On December 18, 2023, the Dicastery for Doctrine of the Faith issued a Declaration on the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings, signed by His Eminence Victor Manuel Cardinal Fernandez, the Prefect of the Dicastery, with the approval of His Holiness, Pope Francis. A further clarification was issued by the same Dicastery on January 4, 2024. The purpose of this diocesan instruction is to help guide priests who may be asked to bless any couple who finds themselves living in an irregular situation.
It is important to note that the Declaration applies to all couples who may find themselves in an irregular situation. This includes same sex couples but not exclusive to such couples. In fact, the experience of most priests and deacons has been to minister and accompany heterosexual couples who for a variety of reasons are living in an irregular situation.
The instruction clearly affirms the Church’s perennial teaching regarding the nature of Christian marriage “which is an exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children” (article 4). It also reaffirms that “the Church does not have the power to impart blessings on unions of persons of the same sex” (article 5). As the Prefect’s preamble clearly summarizes, the declaration envisions “the possibility of blessing couples in irregular situations and same sex couples without officially validating their situation or changing in any way the Church’s perennial teaching on marriage.”
What the declaration presents is a possible pastoral option to assist those couples that find themselves in irregular situations, including a same sex relationship. Such a blessing is an invocation of God’s mercy upon the individual persons who make up the relationship. It is not a blessing upon the union that they share. For if any human situation does not follow the divine will of God, then it cannot be blessed. “From a strictly liturgical point of view, a blessing requires that what is blessed be conformed to God’s will, as expressed in the teachings of the Church” (article 9). The persons who comprise the relationship or find themselves in an irregular situation, however, are always able to receive God’s blessing, mercy, healing, forgiveness and strength.
There is also a great responsibility to avoid creating scandal or confusion among fellow clerics and the faithful of the Diocese. Given how the secular media has already mischaracterized the contents and intent of this Declaration, it is of grave importance that nothing be done to create scandal or undermine the Church’s teaching in the areas of human sexuality, family life, marriage, and homosexuality.
In light of these considerations, the following directives are approved for the proper administration of such pastoral blessings in the Diocese of Bridgeport:
- All blessings requested by those who find themselves in an irregular situation can be offered only by priests in good standing of the Diocese of Bridgeport.
- Such blessings must be imparted in a private setting. At no time can such a pastoral blessing be imparted with other persons in attendance except those who made the request.
- No ritual books can be used to impart any such blessing. There can be no use of any prayers established for the sacraments or sacramentals of the Church to impart such blessings. “Nor can it be performed with any clothing, gestures or words that are proper to a wedding” (article 39). Nor can any church or chapel be the location wherein such a pastoral blessing is imparted.
- In order to ensure that those who request such a blessing have the opportunity to be pastorally accompanied, the priest involved should try to discern the intention and sincerity of the request before any blessing is imparted. This can be done in a very sensitive and pastoral manner and will allow the priest to explain the true nature of the blessing that will be imparted. It will also allow the person or persons requesting the blessing to “acknowledge that the life of the Church springs from the womb of God’s mercy and helps us to move forward, to live better and to respond to the Lord’s will” (article 20).
- The blessing must be imparted upon each individual person and not as a couple, precisely to avoid any misunderstanding of the true nature of the blessing. The blessing should seek the Lord’s gift of healing, forgiveness and strength for the petitioners, as well as upon all God’s people.
It is of critical importance that the Church, in her pastoral care, remain open to receive and accompany all the baptized, regardless of the situations within which they may find themselves.
In terms of couples in irregular situations, including same sex relationships, such care must be genuine, merciful and directed to accompany them. Such care must also invite such couples to journey with the Church toward the greater truth that the Lord wishes each human person to embrace and live to the fullest.