Can Lay People Give a “Blessing” at Communion?
Question: I have been to churches where young children and those not receiving the Eucharist still process forward at Communion time and receive a blessing. My own parish has forbidden extraordinary ministers from giving such a blessing. Is that a church rule or simply the preference of the priest?
Answer: At the present time, there would seem to be no absolute and universal “church rule” regarding the practice. Clearly, there are some situations where laypeople can offer blessings: Parents often do so when children are going to bed or families are gathered around the table.
But the Catechism of the Catholic Church does note that “the more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry” (No. 1669).
In 2008, the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship was asked specifically about an extraordinary minister’s giving a blessing in the Communion line. The reply came in a private letter from the congregation’s undersecretary – an advisory opinion not having the force of law – saying that the practice was then “under attentively study” but for the moment was to be discouraged.
To my knowledge, nothing further has come from the Vatican on this. Meanwhile, dioceses seem to take varying approaches. The Archdiocese of Washington says on its website, “Extraordinary ministers are deputed for the sole purpose of distributing Holy Communion. They are not to administer blessings or lay hands upon people who approach them but do not wish to receive Communion.”
The Diocese of St Petersburg in Florida, on the other hand, says in its guidelines that when a person comes to them in the Communion line with arms crossed, an extraordinary minister “may place a hand on the individual’s shoulder and say, ‘May God bless you.’ They do not make the sign of the cross over the individual in the manner of a priest or deacon.”
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