(ZENIT News / Rome, 18.12.2023).- It’s most likely that millions of Catholics and non-Catholics began the week prior to Christmas 2023 with an idea that could have aroused perplexity and confusion, and which is not altogether exact, that is, that the Pope approved the blessing of same-sex couples and also of divorced persons who have remarried.
We offer fifteen answers to very concrete and specific doubts. We do not give the answers, but take them from the original document to evidence in this way that many headlines read today are rather sensationalist. You will find them in this text in quotation marks and with reference to the original number in the document. Also to warn that it is better to read the original sources oneself (you can read here the full original text published by ZENIT).
1st What is the main topic of the Declaration and who and when does he publish it?
The first thing that must be said is that it is a document whose main topic is — as its name indicates — “the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings.” It’s a document of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (the one once guided by one of the greatest theologians of history, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) and which was published on Monday, December 18, 2023.
2nd Does the Doctrine of the Church change? (Presentation)
“This Declaration remains firm on the traditional Doctrine of the Church about marriage, not allowing any type of liturgical rite or blessing similar to a liturgical rite that can create confusion.”
3rd What is original about this Declaration? (Presentation)
“The value of this document, however, is that it offers a specific and innovative contribution to the pastoral meaning of blessings, permitting a broadening and enrichment of the classical understanding of blessings, which is closely linked to a liturgical perspective.”
4th Why is this Declaration being published? (no. 2)
The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith “has considered several questions of both a formal and an informal nature about the possibility of blessing same-sex couples and — in light of Pope Francis’ fatherly and pastoral approach — of offering new clarifications on the Responsum ad dubium that the then Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith formulated and published on February 22, 2021.”
5th Are these “pastoral blessings” new rites for same-sex couples and divorced persons who have remarried? (nos. 4 and 5)
No, the Dicastery says that, “rites and prayers that could create confusion between what constitutes marriage — which is the “exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children” — and what contradicts it are inadmissible.” And it adds: “when it comes to blessings, the Church has the right and the duty to avoid any rite that might contradict this conviction or lead to confusion. Such is also the meaning of the Responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which states that the Church does not have the power to impart blessings on unions of persons of the same sex.
6th To what does the Pope’s thought invite us regarding the pastoral — not liturgical or semi-liturgical — meaning of the blessings? (no. 7)
It “invites us to make the effort to broaden and enrich the meaning of blessings,” distinguishing between the liturgical or semi-liturgical and the pastoral. This document is focused on the pastoral, as already mentioned.
7th Of what does the distinction consist between liturgical or semi-liturgical and pastoral blessings? (nos. 9, 11, 12, 18 and 19)
“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.” Further on it states: “when a blessing is invoked on certain human relationships by a special liturgical rite, it is necessary that what is blessed corresponds with God’s designs written in creation and fully revealed by Christ the Lord. For this reason, since the Church has always considered only those sexual relations that are lived out within marriage to be morally licit, the Church does not have the power to confer its liturgical blessing when that would somehow offer a form of moral legitimacy to a union that presumes to be a marriage or to an extra-marital sexual practice. The Holy Father reiterated the substance of this Declaration in his Answers to the Dubia of two Cardinals.”
Specified as well is that one “must also avoid the risk of reducing the meaning of blessings to this point of view alone, for it would lead us to expect the same moral conditions for a simple blessing that are called for in the reception of the Sacraments. Such a risk requires that we broaden this perspective further.”
In regard to pastoral blessings, it states: “In continuity with the Old Testament, in Jesus as well the blessing is not only ascending, referring to the Father, but is also descending, being poured out on others as a gesture of grace, protection, and goodness” (. . . ) “The blessing expresses God’s merciful embrace and the Church’s motherhood, which invites the faithful to have the same feelings as God toward their brothers and sisters.”
8th What does it mean to look for a blessing in the Church? (nos. 20, 21)
“One who asks for a blessing shows himself to be in need of God’s saving presence in his life and one who asks for a blessing from the Church recognizes the latter as a sacrament of the salvation that God offers. To seek a blessing in the Church is 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.”
(. . . ) “when one asks for a blessing, one is expressing a petition for God’s assistance, a plea to live better, and confidence in a Father who can help us live better.” This request should, in every way, be valued, accompanied, and received with gratitude. People who come spontaneously to ask for a blessing show by this request their sincere openness to transcendence, the confidence of their hearts that they do not trust in their own strength alone, their need for God, and their desire to break out of the narrow confines of this world, enclosed in its limitations.”
9th Pastoral blessings (outside the liturgical realm: a pastoral resource (nos. 23,24)
“When considered outside of a liturgical framework, these expressions of faith are found in a realm of greater spontaneity and freedom. Nevertheless, ‘the optional nature of pious exercises should in no way be taken to imply an under-estimation or even disrespect for such practices. The way forward in this area requires a correct and wise appreciation of the many riches of popular piety, [and] of the potentiality of these same riches.’ In this way, blessings become a pastoral resource to be valued rather than a risk or a problem.”
(. . . ), “blessings should be evaluated as acts of devotion that “are external to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and of the other Sacraments.” Indeed, the “language, rhythm, course, and theological emphasis” of popular piety differ “from those of the corresponding liturgical action.” For this reason, “pious practices must conserve their proper style, simplicity, and language, [and] attempts to impose forms of ‘liturgical celebration’ on them are always to be avoided.”
10th Yes to the blessing “of persons,” notwithstanding their errors (n. 27)
“To make those people feel that they are still blessed, notwithstanding their serious mistakes, that their heavenly Father continues to will their good and to hope that they will ultimately open themselves to the good. Even if their closest relatives have abandoned them, because they now judge them to be irredeemable, God always sees them as His children.”
11th Are these blessings comparable to marriage? (no. 30)
“ While ‘it is not appropriate for a Diocese, a Bishops’ Conference, or any other ecclesial structure to constantly and officially establish procedures or rituals for all kinds of matters,’ pastoral prudence and wisdom — avoiding all serious forms of scandal and confusion among the faithful — may suggest that the ordained minister join in the prayer of those persons who, although in a union that cannot be compared in any way to a marriage, desire to entrust themselves to the Lord and His mercy, to invoke His help, and to be guided to a greater understanding of His plan of love and of truth.”
12th Are unions between same-sex persons or the divorced who have remarried legitimized? (no. 31)
A “blessing may be imparted that not only has an ascending value but also involves the invocation of a blessing that descends from God upon those who — recognizing themselves to be destitute and in need of his help — do not claim a legitimation of their own status, but who beg that all that is true, good, and humanly valid in their lives and their relationships be enriched, healed, and elevated by the presence of the Holy Spirit. These forms of blessing express a supplication that God may grant those aids that come from the impulses of his Spirit — what classical theology calls “actual grace” — so that human relationships may mature and grow in fidelity to the Gospel, that they may be freed from their imperfections and frailties, and that they may express themselves in the ever-increasing dimension of the divine love.”
13th Will there be new formulas of pastoral blessings in the book known as the Book of Blessings? (nos. 35 and 36)
“The pastoral sensibility of ordained ministers should also be formed to perform blessings spontaneously that are not found in the Book of Blessings. In this sense, it is essential to grasp the Holy Father’s concern that these non-ritualized blessings never cease being simple gestures that provide an effective means of increasing trust in God on the part of the people who ask for them, careful that they should not become a liturgical or semi-liturgical act, similar to a Sacrament.”
14th Will rites be instituted for this type of blessings? (no. 38)
“One should neither provide for nor promote a ritual for the blessings of couples in an irregular situation. At the same time, one should not prevent or prohibit the Church’s closeness to people in every situation in which they might seek God’s help through a simple blessing.”
15th Can these blessings be done during a Mass or after the civil union of same-sex persons or the divorced who have remarried? (nos. 39 and 40)
“To avoid any form of confusion or scandal, when the prayer of blessing is requested by a couple in an irregular situation, even though it is expressed outside the rites prescribed by the liturgical books, this blessing should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union, and not even in connection with them. Nor can it be performed with any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding. The same applies when the blessing is requested by a same-sex couple.”
(. . . ) “Such a blessing may instead find its place in other contexts, such as a visit to a shrine, a meeting with a priest, a prayer recited in a group, or during a pilgrimage. Indeed, through these blessings that are given not through the ritual forms proper to the liturgy but as an expression of the Church’s maternal heart — similar to those that emanate from the core of popular piety — there is no intention to legitimize anything, but rather to open one’s life to God, to ask for His help to live better, and also to invoke the Holy Spirit so that the values of the Gospel may be lived with greater faithfulness.”