Blessing of Animals

It’s true that we Catholics have a blessing for just about everything.  In my 16 years as a priest, I’ve been asked  to bless new homes, cars, people, rosaries—last year one of my parishioners asked for a blessing to mark the opening of her new business, a pet store.  So we asked for God’s blessing on the new business, her new employees, their customers, and of course, all the animals.

The blessing of animals has a long history in the Church.  It seems likely that from our earliest centuries we prayed for the health and happiness of the animals that were necessary to agriculture.  From Genesis onward, the Scriptures are filled with passages that connect human beings to the animals with whom we share God’s creation.  The Scriptures clearly ask us to treat animals with respect and compassion, even those we know we’re eventually going to eat.  

But the popular tradition of blessing animals probably goes back to St. Francis of Assisi, who—legend has it—preached to the birds, spoke to notorious wolves, and had a love for all the animals as part of God’s creation.

In many places, on the Feast of St. Francis (October 4th), people bring their animals, especially their pets, to be blessed.  It’s not unusual to see a parade of dogs and cats, plus the occasional snake, rabbit, horse, or chinchilla, brought forward by their owners to be blessed.  The Catholic Book of Blessings even has a rite for the blessing of animals  which concludes with this prayer:

O God, 
the author and giver of every gift,
animals also are a part of the way you provide help
for our needs and labors.
We pray through the intercession of St. Francis of Assisi,
that you will make available for our use
the things we need to maintain a decent human life.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

This somewhat flat prayer, obviously not composed by a pet owner, nevertheless reflects the theology of the goodness of creation, and the role that our animals play in our lives.