Blessings – Updated

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

With reference to your recent questioner on the sign of the Cross and blessings, I attach an extract from the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, on making the sign of the cross in all blessings from the Book of Blessings, either at the word “bless” (or similar) or at the conclusion of the prayer if the word is missing.


Thank you for pointing this out. The decree remains available only in Latin, and it came from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Prot. N. 1745/02/L (14 September 2002), AAS 94 (2002) 684.

So, heads up, everyone: When using the Book of Blessings, if blessing someone or something, and the cross is missing, add the cross.


Q: This question arises because I’ve noticed that my priest is very uncomfortable if I put a blessing in front of him that doesn’t include him making the sign of the cross over whatever the thing is (eg, at Christmas, he wanted to bless the nativity scene at the children’s liturgy, so I gave him the blessing from the Book of Blessings, and he used it, but then added a few extra lines and a sign of the cross over the manger, which is not included in the blessing in the Book of Blessings). He’s done this before–if the formal prayer as taken from a ritual book doesn’t include a sign of the cross, he ad libs some words and includes a sign of the cross. In just a cursory review of the Book of Blessings and Missal I’ve found that some of the blessings do call for a sign of the cross (chalice/paten, but only if outside Mass; holy water, but only if during Mass); some of the blessings call upon God to bless the people who will use them (rosaries, nativity scene, holy water if blessed outside Mass), while others bless the thing itself (cemeteries, chalice/paten, holy water if blessed during Mass). (New confessionals bless neither the thing nor the people.) Is there a “rule” regarding this? What gets a sign of the cross, what gets blessed, what gets blessed by asking for the blessing on the users thereof? Many thanks! 


A: The Book of Blessings, like other liturgical books, has some parts that come from the Vatican and some from the US. The chalice blessing, for example, appears in Appendix IV in the missal, and it is carried into the Book of Blessings (chapter 40, though the translation in the missal is newer). The blessing of a chalice outside mass appears only in the US edition of the Book of Blessings, so the sign of the cross could be something that the creators overlooked.

The holy water blessing in chapter 41, similarly, references the one in the missal, and the Vatican’s typical edition includes the version outside mass in the Book of Blessings.

Indeed, some blessings are over objects, and some over people. Both choices exist in the missal for such occasions as blessing ashes on Ash Wednesday and palms on Palm Sunday. The presider makes the choice.

The prayer for confessionals appears just that way in Latin.

In honesty, I’m not sure why these discrepancies exist. My guess is that the blessings come from multiple sources and traditions, and that each one has evolved in a certain way.

The only description of actions such as the extension of hands, the sign of the cross, the sprinkling of water, and incensation is in paragraph 26 of the introduction to the Book of Blessings, which describes “outward signs or gestures” without explaining any rationale for their use. It just says that the gestures are carried out “according to the rubrics in each order of blessing.”

For the third edition of the missal, the Vatican introduced some gestures where they had not been before: signs of the cross and the extension of hands, for example. It could be that a future edition of the Book of Blessings will strive for similar clarity. 

But for now, I do what the book says, case by case.