Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Christ blesses family life by His presence. It is a fitting feast day to have in the wake of Christmas. The Church has always taught the importance of family life and especially marriage.
Recently the Church and Pope Francis made the headlines with the publication of a declaration entitled, “Fiducia Supplicans.” The title comes from the opening line of the text and the first line of the text translates, “the supplicating trust of the faithful People of God.”
The headlines often said something along the lines of, “Pope Francis approves blessing for same-sex couples.” I would encourage everyone to read the document before reading any headline about the document. I’d even recommend that you read the document before reading my brief article attempting to explain it; it is only about ten pages.
The document is published by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is the Vatican department responsible for the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church. In the presentation of the declaration, the Cardinal stated that this declaration addresses several questions that the dicastery has received recently. Also in the introduction, the Cardinal states, “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.”
The document then briefly discusses the nature of Sacramental blessings and concludes, “the Church does not have the power to impart blessings on unions of persons of the same sex.” This is because Jesus instituted marriage between one man and one woman.
The second part of the document describes the nature of blessings. There are numerous groups of people and things that can be blessed. In the official ritual book, the Book of Blessings, there are blessings for sick children, factories, fishing gear, stations of the cross, sacred images, places of work, and many more. The document notes that what is blessed corresponds to God’s design. However, the document notes that blessings do not require moral perfection. For example, blessing a sick parishioner doesn’t mean that they have to be morally perfect. In these blessings, we ask God’s blessing to descend upon us and we ascend in blessing God for His goodness toward us.
With this in mind, the form of blessing which can be offered to a couple married outside the Church or a same-sex couple “should not be fixed ritually by ecclesial authorities to avoid producing confusion with the blessing proper to the Sacrament of Marriage.” In short, there shouldn’t be a set formula for blessing, but a simple praying over this couple asking God to influence their lives. These are spontaneous prayers, and groups of priests and bishops should not produce formal blessings. The ordained minister “could ask that the individuals have peace, health, a spirit of patience, dialogue, and mutual assistance – but also God’s light and strength to be able to fulfill His will completely.”
The goal is not to legitimize a lifestyle contrary to the teaching of Jesus Christ. The document states, “the Church does not have the power to impart blessings on unions of persons of the same sex.” This means that the people are blessed, not the union. Therefore, a 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.” This goes for heterosexual couples in irregular marriages and same-sex couples.
This document does say that priests and deacons can offer a blessing to couples in irregular marriages and same-sex couples. However, it is in a very limited form and places numerous restrictions on how the blessing can happen and what it looks like. My brief article is no way exhaustive. Please read the declaration to get the full picture: https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2023/12/18/0901/01963.html#en
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Sean Wilson