One of the trends in the last four decades is confusing the priesthood of the faithful and the ordained priesthood.
Concerns about swine flu have prompted many parishes to discontinue the routine administration of the Precious Blood. Okay, fine.* But there’s another Communion rite practice that should also cease if only out of concerns for public health. This time, however, it’s a practice that (unlike distribution from the Cup) is an abuse per se, namely, that of lay ministers of holy Communion purporting to confer “blessings-in-lieu-of-Communion” on every Tom, Pat, and Harriet who comes up in line.
Lay ministers of holy Communion (by definition, extraordinary ministers thereof), in response to people approaching them without the intention to receive Communion (maybe such folks are non-Catholics** or are Catholic kids prior to First Communion), currently do one of three things: they (1) speak and gesture a sign of the cross over such folks, or (2) lay hands on such persons’ heads or shoulders while voicing a blessing, or (3) waive the Eucharist over them while purporting to confer a blessing. I think all three actions are liturgical abuses.
Let’s consider them in order of gravity:
Ed Peters’ goes further in explaining why this is a liturgical abuse and why they have no authority to give blessings.
This has been a growing trend in parishes and in my own experience is quite common now. The first time I saw this practice I knew immediately that it was wrong because it confuses the blessing of the ordained priesthood and the type of blessing we can give.
At one parish they had a monthly blessing of blankets that were given to people who were sick. The priest would do a blessing of these blankets at the end of Mass and then had the laity hold out their hands also at the same time. The Nazi looking salute was bad enough in a Catholic parish, but the theology of this is quite confuses. The practice teaches something that is not true.
First off I don’t think there should be any blessings of persons who can’t receive Communion at this point even by the priest. There is a final blessing at Mass which does indeed give a blessing to everyone. There is no theological reason to do a blessing in the Communion line for those who can’t receive. There is of course the pastoral aspect and a desire to include everybody. I can certainly understand why this practice developed and the good intention behind it. What we should be doing instead is teaching what the final blessing really is and teaching the difference between the priestly blessing and the blessing for example parents can give their children.
What really annoys me about this practice is that surely the priest in most cases knows that the the EMHC’s are not allowed to do this. The theology behind priestly blessings and what the liturgical books say is not exactly a closely guarded secret. Like most bad practices they occur with the priest turning a blind eye to go along.
The problem is also fairly widespread based on anecdotal evidence of my hearing this topic on Catholic radio when people call up asking about it. This would be a good thing for the USCCB’s Committee on Divine Worship to address while it is still in the relatively early stages. Oh well how else can we hear the crickets?