Blessing children during Communion

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q:  I have a question regarding blessing children and non-Catholics during Communion. Is this allowed? It has been a practice in Catholic parishes across the country for many years.  Searching the Internet, there are arguments for both – yes and no.
Regarding “no,” some say:
  • only a priest can give a blessing
  • the focus needs to be God – not making everyone in the whole family feel good
  • it is not in the rubrics and should not be added
 Regarding “yes,” some say
  • In recent years (for the past 100 years or so) since both parents are coming up, they hold their baby or their toddler is with them; so it is natual to extend a blessing
  • Regarding lay persons giving blessings, parents have given blessings to their own children for years
  • Regarding the blessing to both children and non-Catholics, the blessing is a sign that one day they will join us at the table of the Lord – so it is preparing the child remotely and helping the non-Catholic to understand the desire for unity one day
 What are your thoughts and understanding on this?
A:  I treated this question in the second edition of Let Us Pray: A Guide to the Rubrics of Sunday Mass because of a new document since the first edition. The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments sent a private letter – not an official statement – on the matter in 2008. They frowned on the practice because of the liturgical blessing at the end of mass, that lay people should not give blessings during the course of mass, handlaying is not appropriate in this context, pastors should not perform potentially confusing ceremonies for those who are divorced and remarried, and that Catholics under penalties of canon 915 and non-Catholics should not approach communion nor receive a blessing. Again, it’s not official, but it tells the mind of the Congregation.

Personally, I do not like blessings in the communion line because it confuses the purpose of communion and because there is a blessing at the end of mass. But if someone approaches me at communion with arms crossed, I will trace the sign of the cross on their forehead, saying nothing, and I ask lay ministers of communion in my parish to do the same. Parents may do this during mass at baptism, so I don’t see the problem with others doing it during mass.
If I refuse to give blessings, I look like a really bad guy. If I give them, it offends my liturgical sensibilities.
It is a no-win situation, no matter what you do or don’t do. I predict we’ll never see anything official on this from the Vatican or the USCCB for that reason.