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The new Vatican doc on blessings is a call to serve.

Fr John McKenzie welcomes the headline-making declaration from Rome that Catholic clergy can bless same-sex couples and the irregularly remarried.

Fr John McKenzie of Christ the King Catholic Church and School in Detroit blesses the parish's Bakhita House in September 2023. (Daniel Meloy/Detroit Catholic)

As it concerns the new declaration from the Vatican, “Fiducia Supplicans,” we should read it in its entirety, first and foremost. Pray with it, secondly. Think reasonably and according to the moral, liturgical, scriptural, spiritual, and pastoral tradition of the Church. Think with the mind of the Church, with and under Peter. 

Remember the Holy Father, Pope Francis, is the only person in the world who has the sacred duty and authority to pastor the entire universal Church. He’s looking at the big picture of the Church and the world.  

With that said, here is my opinion:

In a situation wherein a gay or an irregular married couple came to me for prayer, the new declaration from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith is just saying that I have permission from the Apostolic See to pray over them and bless them. It’s a simple blessing or intercession. Per the Vatican, the formula of this should not be liturgical but I can end it like I end all my prayers over people: “May Almighty God bless you…” 

For sure, this happens often with couples married outside the Church, or those in a second (or other) marriage without the first being annulled. Also with non-married heterosexual couples who engage in sexual activity. My prayer over them is not blessing a sin but rather blessing an individual—or individuals. Honestly, it happens all the time. If one reads the new document, they will see that it speaks to this distinction. I simply don’t have time to write about it all. 

Think of this: I may see someone who is not ready for Confession—that is, who has decided they are not ready for the sacrament nor ready to live the greater Christian life. Usually, after meeting with me, they ask for a blessing. I normally have given it, as a Father and as a pastor. (I love being a spiritual father!)

It's also notable that the “blessing prayers” delivered under the new allowance are not to be written up and distributed for use. It’s a spontaneous prayer of the priest (or deacon, for that matter). This makes sense and, in that regard, the issue recently raised by German Catholic bishops is settled. 

Pope Francis blesses newlyweds at the Vatican in August 2019. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP)

The Church does not have the authority to bestow the sacrament of marriage on same-sex couples or individuals who attempt marriage while still being married to someone else in the eyes of the Church. A liturgical blessing, in this regard, is now and always only to be given for the sacrament.

It’s clear to me that the pope is trying to engage as a spiritual father, and to pastor a community that must be reached. Remember that the Church is the sacrament to the world. She is the Mystical Body of Christ here on earth. She is to have a wide gravitational pull, whose core is pulling the entirety of humanity to herself. 

So the Church is necessarily pulling all people in—whether one is gay, straight, tall, short, bald, long-haired, a prostitute, a tax collector, a sinner, or a saint. The catholicity of the Church is on the level of her founder, a universality coupled with love, mercy, and truth.

The new instructions from Rome are clear: if one in either of the two situations mentioned above has just gotten civilly married and wants a liturgical blessing, that cannot happen. If one has just gotten civilly married and, the same day, the newlyweds ask a priest to bless them, that cannot happen either. If in their wedding clothes, they—gay or straight—cannot ask for a blessing nor should the priest give one.

But if on pilgrimage, meeting with a priest, or perhaps visiting a shrine, they ask for a blessing, of course we as priests can oblige. Or perhaps during a time of mourning for a loved one who is sick in the hospital or has passed away. At a baptism, birthday party, or the many and various pastoral settings in which we find ourselves, the priest can give a spontaneous blessing. Again, it already happens all the time.

Again, I encourage you to read the new declaration. It makes sense to me. It describes what is part and parcel to the pastoral ministry of the Church. 

I’m reminded of the ancient Benedictine rule for monks, in which the abbot has to be able to bring out things both old and new in order to keep his sons, the monks, on the right path. A father’s patience, love, blessing, discipline, prudence, and guidance are the best-kept secrets to maintaining the various sheep in the fold. All this, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Fr John M. McKenzie is a priest in solidum, serving the Archdiocese of Detroit within the D4 Mission Family of Parishes. He primarily serves at Christ the King Catholic Church and School. Prior to entering the seminary, he was a Benedictine monk in Italy.

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