There have been plenty of discussions online and elsewhere about whether blessings should be given in the communion line to those who are not receiving for one reason or another. I do not intend to address that concern here. My decision has been to give blessings in Ordinary Form Masses to those who approach with arms crossed over their chest or who otherwise indicate that they are not receiving communion.
What I do intend to address here is a little insight I had about the intention that I should possibly have when giving these blessings. This may be of interest to other priests (and deacons and seminarians).
Recently I had occasion to brush up a little on the theology of sacramentals. Blessings are one of the sacramentals of the Church. Blessings also come in many different forms and can be given to persons, objects, and places. Here is a basic introduction to what sacramentals are, on the EWTN web site.
One aspect of the theology of sacramentals is that they obtain actual graces from God for the recipient (in the case of a blessing) or those who use them (e.g., praying with a blessed rosary, which is a sacramental, vs. praying with one that is not blessed). “Actual grace” is divine help to cause us to grow in sanctifying grace or to get back in it if we have lost it through mortal sin.
The efficacy of sacramentals depends in part upon the disposition of both the minister and the recipient. If the priest himself is in the state of grace, is recollected and prayerful (as opposed to doing things in a mechanistic and rote way), and so forth, then the sacramental that he celebrates will be more fruitful for its recipient(s). If the recipient, for his or her part, is disposed to receive the graces that come through that sacramental, then it will be more effiicacious for him or her also.
And here is where I had my insight: by blessing people who approach me in the communion line, they stand to receive actual graces from that blessing. I should therefore form the intention that in giving such blessings, I desire that God give the recipients the particular actual graces of conversion and salvation that they need. It’s very easy for a priest just to give a blessing without thinking about why he is given it: we’re asked to give blessings all the time, and in the communion line, especially, with the rapid-fire succession of people, one can become mechanistic in what one does.
Therefore, priests and deacons might form the following virtual intention or similar: In blessing those who approach me in the communion line, I ask that God grant them the graces needed to be rightly disposed to receive Holy Communion fruitfully and worthily in the future, whether that be through the resolution of a marriage situation, a lifestyle change, victory over sin, better preparation for Mass, or any other reason.
Most priests have seen how those who come up for blessings often appear to have a willingness and openness to receive that divine assistance. Through the sincere smiles, the peaceful countenance, and other body language that we see, it is clear that many people deeply appreciate this gift. And given our theology of sacramentals, that willingness and openness stand to help them in fact to receive a benefit. But the disposition of the minister matters: the intention that we bring to it – I think! – can help.
A disclaimer: we should, of course, never assume that someone who goes for a blessing needs to go to confession. They might not have kept the Eucharistic fast. They might not be feeling very well. They might have been very distracted during Mass and feel like they are not ready to make a sacramental communion. They might have an unresolved dispute with a loved one and do not feel they can make a sincere communion. There are many possible reasons why someone might not receive; we should not make assumptions!
Perhaps ordained ministers who form the above virtual intention may never have knowledge in this life of how it made their blessings more efficacious and fruitful for those who approached in the communion line. But we will find out in heaven. And, I think, we should form this intention, for we know that God hears the prayers of his ministers, that God likes our prayers to be specific, and that the Church’s sacramentals are powerful means of actual grace, intended to help us participate more fruitfully in the sacraments.