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Bless the Child
Bless the Child
I recently observed an Extraordinary Minister of Communion at Mass who seemed to have no idea what to do when a child appeared before her in the communion line with his arms crossed over his chest.
This gesture is commonly used by those who join in the procession to the communion table at Mass but do not intend to receive communion. How does the Special Minister respond?
It is wonderful to see small children take part in the communion rite by coming forward to stand with the rest of the family as they receive communion. This may well be sufficient participation without a special blessing, for there is a danger that we lose sight of what we are doing at this moment.
The purpose of this part of the liturgy is the giving and receiving of communion – rites for blessing certain individuals or groups might better be integrated into the concluding rite with the invocation of God’s blessing on the whole assembly.
The blessing of children can be an interruption to the rite when the minister is ready to present the Body of Christ and is asked for a blessing instead. It can get out of proportion if the minister spends considerable time engaging with each child or uses a long formula for the blessing.
Others would argue that this approach to the question is too purist and not sufficiently pastoral. They are probably right. How can you ignore a six year old with arms solemnly folded across the chest? Some acknowledgment of the children recognises that they are baptised, and it can express the desire of the Church that they might soon complete their initiation through confirmation and admission to eucharist.
It may not be necessary to bless every child who approaches. After all, a child may be brought in the communion procession simply to prevent mishap or mischief if left alone. Sometimes the child will be quite distracted when the family comes before the minister. But where the child is focussed on the family’s reception of communion, it may be a good idea to acknowledge the child’s presence with a gesture.
An appropriate response is for the minister to sign the child’s forehead with a cross, as is done at baptism. Something simple like “May God bless you” is all that need be said, if anything. The gesture and a smile are probably more than sufficient.
Ministers need to be conscious of hygiene and be careful not to use the same hand for touching children’s heads in blessing as for distributing the sacred host.
Interestingly, there is no official sanction or prohibition of the practice of blessing children at communion. It has just grown up, presumably because it seems pastorally helpful, but it is worth reflecting on. Is a blessing given to a child when others are eating and drinking an appropriate substitute for Holy Communion?
In Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, babies receive Holy Communion at their baptism, or on the following Sunday. Growing into the knowledge of Christ’s love comes later. Western Christians seem to value intellectual knowledge and only admit children to communion after preparatory catechesis.