OES YOUR PARISH OFFER the blessing of animals on the memorial of St. Francis of Assisi? I am neither an animal lover nor an animal hater, but I’ve never been sure what people are asking for when they ask me to bless their pet.
The Book of Blessings provides an “Order for the Blessing of Animals.” In the introduction (#942), one reads this:
According to the providence of the Creator, many animals have a certain role to play in human existence by helping with work or providing food and clothing. Thus when the occasion arises, for example, the feast of some saint, the custom of invoking God’s blessing on animals may be continued.
That caught my attention for a few reasons. First, it seems to indicate that one ought not to institute such a custom, but only continue it where it already exists purposefully. Secondly, it explains that the cause for blessing an animal is bound up with that animal’s utility—its contribution to the welfare of humanity. So what about pets that do not help people with their work and do not provide food and clothing for mankind?
When I bless a person, I know what I am doing. I am asking God to give them the graces they need that will lead to their flourishing and, ultimately, their salvation. That certainly cannot be the purpose of blessing an animal, since they do not possess rational souls capable of salvation.
In light of the Book of Blessings, it is clear why a priest might bless an ox or cow or sheep. But what about cats and parakeets and serpents?