Blessings Without a Stole

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Blessings Without a Stole

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 blessing rather? — 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 practical.

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 vesture.

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 liturgical norms.

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.

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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 sacramental.

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 bishop.

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 Communion.

Finally, some simple blessings may be given by lay people in virtue of their office, for example, parents on behalf of their children. ZE07052920

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