As autumn arrives, people in various places may
notice something odd.
A procession of animals, everything from dogs and cats to hamsters and even horses,
is led to churches for a special ceremony called the Blessing of Pets.
This custom is conducted in remembrance of St. Francis of Assisis love for all
whose feast day is October 4th, loved the larks flying about his hilltop town. He and
his early brothers, staying in a small hovel, allowed themselves to be displaced by a
Francis wrote a Canticle of the Creatures, an ode to Gods living things. All
praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures. And there was
testimony in the cause for St. Clare of Assisis canonization that referred to her
That there are today over 62 million cats in the U.S. attests to the continuing affection
we have for our furry, feathered or finned friends. We've even had a cat called Socks
in the White House. Other popular presidential pets range from Abraham Lincolns
Fido to Lyndon Johnsons beagles, named Him and Her.
For single householders, a pet can be a true companion. Many people arrive home from
work to find a furry friend overjoyed at their return. Many a senior has a lap filled
with a purring fellow creature.
The bond between person and pet is like no other relationship, because the communication
between fellow creatures is at its most basic. Eye-to-eye, a man and his dog, or a woman
and her cat, are two creatures of love.
No wonder people enjoy the opportunity to take their animal companions to church for
a special blessing. Church is the place where the bond of creation is celebrated.
At Franciscan churches, a friar with brown robe and white cord often welcomes each
animal with a special prayer. The Blessing of Pets usually goes like this:
Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth
fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis
to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the
power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise
you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures!
As the prayer is offered, the pet is gently sprinkled with holy water. Believe it or
not, most pets receive this sacramental spritz with dignity, though I must admit I have
seen some cats flatten their ears a bit as the drops of water lightly pelt them.
But the owner is happy, and who knows what spiritual benefits may result?
Usually the Blessing of Pets is held outdoors. But I remember it rained one year, and
all were invited inside St. Stephens Church in Manhattan. It was quite a sight
to see pairs of creaturesone human, one animalsitting in the pews. The pastor
joined right in with his beagle. Noahs Ark was never like this!
Some people criticize the amount and cost of care given to pets. People are more important,
they say. Care for poor people instead of poodles. And certainly our needy fellow humans
should not be neglected.
However, I believe every creature is important. The love we give to a pet, and receive
from a pet, can draw us more deeply into the larger circle of life, into the wonder of
our common relationship to our Creator.
Kevin E. Mackin, O.F.M., is a Franciscan of the Holy Name Province.
Image © 1993 Lucy A. Synk