Lay blessing of a priest

At the closing of a Year of the Priest appreciation event after our parent/student CCD program, all in the church were invited to extend their hand toward the priest in attendance and sing “May the blessing of the Lord be upon you, we bless you in the name of the Lord…” as a blessing. My question is “Is this licit or not, and if not, what documents can be used to show that it is illicit?”

As soon as I heard this was going to take place, I thought it was incorrect to do, but I have not been able to find anything official to back up my thought. I suggested to the organizer that a prayer for the priest was appropriate, but not a blessing as such. I appreciate any references that can be pointed out, or if is is acceptable, I will leave it as such and not make an issue of it.


The first half of the blessing seems fine (anyone can say “may the Lord bless you”). The second half, not so much (it’s implying that we are imparting our blessing on the priest, which I don’t think we can do because we’re not ordained). I’m sure someone will be able to pull you a verse and chapter (I’m not very familiar with those documents).

Canon Law states who can give blessings so I assume by default all others are forbidden:

Can. 1169 §1 Consecrations and dedications can be validly carried out by those who are invested with the episcopal character, and by priests who are permitted to do so by law or by legitimate grant.

§2 Any priest can impart blessings, except for those reserved to the Roman Pontiff or to Bishops.

§3 A deacon can impart only those blessings which are expressly permitted to him by law.

The Book of Blessings says:

19d. Other laymen and laywomen, in virtue of the universal priesthood, a dignity they possess because of their baptism and confirmation, may celebrate certain blessings, as indicated int he respective orders of blessings, by use of the rites and formularies designated for a lay minister. 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 change in the Church, as in the case in many places with religious or catechists appointed by decision of the local Ordinary, after ascertaining their proper pastoral formation and prudence in the apostolate.
But whenever a priest or a deacon is present, the office of presiding should be left to him.

  1. Because some blessings have a special relationship to the sacraments, they may sometimes be joined with the celebration of Mass.

    This book specifies what such blessings are and the part or rite with which they are to be joined; it also provides ritual norms that may not be disregarded. No blessings except those so specified may be joined with the eucharistic celebration.

  2. As indicated in the individual orders of blessing, some blessings may be joined with other liturgical celebrations.

I think it is expressly forbidden in the Eastern Churches. The Onion Dome, a parody site that recently closed down, had a great discussion on whether one could say “God bless you.” if a priest sneezes. :smiley:

No, it’s not acceptable. In fact it’s a serious problem in many ways.

The canon law which was already quoted would probably be your best source. Only bishops, priests, and deacons can impart blessings. Since a deacon is limited to “only those blessings which are expressly permitted to him by law” it stands to reason that laypersons cannot impart blessings which are not permitted to them by law–or else we would have a situation where a layman can impart blessings, but once ordained a deacon he would no longer be able to impart such blessings, and that would make no sense at all.

When this subject comes up, many posters will quote the new “Book of Blessings” or similar texts which seem to imply that laypersons can impart blessings. The problem is that the texts (in English) are rather vague in the descriptions of the rites, and do not make the same distinction that is very clearly made in the actual ritual. Turn to any of the “blessings” in the Book of Blessings which can be “celebrated” by a layperson, and one will notice a clear distinction between an actual blessing imparted by a cleric, and a prayer said by a layperson. The rubrics typically read as follows:

A minister who is a priest or deacon says the prayer of blessing with hands outstretched over the family members; a lay minister says the prayer with hands joined.

That is from the “Blessing of a Family” #57.

It’s no accident that the rubric makes a distinction between a “prayer of blessing” on the one hand and a “prayer” on the other hand. The rubric does not say, for example, “a priest says the prayer of blessing with hands outstretched; a lay minister says the prayer of blessing with hands joined.” There is a definite distinction made between a blessing and a prayer, even though it’s not an obvious one at first glance.

In other examples, the rubrics are vague, but then the text itself is clear. Take for example, the “prayer of blessing” of wedding rings on an anniversary. Paragraph #125 (B of B) provides a prayer to be used by laypersons (which, despite the title lacks any blessing of the rings) or an outright blessing to be used by clerics. Only the form used by clerics has an actual blessing being imparted to the rings.

Personally, I think the problem is that in the English language, we sometimes merge two ideas of “imparting blessing” and “speaking well of someone/thing” into one word and say “blessing.” Even further, the verb “to bless” can be used in English in so many different ways, that it can cause a lot of confusion. “The mayor gave his blessing to the new project” does’t mean that the mayor blessed anything, but merely that he approved it. The phrase “bless someone” is even used as a euphemism for speaking ill of someone in rude terms (example: “I was so mad, I blessed him out!” might be heard in the South). Other than to use the term “impart a blessing” I have yet to learn of any clear language to make the distinction between an actual blessing and a prayer for someone.

More directly to the point, the very idea of laypersons “blessing” (so-called) the priest is very problematic. It is, after all, the priest who is in the person of Christ in a unique way; not only when he is celebrating a Sacrament, but also in a way distinct from the way in which all Christians are called to be another Christ. The idea of having laypersons “bless” the priest is a strange role-reversal which both diminishes the ministry of the priest, and at the same time, encourages a strange and false clericalism on the part of the laity–especially the part of having everyone extend their hands in a blessing gesture. I can see nothing positive in this contrived ritual. I can’t help but point-out the irony that in a celebration which is supposed to be about the year of the priest, it concludes with a statement that seems to say “we don’t need priests, we’ll do our own blessing, thank you very much.” Are they truly celebrating the priest (better yet, celebrating God’s gift to us of the priesthood), or are they celebrating themselves??? The organizers would do better to conclude the celebration by asking the priest to bless the gathering.

Excellent point, Father. My point with quoting the Book of Blessings was merely to point out that “19d. whenever a priest or a deacon is present, the office of presiding should be left to him”, making blessing of the priest very questionable. And yes, you are very correct that many of the “blessings” are not really such, but prayers.

An excellent summation. :thumbsup:

But the Year of the Priest does not conclude until mid-June! :confused:

Informal blessings date back to the O.T. In the Baptism ceremony the parents and godparents bless the child with the sign of the cross. I encourage parents and grandparents to bless their children/grandchildren. Outside of the formal blessings…anyone can bless anyone.

This has nothing to do with my point, which was that the year of the priest is not over; it still has two months to go.

Actually, only a bishop, priest, or deacon can “bless someone.” Anyone may say a prayer for someone, of course. The parents do not “bless” the child at baptism, they might make the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead, but they aren’t blessing–not in the proper sense of the word. That’s where the confusion comes in. Because something resembles a blessing, people apply the word, even though that’s not what is happening. It’s like I said in an earlier post, in English we use the word “bless” in so many different ways, that it’s sometimes difficult for us to see the distinction between a true blessing on the one hand and a prayer for someone which people call a blessing on the other hand.

I was reminded of this thread at Benediction this morning.

Blessed be God
Blessed be His Holy Name

Blessed be God in His angels and in His saints.

I agree that wording is an issue here. Addressing the OP’s issue, I think it’d be fair to say that while the congregation’s intentions were right, their form is “off” i.e. that they cannot impart a blessing, but they can ask for one.

It sounds like this was a “blessing” outside of liturgy; I see nothing wrong with ***asking the Lord ***to bless their priest; they got it half right. :wink:

Yet, the problem is in what they are saying, as well as what it implies. This is from the original post:
“May the blessing of the Lord be upon you, we bless you in the name of the Lord…”
Both the words, and the blessing-gesture there are those of an actual blessing. When they say “we bless you…” that’s a problem. However good the intention might be, it’s still misguided and misleading.

Again, as I said earlier, the group would do better to ask the priest for his blessing rather than pretend to bless him. Regardless of how it’s phrased exactly, the idea of those gathered “blessing” the priest (which they can’t do anyway) is very problematic. Even if it’s done outside of Mass (which seems to be what’s happening here), it’s still a problem.

The priest blesses the congregation; the congregation does not bless the priest.

But of course, we aren’t “blessing” God there–as if God weren’t holy unless we humans bless Him. We are making a statement that God is already bless-ed. That’s why we say “blesséd be God” and not “I bless You, God…”

Even in Scripture, we see examples of people who “bless God” (Abraham comes to mind), but here the meaning is different. Abraham “blesses” God in the sense of recognizing His “blessedness” and not in the sense of making God into something holy or more holy.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit