Monday, February 28, 2011

The Blessing of a Home - A Religious or Cultural Practice?

The altar in our home on the night of the blessing.
I've written about a few things that Christians in Mexico do, although they officially shouldn't do them.  Today it's kind of the opposite; blessing of homes, an other items, is something very acceptable that Catholics do in Mexico, but, from what I understand, is virtually never done in Anglophone North America.

On February 19, we had our home blessed by Father Patrick of our local church.  It was my wife's idea, since she's the one who grew up Catholic, and who simply assumes that these sorts of things should be done, or at least are a very good idea.  Inevitably I ask her why (I'm generally not big on doing things until I know what they mean,) and spend the next evening on the internet looking for information; some time within the week or month, we'll find someone at the church to ask.

In this case, her answer gave me the basic concept.  We learned some further details from a nun at church, and later the priest when he arrived for the blessing.  I found out that the usual custom is to have a home blessed when a family first moves in, but it is also sometimes done annually or when an addition is put on, or some other change takes place.

One point he made, however, surprised me.  I told him that this was all new to me and I really didn't know how it worked.

"The blessing of homes," he said, "is also fairly new to me."  He is American, and explained that while he was in the U.S., he didn't bless any homes.  After arriving in Playa del Carmen, however, he had been quite busy blessing new homes; in fact, he knew my community and arrived quite easily, since the community is very new (see The Neighborhood I Call Home,) and had been here often for this very purpose.

His comment surprised me, since I saw this as a "Catholic" practice, so I assumed it would be common for Catholics anywhere - I assumed the difference between my wife and me in this case was our religious background, and not our cultural background. I hadn't thought of it as an ethnic practice.

He told me in the U.S. it's just not the thing to do.  Here in Mexico, he explained, people ask for blessing on just about any major item in their life - homes, cars, businesses - or smaller religious items, like icons of Mary or the Saints, crucifixes, or Bibles.  Our Bibles were blessed with the home, as was the cross seen in the picture, and the rosary hanging on it.  We don't have any icons; I explained to the priest that I'm still learning about this concept before "diving in" and he said it was understandable.  I've seen people at the church asking for blessings on a good variety of items.

I commented that it's something that could probably change in the U.S., imagining a shift towards stronger religious traditions; he agreed, but for a reason I hadn't thought of at the moment.

"As more Mexicans move in, American [Catholics] will probably see that they're having their homes blessed, and want to do the same."

I've read before that the Catholic Church in the U.S. is seeing a strong shift towards larger immigrant numbers.  But could it be that the American Catholicism, or even Christianity in general, would be also begin to assimilate practices of Mexican or other immigrants?  Or will the children and grandchildren of the immigrants loose this kind of practice as they become more American and realize that these practices aren't "normal" there?

Personally, I suspect it will be the first; Americans will begin to pick up ideas like this one, and many others, not specifically because of any desire to be like the immigrants, but rather because of growing interest for a deeper-rooted religious culture of their own, triggered or at least helped along by what they see.

I assume Canada isn't too different in terms of the blessings, etc., but it doesn't have nearly as many Mexican immigrants. If any change happened there, it would be triggered by a different source.

Will a change like this happen?  Would be a cultural shift or a religious shift?  Or perhaps a shift of religious culture?  Perhaps a religious shift already happening will prepare for a deeper shift influenced by new cultural values?  Or maybe none of the above, and I'm just imagining everything.  Who knows.


  1. While your assumptions may be correct, you forgot to take into consideration a small problem with lack of priests in the churches in the US. Most catholics know this, and are therefor not putting a lot of pressure on priests to do anything "extra". House blessings may be a part of this. Or maybe I'm wrong. I'm not a great source.


  2. Good point, Chris. It's always nice to see a more complete picture, and I think it actually ties into my other points. It's also a cultural issue; current U.S. culture is less conducive to producing priests, and American culture feels it's better not to "bother" the few overly busy priests with "extras." (This is an "extra," since it's a sacramental - a non-necessary blessing - rather than a sacrament, like communion or baptism - an essential part of a Christian life, according to Catholics.)

    I suspect that Mexicans and other Latin Americans would feel less hesitant to ask priests for the "extras," even if they perceive that the priests are over-worked. Respect for time, along respect for space, are less important here.

    On the other hand, I believe deacons can also do blessings of homes, businesses, etc, although i'm not sure. is there a shortage of deacons in the US as well?