The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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October 5, 2001 Issue
Foundations of Faith

What good does blessing my cat do?

Animals share in God's divine plan of salvation for all creation


By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor

Pet blessing

There are various blessings used at pet blessings. One of them is found in Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers:

"The animals of God's creation inhabit the skies, the earth, and the sea. They share in the ways of human beings. They have a part in our lives. Francis of Assisi recognized this when he called the animals, wild and tame, his brothers and sisters. Remembering Francis' love for these brothers and sisters of ours, we invoke God's blessing on these animals, and we thank God for letting us share the earth with all creatures."

"All creatures of our God and King lift up your voices, let us sing: Alleluia, alleluia!"

Can a dog give glory to God? Can a cat praise the creator of the universe?

Yes, according to St. Francis, paraphrased above by William Draper in 1926 in the famous hymn we often sing during Easter season.

St. Francis of Assisi, author of the "Canticle of Creatures" (Brother Sun, Sister Moon") is the inspiration for the tradition of the "Blessing of the Animals" held in many parishes the first week of October. Animal blessing is not limited to Catholic parishes, but is also held in Methodist, Lutheran, Anglican and Episcopalian churches. Since 1986, a blessing of the animals has been held at the Episcopal cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and has drawn up to 1,000 human attendees.

Animal blessing is a Franciscan tradition dating back to the time of Francis' death in 1226 and honors his love of all creatures. Specifically, it honors a legend that says Francis convinced a starving wolf to stop killing villagers of Gubbio. Francis blessed the wolf and it became a pet of the village.

Br. William Short, OFM, professor of spirituality at Franciscan School of Theology at Berkeley, says Francis was the "friend of the animals" who was "deeply, religiously moved simply by the sight or touch of animals. His 'Sermon to the Birds,' frescoed by Giotto, remains an appealing icon of this man whose own writings refer to all fellow-creatures as his 'brothers' and 'sisters.'"

Francis is not the only patron saint of animals. Others include Blaise, Anthony of Padua and Nicholas of Tolentino. St. Roch, befriended by a dog as he lay sick in the forest, is a patron of dogs. St. Gertrude of Nivelles, a Benedictine abbess, is a patron of cats.

In Spain and Mexico, St. Anthony the Abbot is the patron of animals and his feast day, Jan. 17, is celebrated with animal blessings. Since 1930, Olvera Street in Los Angeles has held a blessing of animals' parade in honor of San Antonio de Abad -- first on Jan. 17, but now held on Holy Saturday because of weather. A cow traditionally leads the procession past Card. Roger Mahony, who blesses the animals with holy water.

Why bless animals? As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: "Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence, they bless him and give him glory" (no. 2416).

The importance of animals in the scheme of creation has been understood since the earliest days of the church. "Looking to Genesis, early Christians could understand the right relationship of humans and animals as one of shalom, life giving peace, mirroring the royal rule of the Creator," said Fr. Short. "They could also look to the wisdom literature (such as Job 38) to see in animals signs of God's wonderful working."

Animals are part of the entire creation that God saw as good in Genesis. God the creator placed humans and animals together to honor him -- each in their own fashion. Animals serve humans, and humans are stewards of animals.

"While all things have been subordinated to human beings, we should rule over them as God himself does," says a paper by the editorial board of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids. "This dominion does not grant to us the right to 'lord over' creation in a manner incongruous with God's own manner of governance. Since the first moment of creation, God has provided for the needs of his creatures, and, likewise, has ordered all of creation to its perfection. Hence, man's dominion over creation must serve the good of human beings and all of creation as well."

Fr. Jack Wintz, OFM, believes St. Francis understood this. "He had a profound intuition that all creatures form one family. We humans are not really outside or 'over and above' the family of creation. We are within it, part of it."

This interlinked bond of creation, for many humans, is most often felt through their link with pets.

"The bond between person and pet is like no other relationship, because the communication between fellow creatures is at its most basic," says Fr. Kevin Mackin, OFM, of Sienna Center in Loudonville, NY. "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."

We share the bond of creation with animals and, through Christ, animals share in redemption. "God, who confers his gifts on all living things, has often used the service of animals or made them symbolic reminders of the gifts of salvation... And animals share in Christ's redemption of all of God's creation" (Blessing of Animals rite from Book of Blessings)

In this light, blessing our pets expresses our faith in the coming day when God's salvation in Christ will be fully expressed by all creation. "The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them... The baby shall play by the cobra's den, and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair" (Is. 116-8).


(Sources: The Catholic Community Forum web site; The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia; Catechism of the Catholic Church; "Environmental Stewardship," Acton Institute; St. Anthony Messenger Press at americancatholic.org; New American Bible; olvera-street.com; and Helping Paws Online.)


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