I’ve been thinking more and more about my concerns around giving special blessings to children at Mass. There are a number of people here who are continuing to express concern because of my stance on not blessing children in the communion line. To be clear, this is a position taken not out of spite, but out of a respect for the liturgy and for the documents of the Second Vatican Council. In paragraph 22, Sacrosanctum Concilium states, “Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.” A priest does not have the authority to add a blessing to the liturgy for anyone, because a priest does not have the authority to add anything to the liturgy. It doesn’t matter if other priests go beyond their authority and do it in disobedience. In my mind, it is inappropriate, and I will not. Period.
Of course, people don’t like to hear that. They think it makes the kids feel “special” that they receive this blessing. (As an aside, I think the parents and grandparents get the warm-fuzzies more than the kids do.) Of course, they can’t be blamed. For 30+ years, they’ve been fed a mindset that the liturgy is malleable to whatever we want to do with it. Blessing for kids? Sure, we can add that right during Communion. Having kids come up for the homily and sit with the priest on the sanctuary steps? Sure, we can do that. Holding hands during the Our Father and running around the nave greeting people during the Sign of Peace? Absolutely! Whatever makes you feel good!
As I’ve studied more about the theology of the liturgy, I’ve come to the realization that this “feel good” approach is sending the wrong message about the liturgy. I’ve also become concerned that this has dangerously damaged their relationship with God, and they are blissfully unaware that any damage has been done. Instead of liturgy being the community focusing their minds and hearts on worship of God, it has become a social activity, focusing on ourselves. Now, we don’t come to liturgy to turn to God, but to ourselves. For this reason alone, I despise blessing children in the Communion line (and yes, I chose that strong language very carefully), and encourage other priests to stop immediately.
There’s another reason, more cultural, that should be of concern to these same parents and grandparents: the culture of entitlement. One of the arguments frequently given in defense of blessing children is, “They feel like they get something.” Yes, because we wouldn’t want our children to learn how to do something without getting something in return.
We live in a culture of entitlement, where a large percentage of the population expects to get something for nothing. There is a large population in the United States and other countries who believe that they are entitled to anything and everything their hearts desire without any commitment or work on their part. They should “get something” for just being there. Is that the message we want to give our children in the Church? I don’t, and firmly hope that parents and grandparents don’t want to send that message either. Unfortunately, this mindset that children need to “get something” at Communion time only enforces this idea.
Now, will stopping the blessings of children at Communion cure that? No, not on its own, but it’s a first step. It’s an opportunity for parents to teach children that there are some things you just have to wait for. Some things are so important that you have to get ready for them. Some things you may even have to work for. Receiving Holy Communion is one of those things. You have to wait until you’re old enough. You have to prepare to receive. It’s not something that is just given to you. One day you will be able to receive, and I hope that will be a joyful day, but you’ll need to wait until then.
Parents and grandparents, I beg you: work with me on this! Please don’t continue to argue about it. My decision is made, the issue is done. This is truly done in the best interest of your children and grandchildren, as well as for you. Use this opportunity to help the children to see how special and important receiving Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament truly is. Help them to see that the liturgy is about worship of God, and not us getting something and feeling good. Then, when they can come forward to receive Holy Communion for the first time, they will truly understand what it means to be special enough to receive Our Lord.