In an “innovative” declaration, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith “broadens” the understanding of blessings in a pastoral and non-liturgical sense, but not in regards to Church teaching.
There exists the “possibility of blessing couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples,” announces the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, but not any sort of blessing that imitates Christian marriage.
The clarification comes in a doctrinal statement approved by Pope Francis on December 18, 2023.
Such a blessing must not be formalized in any sort of ritual or imitate Christian marriage, which remains between a man and a woman. The text is not intended to legitimize irregular unions in the eyes of the Church, but to propose a form of “pastoral charity.”
The nine-page text titled “Fiducia supplicans: On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings” is a “declaration,” the highest document of doctrinal value from the DDF — the most recent of which dates back to the year 2000. It is not a document that comes with a formal signature of the pope, however. It was presented in several languages, including English.
Broadening the understanding of blessings
In a short introduction, the new Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, explains the “innovative” contribution of this document. In March 2021, the same dicastery had explained that it was not possible to grant blessings to homosexual couples and to anyone having sexual relations outside marriage, i.e. outside the “exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children.”
This new statement, responding to “Pope Francis’ pastoral vision,” explains that it is necessary to “broaden” and “enrich” the meaning commonly given to the word “blessing,” formerly reserved for the liturgical realm.
“From a strictly liturgical point of view, a blessing requires that what is blessed be conformed to God’s will, as expressed in the teachings of the Church,” acknowledges the prefect.
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 value of this document, however, is that it offers a specific and innovative contribution to the pastoral meaning of blessings …
While couples could receive a blessing, understood in this pastoral way, it is not “officially validating their status or changing in any way the Church’s perennial teaching on marriage.”
“Pope Francis urged us not to ‘lose pastoral charity, which should permeate all our decisions and attitudes’ and to avoid being ‘judges who only deny, reject, and exclude,’” argues the Argentine prefect.
Consequently, “when people ask for a blessing, an exhaustive moral analysis should not be placed as a precondition for conferring it.” And, he insists, they “should not be required to have prior moral perfection.”
“No intention to legitimize anything”
In this perspective “appears the possibility of blessings for couples in irregular situations and for couples of the same sex, the form of which should not be fixed ritually by ecclesial authorities to avoid producing confusion with the blessing proper to the Sacrament of Marriage.”
The statement gives a few guidelines for these blessings, which must not lead to “confusion” or “scandal.”
“This blessing should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union, and not even in connection with them,” it says. The dicastery also warns that these blessings may not be performed “with clothing, gestures, or words proper to a wedding.”
“Through these blessings […] there is no intention to legitimize anything, but rather to open one’s life to God, to ask for his help to live better,” it insists.
“In a brief prayer preceding this spontaneous blessing, 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,” suggests the Vatican, without wishing to codify the prayer.
Rome also makes it clear that we should not expect further answers regarding “possible ways to regulate details or practicalities regarding blessings of this type.”
Debate on blessing same-sex couples stirs the Church
In March 2021, Rome reiterated the ban on such blessings in a very firm text, after bishops in certain countries continued to raise the issue.
Then in September 2022, the Flemish bishops published a statement envisaging a prayer for homosexual couples that could resemble a form of blessing. Specifically, they envisaged a moment when “the two people concerned […] express before God their commitment to each other.” But, they pointed out, this was simply a prayer, and not intended to offer homosexual couples any equivalent of “sacramental marriage.”
In March 2023, the German bishops concluded their “Synodal Way” by voting in favor of a blessing for “loving couples,” including homosexual couples. The text merely recognized a state of affairs, since same-sex couples are already blessed in Germany, despite Rome’s teaching.
Last October, Pope Francis responded to a dubia formulated by a few cardinals that included this issue.