Within each of us, there is an innate awareness that to be blessed is a good thing. For example, one doesn’t need to be a Christian to know that it is good for couples to receive the ‘blessings’ of their parents before getting married. In fact, in our Catholic culture, we have blessings for so many things that we have formal written prayers suited for just about every occasion that needs a blessing. One of my earliest recollections of experiencing a blessing was when my parents bought me my very first rosary in a church store and thereafter, asked me to go up to the priest to get it blessed. It was a special moment, as if with a special wave of his hand and some mutterings, the simple plastic glow-in-the-dark rosary became something precious, more valued and gave me a ‘connect’ with God.
But it has also been my experience as a priest that there are many Catholics who are not quite bothered about the ‘why’ of blessings. And because many do not attempt to ask the necessary questions, they can often end up with a rather pagan mentality when it comes to blessings, both of things, and of people.
I have yet to find the appropriate time or setting to address the prevalent practice of the faithful coming up to the priest (or Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion) distributing Holy Communion during Mass, and asking for a blessing. I am not quite sure where this ‘practice’ started, but I can appreciate that it probably stems from the interior desire to receive something good from God. This is always done by people who are not able to receive Holy Communion for various reasons. Some have yet to make their First Holy Communion, some are catechumens, some are in irregular marriages, and some are not even baptized.
I have no qualms about giving blessings. I have no reason to. But as in most things in life, there are appropriate places and times for this to be done. After all, the time for Holy Communion is precisely meant for that – to receive Holy Communion. It is within the part of the Liturgy called "Communion Rite", and not "Blessing Rite". In our Liturgy, each moment has a specific, significant purpose. There are parts where we seek reconciliation, there are parts where we pray for our needs and those of the world, there are parts where we pray in silence, there are parts to listen to prayers, and there are parts to receive blessings. It is understood to be bad liturgical form to have an action with two intentions.
My 'issue' is with the non-communicants who join the line for a blessing together with communicants who are in the line for the reception of Holy Communion. With these two 'options' seemingly open to the people, it appears to be something like a spiritual smorgasbord or buffet, where if one cannot receive Holy Communion, one can choose to go for option two, which is to receive a blessing. And this has never been in the intention of the liturgy.
Perhaps what is an even deeper ‘problem’ is what this practice tends to breed – a mentality of getting not what the Church wants to give, but instead, making the Church give us what we want, when we want, and how we want. Again, the insidious mentality of "I, Me and Mine" or "my-rights-are-not-being-met".
Isn't the blessing at the end of Mass valid and efficacious? The blessing given at that point of the Mass is THE time for the congregation to be blessed as a whole. In fact, everything in the Mass is for the body of Christ as a whole, rather than for individuals. The Church has always been quick to address any ‘private’ devotions and overly individualistic pious practices during public liturgical celebrations. That is why we should refrain as far as possible from praying the rosary while the Mass is going on, and why individual ‘private’ baptisms are discouraged. We are there as a body of believers, fed and nourished and blessed as a body of believers and sent on mission as a body of believers. Coming up to receive a personal blessing at a time when everyone else is receiving Holy Communion tends to reduce a public act to a ‘private time’.
Is this a small issue? Not to the individual concerned, I am sure. Each individual will always ‘fight’ for his or her case to be addressed and served, but Liturgy is not a private matter. The very definition and etymology of Liturgy is a “public act of service”. Not realizing this will get us into all sorts of ‘personal’ demands that really have very little ground.
Maybe there is another issue at hand which is even more pressing, and has greater repercussions for the community, and it is this - we may be becoming a people who are far more interested to receive blessings than to become blessings to a world that needs to be blessed by our very lives.