Q: Is it correct in any way to pray for someone over the phone? May one ask a newly ordained priest to bless him/her over the phone? — O.C., Avezzano, Italy
A: With respect to prayer, I see no reason why not. If we can pray for somebody with no physical or virtual connection, such as when we offer a mystery of the rosary for a friend or relative in need of prayer, then accompanying them in some way by phone or other technical means of communication can be a means of enhancing this effect from a subjective point of view.
In the case of priestly blessings we would probably need to distinguish some factors. Insofar as a blessing is a prayer, then I believe that a simple blessing can be directly transmitted by electronic means if the priest’s intention is to implore God’s blessing on those blessed.
There are some who disagree with this opinion and believe that a blessing of this type is reserved to the Holy Father. The documents are clear on the Pope’s power to impart such blessings but are silent as to other cases.
When the Holy Father imparts the blessing “urbi et orbi,” anybody who receives this blessing by direct transmission is truly blessed by the Pope and also benefits from the plenary indulgence attached to the papal blessings. The papal blessing is necessarily tied up with the plenary indulgence, which only he can grant.
This indulgence, and hence the blessing, is not received by deferred transmission. As the Enchiridion of Indulgences specifies: “The indulgence is gained by the faithful who, not present for a reasonable cause at a Papal Blessing, devotedly follows the rites through TV or radio ‘dum peraguntur,’ i.e., ‘while they are being performed.'”
I believe that this principle of no recorded blessings would also apply to other clerics who could only give a simple evocative blessing over the phone, radio or other means. Even though a priest has the power to bless, a blessing, even in its simplest form, is a rite of the Church, and rites require some form of immediate participation.
A recorded blessing can be a source of grace, just as a recorded prayer or rosary can move us to prayer. But it is not a rite of the Church, and in this case it does not, strictly speaking, enter into the category of a sacramental.
Likewise, such blessing could not apply to constitutive blessings which require the physical presence of the person or object being blessed. Such blessings are those involving persons such as institution of ministers, religious professions and the like, or objects such as chalices or rosaries.
An exception to this is the Holy Father who may, on some occasions, extend his intention to bless devotional objects such as medals and rosaries even over radio, television and Internet, to those who follow the transmission directly. This cannot be presumed for every transmission of a papal Mass (far more common now in the Internet era), and his intention would normally need to be specified.
In the same line of thought I would also say that the liturgical blessings contained in the Book of Blessings would not necessarily be efficacious as blessings if the rite naturally implies the physical presence of the person being blessed.
These same formulas, however, could be used as prayers for those persons at a distance.
* * *
Readers may send questions to [email protected]. Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.