There are at present two different ritual books that priests may use when asked to bless a person, place, or thing: the current Book of Blessings, and the old Rituale Romanum – the one that was in force in 1962. (Deacons can perform some of the blessings therein.)
With regard to the first book, there has long been widespread discontent: because it often seems to be the case that, especially in the case of things, no blessing is actually conferred! For example, let’s say that you bring me a rosary to bless: the prayer of blessing from that book might say something like, “May you be blessed as you use this rosary” – and there is no sign of the cross indicated in the prayer, and it is obvious from the words that the rosary itself is not blessed. Whereas in the older Rituale, the prayer would have been something more like, “May almighty God bless + this rosary…”. You can clearly see the difference.
The reason for the differences between the old and new books are various, and I do not intend to entertain such an in-depth discussion here. As it is, I have already simplified and generalized a fair amount in the preceding paragraph. (I refer those who might be interested to this 20-page article by Uwe Michael Lang.)
Ever since permission has been granted to use the older books, I myself have avoided using the newer one for blessings, due to my personal preference and my own reading of the pastoral situation: when someone asks for some sort of blessing, they want a blessing, including a sign of a cross and words like, “May almighty God bless…”.
Well, all of this by way of preface, for today I received a bit of consolation in our canon law class about the Church’s sanctifying office. In today’s lesson the professor pointed out a decree from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, dated September 14, 2002. This decree states that where the sign of the cross is not indicated in the newer book of blessings, it is to be added in by the minister. Many priests did this anyway, but now we know that it is not illicit to do so – i.e., they would not be taking it upon themselves to change the Church’s ritual.
I post below an unofficial English translation of the decree, and provide this link to the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, where those interested may read the Latin original on page 684.
UNOFFICIAL ENGLISH TRANSLATION (source – with my corrections)
TO THE CITY AND TO THE WORLD
On always employing the sign of the holy Cross in blessings
Since, from the established usage, the liturgical custom has always been in force that in the rites of blessings the sign of the Cross should be employed by being traced by the celebrant with the right hand over the persons or things for whom mercy is implored, this Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in order to dispel any doubts, has established that: even if the text of the part of the Roman Ritual entitled “The Book of Blessings” remains silent about the sign itself or lacks an express mention of the appropriate time for this action, nevertheless, the sacred ministers should adopt the aforementioned sign of the Cross, as necessary, when carrying out any blessing.
Absent this [express] mention, however, the appropriate time should be regarded as whenever the text of the blessing uses the words blessing, bless, or similar; or, lacking these words, when the same prayer of blessing is concluded.
Anything to the contrary notwithstanding.
From the offices of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 14 September 2002, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
JORGE A. Card. MEDINA ESTÉVEZ, Prefect
✠ Francesco Pio Tamburrino
* * *
It seems that this information is not widely known, so hopefully by putting it here, more priests and deacons will come to know about it and pass the word to others!