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Animal Blessing – St Francis

elephant, camel, horse, etc. at St John's
elephant, camel, horse, etc. at St John's
In many places around the feast of Saint Francis (October 4) there is a Spring/Fall “blessing of animals”. September has, for many become a “Creation Season” that this concludes. My invitation is that in the comments section below you can describe your practice of blessing animals, what works well for you, what does not work well, you can place your/a prayer of blessing of animals, symbolic gestures, sprinkling practice there. We might comment (constructively) on each other’s prayers and practices.

Certainly in the midst of Anglican discussions (often now with far more heat than light) about who and what can or cannot be blessed and why, I have noticed a general confusion about what “blessing” actually is in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. At heart of the blessing tradition there is the Jewish Berrakah. We bless something/someone by blessing God. We bless by giving thanks. The composition of such a blessing (my copyrighted mnemonic) is:

Praise
Proclaim
Petition
Praise

You can see this configuration in the Eucharistic Prayer, in the prayer for blessing the water at baptism, in the blessing over a couple in a wedding,…

stjns2bThe modern declaratory “blessing” at the end of a Eucharist is a much different construction, and a much more recent innovation. Communion of the people originally concluded the Eucharist. As numbers grew and formal buildings became more ornate, so did the conclusion with prayer being added. In the Middle Ages the bishop blessed the people as he walked through the congregation at the conclusion. By the Reformation the bishop in many places said this “blessing” prior to leaving the sanctuary. Some priests, especially in France and Germany, imitated this Episcopal “blessing”. As fewer in the congregation received God’s blessing in receiving communion, this verbal “blessing” made up for a non-communicating Mass. With the restoration of receiving communion as the norm at the Eucharist, many rites have made the declaratory “blessing” a the conclusion of the Eucharist optional.

Photo: This was a St Francis Day blessing of the animals service I participated in in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York. (Notice the elephant, camel, horse, pony,…! :-))

Invitation: Please add your practical help, experiences, and prayers about blessing of animals in the comment section below. What do you do? What have you done? What works well? What does not? What prayer do you use?…

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14 Responses to Animal Blessing – St Francis

  1. I grew up in a “very-low-Protestant-Church” in which blessing was not part of the congregation’s vocabulary. One year the church held a blessing of the animals on a fall Sunday.

    It felt a bit odd celebrating the day within the context of a church that generally doesn’t bless anything. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Was it an “All dogs go to heaven” sort of thing? Bring your animal to church day? Show and tell? The point seemed to be missing – because I don’t think that community quite understood blessing/berrakah.

  2. The Church that I attend is having a blessing of the animals this Sunday Evening (Oct.4). I serve as a Deacon in this Charismatic Episcopal Church. I know our Priest does the sign of the cross over the animals. I don’t know if he sprinkes them with Holy Water or not. Don’t know what prayer he uses. Will comment more later after attending the service. We are to have a Healing Eucharist after the Blessing of the Animals. I am to preach in that service.

  3. My (Episcopal) church will be doing an afternoon blessing of the animals. Our priest, who has cats, told me that it is her practice to use holy water on dogs but not cats. She has cats and knows how most cats are about water–so that’s a good thing.

    I plan to bring the majority of my cats pictorially rather than physically.

    My own view of blessing is that it is an acknowledgement of God’s grace. Our beloved creature companions are already the created and beloved of God, and I believe they are our teachers in many respects–about love, about forgiveness, about patience… Giving them a blessing is an opportunity for us to acknowledge their special place in our lives publicly before God.

  4. I used to work in a circus in the 1960s and I never forgot the day when we got all the animals in the cirus ring, somewhere in Italy, (forgotten where now) and a priest came and blessed them. Never forgot it. I wasn’t a catholic then, but I thought it was lovely. Unfortunately some of the humans weren’t too kind to the animals – those animals really needed a blessing….

  5. I know there are parts of Italy where a blessing in the square outside the church takes place but not so much in the country where I live. I guess that’s because country folks are more rugged-minded and don’t keep animals as pets as much as town folks do. For them the blessing of farm animals is done when the priest goes round to bless the homes after the Easter period. However, I’m convinced even dogs go to heaven!!!

  6. We do ours on the green at 4 PM – invite the town – it is not only a blessing of animals but we celebrate St. Francis too.

    It is quite a fun liturgy. Before he died, a local RC deacon used to help me with it.

  7. I am an Interfaith Minister in Washington, DC. I will officiate on Saturday for a Blessing of the Animals at a neighborhood market (Broad Branch Market) that offers wonderful community events.

    I plan to invite the human friends to bless their animals alongside me. Holding open hands upward to represent being open to God’s blessing. Then placing open hands either toward or on the animal, to signify sending God’s grace their way. I want to encourage the adult and younger owners to keep a steady consciousness of being channels of God’s love, returning the love that our animals friends bring to us.

  8. Sorry I’m so late with my follow up of 10/2. We made the Sign of the Cross, afterwards the Priest led us in a versicle and we responded. A reading from Isaiah 11:6-9 was read. After this a time of silence, and then those present offered prayers of intercession for their animals. The Celebrant invited all to hold or place their hands on their animals in blessing.Holy water was then sprinked on the animals, and once again we made the Sign of the Cross. A blessing was then said by the priest and then we processed in the church for a service of healing.

  9. I lost a pet a while ago and was blessed to get two more precious friends, but my life is so topsy-turvy, that I feel that these little ones, Sookie and Gizmo are the unfortunate ones to suffer my frustration. They are pomchi’s and do bark a lot which adds to my stress. Could you pray for comfort and peace and bless these little ones and us as well. They need little pat on the back, for the burden they TRY to carry for me and they can’t. God loves all creatures great and small, I know HE cares for them too, I need and LOVE to do more activities with them, but,my situation prevents me from doing so. Thanks. God bless all HIS creatures.

  10. In the beginning (like in the 1990’s), to me, it was important, but rare, for my church to hold a Blessing of the Animals service, because I felt that if the church really wanted to engage with, and touch our every day lives when we weren’t there most of the week, it would be nice to invite those members of our families who aren’t typically welcome in our buildings to come one day a year for a special prayer, as if to acknowledge that our companion animals not only mattered to us, but also mattered to our community of faith. What mattered to me evolved over time, because we actually call it a “blessing of the animals” service and not a “pet blessing”. It has become even more important to designate a time where prayers (including penitential prayers), and if we’re lucky, a morally positive homily (as opposed to an exploitive homily) can be devoted to not only our pets who typically don’t need our prayers unless they’re sick or dying, but on behalf of all the classifications of animals that humans exploit, confine, torture and kill legally by the billions for food, sport, fashion, science, etc. without remorse or even a second thought.

    The Episcopal Diocese of Washington has some resources on their site, and the Blue Book from General Convention 2012 has quite a few pages devoted to not only a Blessing of the Animals Service, and a memorial service, but other resources/prayers/quotes for Rogationtide, etc. It’s worth looking at.

    This obscure quote summarizes in my mind why it’s important for our churches to have at least one day to consider the suffering our society supports, and maybe have a part in changing society in a similar way that it has in various ways when it comes to social justice issues.

    “We make animals work for us, carry us, amuse us and earn money for us. We also make them die for us, sometimes in ways which would be rapidly rejected if we could readily see it done. In many fields we use them, not with gratitude and compassion, but with thoughtlessness, arrogance, and complete selfishness.” 

    — from a statement of the Church of England’s Board of Social Responsibility (1970)

    Here’s a link to the Diocese of Washington’s page: http://www.edow.org/for-parishes/liturgical-resources/liturgies

    There’s a link to the 2012 Blue Book on the top right of this page. http://www.generalconvention.org/gc/prepare It’s a huge .pdf file.
    The blessing of the animals liturgy begins on page 339 of the Blue Book. I don’t know where else it might be available. Maybe in the Book of Occasional Services or some online resource like Enriching Our Worship. I hope priests would know. If not, there’s the .pdf file.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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