Question from the Field: Can Students Bless One Another?

A few years back I received a question about the appropriateness of students in catechetical programs signing one another on the forehead with holy water at the start of class. The catechist had been told that blessings can only be given by someone who has authority over the person receiving the blessing (e.g., a parent to a child or a bishop to a member of his flock) and wanted to know if this was true.

We need to make a distinction between liturgical blessings and devotional blessings. The former are defined by the Church and set out in ritual texts (such as the Roman Missal or Book of Blessings); the latter are not defined, but should support and and extend the liturgical practices of the Church (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1675).

The Catechism says of blessings:

Sacramentals derive from the baptismal priesthood: every baptized person is called to be a ‘blessing,’ and to bless. Hence lay people may preside at certain blessings; the more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry (bishops, priests, or deacons). (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1669)

There is nothing in that explanation that supports a hierarchical notion of blessings of persons over persons; the principle regards the nature of the blessing itself.

So the question then becomes: how concerned with “ecclesial and sacramental life” is a non-liturgical blessing on the forehead with holy water?

The Book of Blessings gives us some guidance. Generally, liturgical blessings over people (“Blessing of the Sick,” “Blessing of a Mother Before Childbirth, “Blessing of Students”) give the option of allowing a lay person to preside if no clergy are present. The text states that

[L]aymen and laywomen, in virtue of the universal priesthood, a dignity they posses because of their baptism and confirmation, may celebrate certain blessings… Such laypersons exercise this ministry in virtue of their office (for example, parents on behalf of their children) or by reason of some special liturgical ministry or in fulfillment of a particular charge in the Church, as is the case in many places with religious or catechists appointed by decision of the local Ordinary. (Book of Blessings, no. 18; emphasis in the original)

Students signing one another with holy water seems in line with the “Blessing of Students.” Given the principles of the Book of Blessings, the ideal would be for the catechist to do the blessings. (And in fact, I think it would be a powerful ritual symbol for a catechist to sign the foreheads of students as they came into the classroom.) But since the signing in question isn’t a liturgical action, but a devotional one, I don’t think there’s anything stopping a catechist from delegating the act of signing to a student. (If it were a liturgical action, such as celebrating the “Blessing of Students” from the Book of Blessings, I’d say the catechist must preside, unless a member of the clergy is present, in which case he would be the proper minister.)

Resources for the Day of Prayer for Peace

On Friday, September 9, 2016, the Church in the United States will observe a special day of prayer dedicated to peace and justice in our communities and in our nation.

In announcing the Day of Prayer, USCCB president Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said that the event was intended to help the faithful “look toward additional ways of nurturing an open, honest and civil dialogue on issues of race relations, restorative justice, mental health, economic opportunity, and addressing the question of pervasive gun violence.”

I compiled the following list to help the faithful participate in this Day of Prayer by coming together as families, parishes, and disciples to unite our hearts and minds with those of Jesus Christ.

Suggested Activities

Liturgy and Prayer

  • Celebrate the Memorial of St. Peter Claver
    • Recommended use of Common of Holy Men and Women: For Those Who Practiced Works of Mercy
  • Celebrate the Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice
    • Readings in the Lectionary for Mass nos. 887-891
  • Use USCCB’s “Prayer of the Faithful for the Day of Prayer For Peace in Our Communities”:
  • Use a “Prayer Service to be Disciples on Mission”:
    • Especially appropriate for parish councils, school boards, and other parish meetings on or near the Day of Prayer
  • Host a Holy Hour or Rosary for the intentions of the Day of Prayer
  • Pray St. John Paul II’s Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe:

Adult Faith Formation

  • Insert the two page “Disciples on Mission in the World” in the parish bulletin:
  • Host an adult faith formation series utilizing Bishop Edward  K. Braxton’s pastoral letter “The Racial Divide in the United States”
  • Host an adult faith formation series utilizing “Sacraments and Social Mission: Living the Gospel, Being Disciples”
  • Distribute prayer cards promoting peace and reconciliation
  • Start a book discussion connected to themes of justice and mercy (see bibliography below)

Catholic Schools and Youth Catechesis

  • Design a prayer collage containing images related to peace and social justice
    • Hang the collage in the classroom and remember these issues in prayer
  • Create a prayer chain or prayer tree with a different petition written on each link or leaf; pray for these intentions
  • Promote the Works of Mercy by distributing the Missionary Childhood Association’s handout “The Works of Mercy for Kids”:
  • Discuss the life and ministry of notable saints who worked for peace and justice, such as St. Peter Claver, St. Katherine Drexel, Bl. Teresa of Calcutta (to be canonized on September 4), or St. Damien of Molokai
  • Learn about St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Thomas Aquinas, or another saint who loved to pray
  • Learn and pray Pope Francis’ “Five Finger Prayer”:
  • Invite a deacon to come and talk about the charitable ministries of the Church
  • Incorporate special activities into youth and teen formation events
  • Collect food, clothes, toiletries, and other items to benefit a local charitable organization
    • Discuss with students how our acts of charity are a response to our faith in Jesus
    • Pray over the items before they are sent to the organization

Ecumenical Activities

  • Hold an ecumenical prayer service for justice and peace
    • Suggested scripture: readings from Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice (Lectionary for Mass nos. 887-891)
  • Organize and publicize ringing of church bells on September 9 at 3:00pm EST as a sign of solidarity
  • Organize a panel discussion on ways to promote economic welfare, racial justice, and peace
    • Consider inviting local civic officials, leaders from other Christian traditions, and administrators in Catholic education and healthcare


Church Documents and Statements


Web Resources

How to Break In Your Liturgical Books

Recently my office purchased a complete set of the Lectionary for Mass. Wanting to make sure the books lasted a long time, I asked our director for worship and the catechumenate how he prepares liturgical books for regular use. Here’s a video demonstrating the technique he shared with me:

Image by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP, under a CC-BY-NC-ND license.

Book Announcement: Sunday Prayers for Catechists

spc15I am very happy to announce that Liturgy Training Publications has asked me to write their 2014-2015 version of the annual Sunday Prayer for Catechists book!

From LTP:

Sunday Prayer for Catechists invites catechists to develop a habit of personal prayer and reflection on the Word of God. This annual resource provides Gospel texts from the Sunday Lectionary and reflections that connect the message of Scripture to work with young people in order to help catechists to grow spiritually through their ministry. It covers every Sunday and Holyday of Obligation from September 7, 2014, through August 30, 2015.

This resource is a wonderful gift to present to catechists at the beginning of the year, at retreats, or on Catechetical Sunday. There is a dedication page in the front of the book that can be signed by the director of religious education or pastor to add a personal touch. Catechists can use this prayer resource throughout the year individually or in small groups to grow in faith as a result of their experiences leading young people. The low cost and bulk pricing make this gift a practical choice for parishes looking to do something to thank their catechists for their ministry.

Sunday Prayers for Catechists is available now from LTP. I hope that it will be a blessing to teachers and catechists as they pray through the liturgical year.

Praying the Rosary for Discipleship


About four years ago one of the high schools in our diocese, finding themselves with sliding enrollment, started a prayer campaign with the specific intention of increasing the number of students at the school. The centerpiece of this campaign was a weekly rosary before the school day. Since beginning that weekly rosary their numbers have steadily increased and they are nearly at capacity.

Inspired by this a member of my department recently approached me about starting a similar endeavor in our curia offices with the goal of increasing levels of discipleship in our diocese.

To that end, for the past two months, we have held a morning rosary in our curia chapel every Thursday before office hours. We chose Thursday both for scheduling reasons and because the Luminous Mysteries seem especially relevant to the cause of discipleship. In place of the traditional prayer after the rosary we have substituted the collect prayer from the Mass for the New Evangelization.

We also developed a small pamphlet for people to take home in case they couldn’t join us Thursday mornings.

It is, of course, too early to know of any direct effects of this effort. Regardless, reminding ourselves of the end goal of our work — to help individuals grow in holiness and become more dedicated, authentic disciples — is essential for those of us in more “bureaucratic” ministries. I trust that God will bless these prayers with an abundant harvest.

3 Minute Retreat: Personal Satisfaction

My last  reflection was posted today for Loyola Press’s 3-Minute Retreat!  You can view the retreat on the  3-Minute Retreat web site  or  Facebook page. (It really does only take three minutes!)


The Church extols the virtue of humility “ and with good reason! Humility is the starting point for a deep relationship with God, for without humility we risk placing our own accomplishments above those of God. Yet we can also fall into the trap of false humility, in which we downplay the talents and gifts given to us through the Holy Spirit or fail to give thanks to the Father for them. This silence is equally deadly, for it denies that all we have is a gift. It can also be an impediment to spreading the Gospel by failing to demonstrate what we, as Christians, have to be thankful for! Take pride in your work, but remember to give thanks to God for what he has given you.

I want to thank Loyola Press for inviting me to participate in this project. It was an honor to have my reflections hosted with so many other great writers!

Original photo by mkd/flickrCC

3 Minute Retreat: In Remembrance of Me

My latest  reflection was posted today for Loyola Press’s 3-Minute Retreat!  You can view the retreat on the  3-Minute Retreat web site  or  Facebook page. (It really does only take three minutes!)


There are some memories that never fail to make me smile: playing board games in a lake cabin with my friends, my mom’s surprise 60th birthday party, the birth of my children. Memory has a powerful effect on our emotions and can make friends and family long gone seem as if they are in the room with us. Jesus must have known about this effect, for why else would he ask us to celebrate in his memory? By coming together to share his Body and Blood, we are reminded not only of the events of Jesus’ life, but of the joy we have in the promises he has made to us. By keeping that joy in our hearts we can become beacons of light in the world, drawing others closer to him whom we remember.

Original photo by Rusty Clark/flickrCC

3 Minute Retreat: Gifts at the Altar

My latest  reflection was posted today for Loyola Press’s 3-Minute Retreat!  You can view the retreat on the  3-Minute Retreat web site  or  Facebook page. (It really does only take three minutes!)


When the gifts are brought to the altar at Mass, there is more going on than meets the eye. While the bread and wine which will become the Body and Blood of Christ are carried forward, we also bring our own hearts to be cleansed and purified. In the third Eucharistic Prayer the priest asks on our behalf that Christ œmake of us an eternal offering  to the Father. It is not just the bread and wine that are changed on the altar! We, too, are made more Christ-like through the offering of ourselves. By practicing what we celebrate “ by extending to our brothers and sisters the same forgiveness shown and commanded by Jesus “ we demonstrate this change to the world.

Original photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP/flickrCC

3 Minute Retreat: Never Forgotten

My next reflection was posted today for Loyola Press’s 3-Minute Retreat!  You can view the retreat on the  3-Minute Retreat web site  or  Facebook page. (It really does only take three minutes!)


I have a secret: I’ve envied my wife whenever she’s been pregnant. OK, maybe not for the morning sickness or back pain! But she gets a head start on developing a relationship with our children. She gets nine months of deep intimacy which is available to me only dimly. She knows that child in ways I can only imagine “ just as God knows us in such tender, intimate ways. Even when we sin and turn our back on him, God extends a love even deeper than my wife’s love for our children. That’s thrilling, awe-inspiring, and maybe a little terrifying! But such is the way that God carries us, knows us, loves us.