Monday, July 4, 2011

Blessings and being blessings

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.


  1. Thank you Fr. Luke for being a blessing! God bless you on all your endeavors!


  2. Dear Fr Luke,

    As always, thank you for your edifying article.

    Having been only recently confirmed, I am still learning so do excuse me if my comments miss the mark. When I first read this article I was concerned because I have been to many Catholic churches where the minister of Communion will say something to the person who comes up to them instead of distributing the Host. Sometimes there is a gesture, and sometimes not.

    However, I am not convinced that this actually constitutes a blessing especially since I am aware that there is a practice called "spiritual communion" where someone who is not able to receive the Host can come before the minister with their arms crossed across their chest whereupon they will be invited kindly to "Receive the Lord Jesus in your heart" which is not to be understood as a blessing. Is it proper within the liturgy for this practice to be combined with Holy Communion?


  3. Dear Thomas

    Thank you for your comment and feedback. Yes, I am aware that there is this other ‘option’ where the one distributing Holy Communion will say to the non-communicant “Receive Christ in your heart”, which is something akin to the ‘giving’ of spiritual communion. Actually, I had been doing that in the past, as a sort of comfort to the person who comes up in the queue with arms across the chest as a sign that he or she is not able to receive Communion.

    Then it set me thinking that Spiritual Communion is spiritual because the person either is not or cannot or should not be in line to receive the consecrated Body and Blood of Christ. One does not need to be in any sort of line to ‘receive’ spiritual communion. If this is a requisite action, then what difference does it make if the person remains in the pew and utters a silent desire in his heart to be in spiritual communion with the Lord, compared to a person who does this in the queue? Is the latter more ‘spiritual’, or more ‘in communion’?

    I hope this helps readers in some way. Thank you once more for your comment. God bless.

    Fr Luke

  4. Good moning Fr Luke,
    Thank you God our Father,for the blessing of this blog and Fr Luke:for bringing people closer to one another and to you through this blog.And thank you Lord for the gift of priests.

  5. People yearn to belong. The person who is unable to receive communion (for whatever reason) may feel less "ostracised" if she/he is able to at least approach Jesus and, perhaps to them, receive a blessing from Christ. Perhaps to this person, this is community of the church offered to him/her.


  6. Fr Luke, whilst what you said to Thomas about spiritual communion is true, there is that part of man that needs to see, hear, feel n touch - as you've mentioned b4 about us being sensorial beings...?? Isn't this an act of charity to a person deprived of proper communion ? So - does "liturgical rightness" far out-weigh charity ie love ? Whatever happened to God the Father, being "radically prodigal " ? Granted that the church/clergy is given the task of being guardians of the sacraments but just as Christ said 'the Sabbath is made for man' , so are the sacraments ......?


  7. Fr Luke,

    One thing come to my mind recently as regards to the two readings before the Gospel. I find it hard to understand the readings and I wonder how many Catholics are able to understand the readings when they attend the mass.
    Will that possible to change the reading to layman language so it impact us more deeply?
    Jesus teaching through the Gospel is so much easier to understand but the old testament is very hard to understand.
    This is just my comments. Hope you can give some guidance on it.

  8. Dear Fr Luke

    Thank you for clarifying the alternative option.

    Outside considerations whether this option is more or less spiritual, I think it is useful particularly for instruction on the meaning of Communion to children, non- or yet-to-be Catholics, and making the Catholic liturgy more welcoming as some adults may feel embarrassed to be "left out" when they don't truly understand what is going on.

    There may also be a case for this to be culturally specific. For instance, in places like UK/US where Catholics are now the minority among Christians, and the practice of blessing during Communion seems to be more widespread, this option may ease the introduction/transition of those from other denominations to Catholicism.

    An side effect of the "better" organised pew by pew receiving of Communion which seems to be common in Singapore is that it makes someone who stays in their pew more noticeable than if the process were more chaotic.

    I suppose as long as there is no definitive guideline from the Vatican on the practice, each diocese/church could be guided by the relative pastoral utility of the practice much like how there are some variations in the liturgy from country to country.


  9. This is a response to Tessa:

    I suppose this is a rare situation where I seem to have to step in and respond to comments because there seem to be gaping holes that are aching to be filled, albeit without much satisfaction I am sure.

    Let us begin by remembering what Liturgy is. It is an experience of heaven on earth. The Mass is heaven brought down to earth so that us mere mortals can encounter God in all his holiness and awe, but with such limited capacities. The angels and saints are present at every Eucharist, and the Sanctus or Holy Holy Holy is meant to evoke a sense that we are really in the presence of the one whom none of us can truly see ‘face to face’ and live.

    Yes, God invites us, and so we come with all humility. It behooves us to realize that this grand invitation is something that we are not at all deserving, but given with great mercy. When such a merciful gesture is given by God himself, we need to come before him in a way that is akin to Moses’ taking off his sandals to come before the great I AM.

    This is God’s “radical prodigiousness” as referred to by you. God is ever, always prodigal, but using the same analogy and parabolic inference, we must not forget that in the same parable, the younger son also came to the point in his life where he “came to his senses”. Mercy somehow does enjoin or call forth repentance and an awareness that what was in the past, was either in error or at best, done in ignorance.

    Charity is not a free-for-all. Many mistake it for that, and we will fall into all sorts of knots when we think that charity means that justice is left at the door. Having said that, justice, especially one that is tempered with charity is one of the most difficult things to do well, because it will always be ‘offending’ someone else who has not been given that kind of similar loving experience. In a human church which deals with human issues and human experiences, this is a sad truth, and I think this is a burden that we all are bearing as a collective sinful and imperfect community.

    Ultimately, yes, we are the people who have been entrusted by God to be the guardians and dispensers of the Sacraments, but we too, do need to be covered by God’s mercy at the end for perhaps having let some ‘fall through the cracks’. This is when the Church too needs to be met by the prodigal father who runs out to embrace the returning son.

    Fr Luke

  10. Dear Triangle T

    Yours is not an uncommon sentiment, and because it often remains largely unaddressed, I would add to the deafening silence if I were remiss in responding.

    The Liturgy does presuppose quite a few things, and one of them is that we have a good grounding in scripture. Apart from this, there is a culture that one needs to be assimilated into in order to get a good sense of “heaven on earth”.

    A good grounding presupposes that as adults, we would have had proper formation in our childhood to appreciate how God has revealed himself in Sacred Scripture, hence the much-loathed Catechism classes. Hardly anyone would automatically ‘get’ Scripture and liturgical nuances and references if one were a first timer. It’s a life-long process of getting it not just bit by bit, but deeper and deeper.

    First of all, it is not in the purpose of liturgy to get the people to “understand” everything as if it were some play that were going on in the sanctuary. We can easily fall into the trap of being too cerebral and want to grasp everything with the mind, and when we cannot, we either give up or switch off. We resist mystery and revelation so much, to our detriment.

    But this needs to be matured into. The language of the Old Testament is not complete without the NT. One is the setting for the crowning of the other. And one needs patience to sieve through the rather graphic and oft times awe-full images of God in man’s early encounters with him. But he is not complete in his revelation till Jesus. And it is only Jesus who really ties up all the ‘loose’ ends of God’s revelation by his very life. If we can only appreciate the gospels, we are only reading the final chapters of the beautiful story called God’s Love. We don’t do much justice if we open every book to its last chapters, and say that we know the story. We don’t.

    Secondly, we cannot water down everything and treat the congregation as a gathering of children. That would be insulting the intelligence of a great many who are really interested in being fed solid food. If your request is met, we can end up feeding pablum to a people whose permanent teeth have all emerged, but who could never really had a chance to use their bite.

    I hope that your reading my blog is a sign that you are willing to do the hard task of delving, albeit with some challenge, into the seemingly murky waters of the Old Testament language, but know that when you do, there will be lot of chance of you emerging with the beautiful pearls that lie at the bottom.

    Fr Luke

  11. Hi there Fr. Luke,
    Blessings and Peace!
    I tend to agree with you on the matter of "blessing" at Communion time. Holy Communion is the time for us to receive Jesus in the form of the Host. Either we are ready (never worthy) to receive Him, or we are not.
    To insert our own wishes for what we think should take place during that time is rather presumptuous on our part, I think.

  12. We live in a world of moral relativism. If we allow long standing traditions and practices to be watered down, we would eventually lose everything that was once of value and meaning to us. America is the quintessential example of how a society can lose its entire sense of itself because she has allowed her core values (and whether they like it or not--Judao-Christian values), values that have held the nation together since its birth. Today, there is no such thing as right and wrong in America's schools. Teachers are disciplined if they wish you Merry Christmas the result of which is gun violence and a student populace that is overstimulated by the computer and internet.