Bishop Bradley will lead the event, surrounded by cats, dogs, iguanas, hamsters, and other varieties of beloved pets. Others will bring photos of their animals, asking the Bishop to bless them as well. It’s a beautiful image with a wonderful tradition . . . and we’d like to share some of the history of the Blessing of the Animals with you.
The Blessing of the Animals is conducted in remembrance of St Francis of Assisi, who had a great love for all creatures. St Francis’ feast day actually occurs on October 4th and stories of his interactions with animals (and love for them) flow throughout history. Whether you realize it or not, you probably know something about St. Francis. He is the most popular Catholic saint in the world. He is the one who preached to the birds; blessed fish that had been caught, releasing them back into the water; communicated with wolves, brokering an agreement between one famous ferocious wolf and the citizens of a town that were terrified of it; and used real animals when he created the very first, live, Christmas nativity scene. At one point, he was actually displaced by a donkey who was in need of a home! As a result of amazing events like these, Francis is the patron saint of animals and the environment.
The first blessing of the animals happened like this: One warm afternoon early in his ministry (sometime between 1210-15), Francis wandered outside of Assisi, full of self-doubt, asking God if perhaps everything he had done until that point had been for the wrong reasons. Francis wondered if he should have simply gotten married and raised a family as his father wanted him to do. It was while he was praying alone to God that Francis glimpsed some birds along the path. He paused and began to speak to them as if to equals. Soon, he began to “preach” to them about God’s glories and all the reasons why both humans and birds should be grateful.
In his famous book, “The Golden Legend,” Jacobus of Voragine write the following about St Francis:
The saint would not handle lanterns and candles because he did not want to dim their brightness with his hands. He walked reverently on stones out of respect for him who was called Peter, which means stone. He lifted worms from the road for fear they might be trampled underfoot by passersby. Bees might perish in the cold of winter, so he had honey and fine wines set out for them. He called all animals brothers and sisters. When he looked at the sun, the moon, and the stars, he was filled with inexpressible joy by his love of the Creator and invited them all to love their Creator.
At Franciscan churches during the Blessing of the Animals, 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! Amen.”
A Blessing of the Pets will occur on or around October 4th in may Dioceses across the nation and around the world. We hope you are able to join us as we join with our brothers and sisters at Baraga Manor Apartments on October 4th from 4:00-5:00 PM. Together we will affirm what St Francis believed, that our pets and animals should be taken care of them as we take care of ourselves. We should show gratitude for them, for they are gifts from God.