Blessings, Grounded in Love

Truly pastoral counselling does not involve any development of doctrine

The Declaration Fiducia Supplicans, signed by Pope Francis, calls for our close attention. Its overarching context is the Church’s wealth of blessings, each a gift of God’s love, and their place in the economy of grace.

The most frequent, and liturgically grounded, blessing comes at the conclusion of the Mass. The celebrant prays “May almighty God bless you,” and making the Sign of the Cross three times over the people, adds “the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” An optional Solemn Blessing in Advent has a distinctive beauty: “As you run the race of this present life, may He make you firm in faith, joyful in hope and active in charity.”

This liturgical blessing is open to all, saint and sinner alike. So, too, is the penitent’s request for the confessor’s blessing in the Sacrament of Penance. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” How familiar and true are these words!

We might call such blessings “descending,” in that it is we who receive them. But we also dare to bless our Creator every time we pray “Bless the Lord, my soul” as we do for example in Psalm 103. Saints and sinners alike do well to pray this Psalm. In doing so our blessing is “ascending.”

Fiducia Supplicans, which presents itself as a development of doctrine, allows for the priestly blessing of couples in “irregular situations” and “couples of the same sex.” It insists, at the same time, that such blessings “avoid producing confusion with the blessing proper to the Sacrament of Marriage.” In practice, as commentators have observed, it is surpassingly hard to see how such confusion will be avoided, especially when many “thought influencers” will want to foment it.

In any case, the document tells us that those who seek such blessings, which are to be “simple” and “spontaneous,” should not take them to legitimate their unions. Rather they are to ask that “their relationships be enriched, healed, and elevated by the presence of the Holy Spirit.” The document adds that “the ordained minister” could ask that those blessed have “God’s light and strength to be able to fulfill his will completely.”

Such pastoral blessings could offer a splendid teaching opportunity. Praying with those who seek them, the priest could clearly note that the purpose, the telos, of sexual unions is to be open to life in the context of an enduring community of love. The priest could clearly note, as well, that he imparts his blessing as an impetus for the change of heart that the couple needs in order to understand the nature of marriage and the threat that contemporary counterfeits pose to marriage.

Such pastoral counselling is not a demand for an immediate understanding of the Church’s teaching on sexuality. Much less does this counselling demand an immediate change of heart. But it does make clear that if we are to love the Lord Jesus we will keep his commands.

Such pastoral counselling, moreover, does not involve any development of doctrine. Nor does it require the eloquence of St. John Henry Newman, who taught us well and truly about the development of doctrine. No, such pastoral counselling, which we can all affirm, asks only that we preach the Gospel, in season and out of season.

If we accept this Divine Commission, then in time, with God’s grace, we can come to live it, indeed live it simply and spontaneously. With this goal, let us ask for the blessing of the Saints who so beautifully did so and thus became, for all of us, a great cloud of witnesses.


Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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