Ask a Priest

Blessings in a Mass

Feb 02, 2015

Hi Father,

Often times in Mass if the priest is bestowing a special blessing on someone (who is celebrating a special anniversary, preparing to receive a sacrament, etc.) the priest will ask the congregation to extend their right hands and join in the blessing. I have recently heard that this is not liturgically correct. Can you point me in the direction of where to find what is, and what is not acceptable during the Mass?


Asked at 01:05 pm on February 02nd 2015

Dear Peter:

You are correct that within the context of Mass a lay person cannot give a blessing. I refer you to this commentary, which refers to a letter from the Vatican’s Congregation for Worship. While it is not definitive Church teaching it does give some useful guidance. The letter says:

“1. The liturgical blessing of the Holy Mass is properly given to each and to all at the conclusion of the Mass, just a few moments subsequent to the distribution of Holy Communion.

“2. Lay people, within the context of Holy Mass, are unable to confer blessings. These blessings, rather, are the competence of the priest (cf. Ecclesia de Mysterio, Notitiae 34 (15 Aug. 1997), art. 6, § 2; Canon 1169, § 2; and Roman Ritual De Benedictionibus (1985), n. 18).

There are different kinds of blessings, some of which can be performed by a lay person. If you look at the Vatican II document on the liturgy we can see the following about sacramentals, which include blessings.

“These are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments: they signify effects, particularly of a spiritual kind, which are obtained through the Church’s intercession. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.” (No. 60)

Blessings fall within the category of sacramentals. There are many examples of blessings in the Bible, both of people and objects.

The Church has an official book called the Book of Blessings. This book was promulgated in Latin as De Benedictionibus in 1984. It was then translated into English by ICEL.

The two types of blessings are:

1. Constitutive. These permanently bring about the dedication of a person or object in the service of the Church. For example the blessing of an altar.

2. Invocative. These ask God for help to those who are in need or those who will use certain objects.

Who is the proper person to bless depends on the type of blessing. Objects for general use in a parish or diocese are normally blessed by the bishop. For example, the dedication of an altar, the blessing of the oils on Holy Thursday.

Blessings that are more limited, such as religious objects, homes, etc. are normally carried out by a priest or deacon. Blessing for the life of a family are done by parents. For example, the blessing before a meal, the blessing of children.

Vatican II, in the document I linked to earlier made changes regarding blessings, which up to that point had been reserved to bishops or priests. Paragraph no. 79 said:

“Reserved blessings shall be very few; reservations shall be in favor of bishops or ordinaries.

Let provision be made that some sacramentals, at least in special circumstances and at the discretion of the ordinary, may be administered by qualified lay persons.”

The Catechism explains it in this way:

“1669 Sacramentals derive from the baptismal priesthood: every baptized person is called to be a “blessing,” and to bless.172 Hence lay people may preside at certain blessings; the more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry (bishops, priests, or deacons).173″

Making the sign of the cross over a person would normally only be done by a deacon, priest or bishop. But a lay person can use the formula of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Normally it would be a parent saying grace before meals or giving a blessing to their children.

Replied at 12:49 am on February 03rd 2015

Thanks for that great info. Could you also explain the meaning of the phrase that we sometimes hear, especially at the end of the lesser hours of the divine office, which goes “Let us bless the Lord”?

How can I (a mortal human) bless the infinite God and Creator?
Or does the word “bless” in this context mean something like “praise”?


Replied at 04:05 am on February 06th 2015

Dear Anthony:

You are quite right, clearly we cannot bless in the sense of making some change, given that God is immutable and not able to be affected by us. It is as you mention more a sense of thanksgiving and praise in recognition of all that God has done for us, so in return we offer our gratitude.

In our own personal relationships when we receive a gift we like to return to the person who has given this something of our own. What can we possibly give to God? We can give him our thanks and praise in acknowledgement of all that we have received.

Replied at 05:27 am on February 06th 2015

Thank you for that, Father. We can never replay God for the gifts He has given us – perhaps the greatest gift we can give back to him is our life.

Replied at 12:14 pm on February 07th 2015