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.)

Catechesis: Beyond Information (Guest post by William O’Leary)

William O’Leary always has an interesting take on evangelization and catechiesis. I’m consistently impressed by the work he does in his parish and this guest post on transformative catechesis shows why he’s one of the next generation of catechetical leaders to keep on eye on!

information

A long long time ago in a land far far away (or maybe not so far away) the average catechist thought that if they could just get their students to “learn the material”(i.e. the content) they would be ready to go live their faith in the world. Yes, like I said, that was a long time ago. Today catechesis must be understood to be about helping form and transform people into mature disciples of the Lord Jesus. Each student comes to a catechetical program not as a number or as one who needs to be taught the information. It is absolutely true that they need to know what we believe, for how can one love that which she/he does not know. On the other hand, our goal in catechesis (meaning to echo, to hand on) is to draw us into greater intimacy with God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Cf. Catechesi Tradendae #5).

Many catechists find it challenging to “get through the necessary material” in the time they have in a given session (not to mention the whole year). This is a valid concern. The material, however, is at the service of drawing each person into a deeper encounter with God. Fostering a catechesis that leads students to growth, renewal and further conversion is essential if the faith is going to flourish in an individual’s life.

Below are 3 ways to help foster transformational catechetical sessions:

  1. Know your students. Not just their names, but also get to know them – their likes and hobbies. Having a rapport with your students is a significant way to open the door to your catechesis being transformational.
  2. Use your gifts to make class engaging. Your gift may be humor or getting your students to engage in skits, or storytelling to convey the material. Using your gifts to lead your students closer to Christ is essential to your success. Don’t try to be like this or that person if that is not you – be yourself and use the talents you have to share the faith.
  3. Prepare for the time you spend with your students. Taking time not only to look at the chapter you are going to be covering but also to plan on how you will share the material in an engaging manner. Also, during your preparation it’s important to pray for the Holy Spirit to be present and to speak to the hearts of your students.

Today, there is a great need to help those we catechize become more deeply transformed by Christ and the Good News of Salvation. Together, let us strive to be the instruments Christ desires us to be!

William O’Leary (CatechesisInTheThirdMillennium.wordpress.com) is the Director of Religious Formation at the Church of the Ascension in Overland Park, Kansas. He is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville where he received degrees in theology with a specialization in catechetics.