28 February 2009

Blessing them at the Altar rails

It is a long-standing custom in most types of Anglican churches for those in the congregation not qualified to receive the Blessed Sacrament to be welcomed at the altar rail (yes, vast numbers of Anglican churches still have these) and blessed by the priest either putting his hand on their heads, or making the sign of the cross over them with the Sacred Host, while saying some brief formula of blessing.

Last November the CDW in Rome banned this custom.

The reasons given included:
(1) Lay "extraordinary ministers" may not bless;
(2) ceremonies of any kind for remarried divorcees are forbidden;
(3) the laying-on-of hands has its own sacramental signification which is inappropriate here.

I suggest that in Anglican churches this custom is of an antiquity which brings it into the category of a custom which has acquired liceity. As to the the points above:
(1) Indeed, layfolk should not purport to bless. I have never seen this in the C o E, where the blessing is given by the priest who is administering the ciborium, and the layperson with the chalice simply passes the persons concerned.
(2) A separate blessing given to each of two individuals would not be a blessing of the couple;
(3) OK, so the blessing should be given by making the sign of the cross with the Sacred Host. After all, nobody seems to be suggesting that those disqualified from communion should not be allowed to enter a church and be present during Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Which is the same thing more solemnly done. (How does the observation that the laying-on-of-hands has its own sacramental signification impinge upon the custom of the neo-ordinatus using it to give blessings?)

Incidentally, I have long wondered why the Peace is shared indiscriminately and promiscuously. See my earlier posts on the significance of the Peace in the Roman Rite. And if this rite is an intimate expression of unity between those who are about to share together the Lord's Body, should it not be confined to those who are going to communicate? But at the papal Inauguration, it seemed to be shared even with the unbaptised.


Ken Eck said...

Fr John, what are your thoughts on an ordinand being asked to serve as Deacon (though not reading the Gospel) and asked the distribute the host and give blessings using the host?

Chris said...

a custom which has acquired liceity

Not to mention CW, Services & Prayers p.334 note 21

Little Black Sambo said...

What should the priest say? If he says, "The Lord remember thee in his kingdom", that would not be a blessing, or would it?

Canon Jerome Lloyd OSJV said...

Would the said Ordinand be dressed in Diaconal vesture?

Or simply in cassock, collar and cotta assisting more or less at the altar as a Clerical MC except for uncovering and recovering the Chalice at the Consecration, doxology and handling the Sacred Species...?

An Ordinand could certainly distribute the Sacrament if necessity required it, but I would counter blessing with the Host. (Although, is it not the Host that blesses rather than the person with the Host...?)

motuproprio said...

When did this practice of blessing non-communicants start? I have the feeling it started in liberal Roman Catholic circles and percolated into the Church of England in the 1980s. Any ideas?

AndrewWS said...

In the days when I (a layman) was licensed to administer both host and chalice, I used to say, when a person wanted a blessing rather than the former, "may Jesus present in this sacrament bless you and keep you". Was this legitimate?

Chris Jones said...


I can't speak about the Church of England, but it was the universal custom in the Episcopal Church in the USA when I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s. I don't think it was of Roman Catholic origin (liberal or otherwise).

motuproprio said...

Thanks Chris, clearly another abomination to lay at the door of PECUSA.