TUPELO – Christians are big on blessings, asking for God’s hand to be upon other people as well as upon buildings and marriages.
For many Christians who follow the Western liturgical calendar, the practice of blessing extends also to the birds of the air and the fish of the sea.
Blessing of Animals is one of the more unusual rituals of the liturgical year. Celebrated each fall, it’s an affirmation of the holiness of creation and of the important role animals play in human life.
“Sacramentally, we’re celebrating God’s handiwork and the marvels that surround us,” said the Rev. Paul Stephens, rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Tupelo.
On Sunday, All Saints’ hosted the 15th annual Blessing of the Animals. Rain notwithstanding, the event drew dogs, cats, rats and gerbils – and their owners – for a blessing.
Such a ceremony is a tradition for Episcopalians and Catholics, as well as some United Methodists and Lutherans.
They gather to bless animals, usually on the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, a 12th century monk who, in addition to founding a religious order, is known to history as a great lover of wildlife.
He’s often pictured with birds perched on his hands and shoulders.
Churches have formal rites for the ceremony, and most use a variation of Canticle 12 from the Book of Common Prayer, which reads, “Glorify the Lord…O whales and all that move in the waters. All birds of the air….”
During the ritual the pastor recites the prayers, along with passages from scripture, such as Psalm 104, then blesses the animal with a Trinitarian formula. He may even sprinkle the animal with holy water.
“That’ s assuming the animal doesn’t dislike water,” said Stephens, laughing. Most of the animals are pets, but no creature is excluded. At churches around the country, horse trailers, fish bowls and pet taxis fill the parking lots.
Stephens once blessed a tarantula, and this year at All Saints’ he invited children to bring stuffed animals.
The churches aren’t making any statement about animals having souls, and there’s nothing magical taking place. It’s simply a recognition that animals are God’s creations and that they should be treated with dignity and respect.
Tupelo veternarian Dr. Stephen King has helped conduct the ritual at All Saints’ for several years. He can’t imagine a world without the companionship and love that animals give. It’s definitely worth celebrating.
“God gave them to us to take care of,” said King. “They’re like members of the family.”
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal