Thursday, December 28, 2006

Is the Feast of the Holy Family a good time to bless families?

The Church recognizes the family as “the Church of the household, [which] has the duty of upholding clearly before all people the values of the kingdom of God in this world and hope in the life to come by fulfilling its divinely appointed mission and carrying out its proper apostolate” (cf. Lumen gentium, #11 and #35, and Gaudium et spes, #47-52). Therefore, the family can make use of sacramentals, such as blessings, “that in particular situations enrich the life of the family” (Book of Blessings, #41).

The Book of Blessings offers an official order for the blessing of a family (Chapter 1) which may be celebrated outside of (first option) or within Mass and can be led by a priest, deacon, or lay person. The rite gives no particular suggestion as to when the rite should be used except that it is suitable “whenever a blessing is requested by the family or suggested by pastoral considerations” (#42). The book of Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers also offers a similar rite which it recommends “be used annually on a day of special significance to a family, or at times when members of the family who live far apart have come together, or at times when the family experiences special difficulties or special joys” (p. 206).

Recently, there has been some debate among parish circles whether or not the Feast of the Holy Family is an appropriate time to bless families. With divorce, single-parenting, children being raised by grandparents, and different kinds of family arrangements, more and more families do not reflect the idealistic image of family—married mother and father with their children. The holiday season also amplifies any rift in these relationships, often making the Christmas season one of increased depression and anxiety.

For some communities, a blessing of families within Sunday Mass on the Feast of the Holy Family may be beneficial. But I suspect that for most parishes, this will be a delicate subject. The rite should always be adapted “to the circumstances of the place and the people involved” (#43). Therefore, if you decide to celebrate a blessing of families on the Feast of the Holy Family, make sure you know who you are inviting to be blessed, who may feel left out, and be very attentive to the words you use in the invitation and in the rite itself.

Another, perhaps more pastoral, option is to distribute a copy of the blessing and invite families to use it in their own homes at their own family gatherings, or use the blessing at other times when parish families gather together, such as infant baptism or marriage preparation sessions. Such a blessing would also be very appropriate whenever a new family joins the parish.

Another option is to move the blessing of families to a celebration that is more focused on “households” rather than “families,” a subtle but significant distinction for those who may feel anxiety over their own family situation. The solemnity of the Epiphany is one such traditional time to bless homes and households.

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