ROME, 15 MAY 2007 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I was told that a priest's blessing over a person or object, given
without wearing his stole, is one given by himself as a man, whereas a
blessing given while wearing his stole has more power in that it comes
with the power and protection of the charisms given him as a vicar of
Christ. Is this true? Should we ask them to wear their stole when they
give a blessing? When children approach our pastor for a blessing with
their arms crossed over their chest during Communion, he taps them on
the head with the back of his hand and says: "God bless you." Is the
back of the hand appropriate? Is this a blessing? Isn't he retaining the
E.S., Mississauga, Ontario
A: Certain liturgical blessings, such as the blessing of holy water,
naturally demand the use of a stole due to fidelity to the rite. In such
cases both the proper vesture and the correct liturgical formulas should
be used without cutting corners out of expediency.
The use of the stole for other blessings is an eloquent symbol of the
priestly condition and ministry and is thus to be commended whenever
The use of the stole, however, is not required for the validity of these
sacramentals. Nor can it be said that a priest's blessing is "more
powerful" when he wears the liturgical garb, since his ability to impart
these blessings derives from his ordination and not from any external
The Holy Father frequently imparts the apostolic blessing without a
stole during the weekly recitation of the Angelus. Priests are also
frequently called upon to bless people or objects of devotion on the
spur of the moment with no possibility of donning a stole. In all such
cases the effects of the blessing is the same regardless of vesture.
With respect to the second question, I believe that the priest's gesture
probably stems from respect toward the Eucharist and toward the
communicants. Since he touches the hosts with his fingers he probably
wishes to avoid using them to touch the children. This is probably the
priest's personal decision and does not correspond to any particular
It is highly doubtful that he desires to retain the blessing, and his
words are enough to convey his intention.
Even where this blessing of non-communicants has been specifically
approved (and some dioceses specifically discourage or forbid it), the
question of the proper gestures is as yet unclear. For motives of
respect toward the Eucharist I would suggest that it is preferable to
impart this blessing without touching the person being blessed.
* * *
Follow-up: Blessings Without a Stole [5-29-2007]
In line with our column on blessings without a stole (May 15), several
readers have asked a similar question: "Is it proper for lay
extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion to give a 'blessing' to young
children or people who cannot (or choose not to) receive the Eucharist?"
There are many ways of distinguishing kinds of blessings and
sacramentals. One such distinction is between constituent and invocative
The effect of a constituent sacramental is to transform the person or
object being blessed in such a way that it is separated from profane
use. Examples would include the blessing of an abbot and the blessing of
holy water. Practically all of these blessings are reserved to an
ordained minister and sometimes are the exclusive preserve of the
Invocative blessings call down God's blessing and protection upon a
person or thing without sacralizing them in any way. Some of these
blessings are reserved to the ordained, such as the blessing of the
assembly at the end of a liturgical celebration.
Some blessings may also be imparted by lay people by delegation or by
reason of some special liturgical ministry, above all when an ordained
minister is absent or impeded (see general introduction to the Shorter
Book of Blessings, No. 18). In these cases lay people use the
appropriate formulas designated for lay ministers.
This latter situation is probably the case of the extraordinary
ministers of holy Communion who ask that God's blessing may come upon
those who for some good reason approach the altar but do not receive
Finally, some simple blessings may be given by lay people in virtue of
their office, for example, parents on behalf of their children.