remarried unions. The document emphasised that the Church’s teaching on marriage being between a man and a woman was not changed and could not be changed. It explained that the intention was to address the pastoral situation where someone asks for a blessing on their life. Such blessing, it emphasised, was to be spontaneous and not liturgical.

The release of the document caused a good deal of confusion. A number of bishops’ conferences around the world and individual bishops have issued clarifications in order to address this confusion.

As already noted a person seeks a blessing for the purpose of receiving spiritual assistance to live out his or her faith. This is the fundamental nature of any Catholic blessing. It means therefore that there are some basic conditions or requirements which must be present before a priest can give a blessing.

In 2021, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in response to questions on blessings for such couples made clear these conditions or requirements. It emphasised the need for a right intention on the part of the person to live the Christian life. It then added, “For this reason, it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage (i.e., outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life), as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex”.

Thus, for a ‘relationship’ or ‘couple’ to be eligible for a blessing it must be ordered to the Creator’s plan.

An individual, however, can approach a priest and ask for a blessing to help them conform their life to Christ’s teaching. The priest can pray that they may “mature and grow in fidelity to the Gospel, that they may be freed from their imperfections and frailties and that they may express themselves in the ever-increasing dimension of the divine love” (Fiducia supplicans, no 31).

The discussion evoked by the 18 December declaration reminds us all of the place and value of blessings as an integral part of Catholic living, and that, in seeking a blessing, we desire to conform our lives more to what God expects of us.


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