ROME, MAY 15, 2007, Zenit.org – Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I was told that a priest’s blessing over a person or object, given without wearing his stole, is one given by himself as a man, whereas a blessing given while wearing his stole has more power in that it comes with the power and protection of the charisms given him as a vicar of Christ. Is this true? Should we ask them to wear their stole when they give a blessing? When children approach our pastor for a blessing with their arms crossed over their chest during Communion, he taps them on the head with the back of his hand and says: “God bless you.” Is the back of the hand appropriate? Is this a blessing? Isn’t he retaining the blessing rather? — E.S., Mississauga, Ontario
A: Certain liturgical blessings, such as the blessing of holy water, naturally demand the use of a stole due to fidelity to the rite. In such cases both the proper vesture and the correct liturgical formulas should be used without cutting corners out of expediency.
The use of the stole for other blessings is an eloquent symbol of the priestly condition and ministry and is thus to be commended whenever practical.
The use of the stole, however, is not required for the validity of these sacramentals. Nor can it be said that a priest’s blessing is “more powerful” when he wears the liturgical garb, since his ability to impart these blessings derives from his ordination and not from any external vesture.
The Holy Father frequently imparts the apostolic blessing without a stole during the weekly recitation of the Angelus. Priests are also frequently called upon to bless people or objects of devotion on the spur of the moment with no possibility of donning a stole. In all such cases the effects of the blessing is the same regardless of vesture.
With respect to the second question, I believe that the priest’s gesture probably stems from respect toward the Eucharist and toward the communicants. Since he touches the hosts with his fingers he probably wishes to avoid using them to touch the children. This is probably the priest’s personal decision and does not correspond to any particular liturgical norms.
It is highly doubtful that he desires to retain the blessing, and his words are enough to convey his intention.
Even where this blessing of non-communicants has been specifically approved (and some dioceses specifically discourage or forbid it), the question of the proper gestures is as yet unclear. For motives of respect toward the Eucharist I would suggest that it is preferable to impart this blessing without touching the person being blessed.
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Follow-up: Agnus Dei, Beyond the Norms
After our comments on the Agnus Dei (April 24), a Pittsburgh reader asked: “During the Easter season, our parish is using a sung version of the ‘Lord, I Am Not Worthy.’ However, the words in the setting are changed to, ‘Lord, we are not worthy to receive you into our hearts, but only say the word and we shall be healed of our sins.’ Although the music is moving, it does not seem appropriate to alter the words of the liturgy, particularly the change of ‘I’ to ‘we.'”
Effectively, this altered musical version could possibly be used as a Communion song inspired by the liturgy. But it is not correct to alter the approved liturgical text, especially as in this case the words are based on the Bible.
The Latin text of this acclamation is taken literally from the Latin Vulgate version of Matthew 8:8: “But the centurion answered him, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed,'” changing only the word puer (servant) to anima (soul).
The current English version departs somewhat from the biblical text although it appears that the upcoming new translation will be closer to the Latin.
Furthermore, substituting “I” for “we” also tends to eliminate the personal element of Communion. Receiving Communion is a personal, not a community, act even though the community is certainly involved.
It is true that none of us is worthy to receive Communion, but the proclamation of such unworthiness is a personal acknowledgment. We are not authorized to publicly proclaim the unworthiness of our neighbors.
As mentioned above, this adapted version could still be used as a Communion song. And it is quite possible that the music was originally composed with this purpose in mind.