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1st January 2024

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I wish you all a very Happy New Year and every blessing for 2024.

The first Reading at Mass today on the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God is a very fitting blessing for all God’s people from the Book of Numbers as we begin a new year:

    “May the Lord bless you and keep you.

      May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you.

      May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.”

The desire for God’s blessing is very strong in people of faith and it is particularly sought after at times in life when we feel weak and vulnerable. We ask for this blessing frequently in our personal and communal prayer, and at times we ask a priest or deacon to pray with us and make the sign of the cross over us. This offers us a sense of God’s love and mercy, and his consolation and protection in our particular time of need.

The recent Declaration from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Fiducia Supplicans, offered a reflection and direction on the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings, extending the possibility of giving a blessing to couples who are living in irregular relationships in the eyes of the Church, including same-sex couples. In the foreword Pope Francis made it clear that the Declaration remains firm on the traditional doctrine about marriage, not allowing any type of liturgical rite or blessing similar to the Rite of Marriage or other liturgical rites, so that any confusion is avoided. The value of the document is that it permits a broadening and enrichment of the classical understanding of blessings, based on the pastoral vision of Pope Francis. Since this is a development which has caused much comment and debate in the Church, I recommend that you read the Declaration and gain an appreciation of the rich teaching offered on blessings. On the particular possibility of offering a blessing to those in irregular sexual relationships, I quote No. 31 from Fiducia Supplicans:

“Within the horizon outlined here appears the possibility of blessings for couples in irregular situations and for couples of the same sex, the form of which should not be fixed ritually by ecclesiastical authorities to avoid producing confusion with the blessing proper to the Sacrament of Marriage. In such cases, a blessing may be imparted………that involves the invocation of a blessing that descends from God upon those whom – recognising themselves to be destitute and in need of his help – do not claim a legitimisation of their own status, but who beg that all that is true, good, and humanly valid in their lives and in their relationships be enriched, healed, and elevated by the presence of the Holy Spirit. These forms of blessing express a supplication that God may grant those aids that come from the impulses of his Spirit – what classical theology calls “actual grace” – so that human relationships may mature and grow in fidelity to the Gospel, that they may be freed from their imperfections and frailties, and that they may express themselves in the ever-increasing dimension of divine love.”

The possibility of blessings being given by the clergy to those in irregular situations, not within the liturgical or sacramental life of the parish, “but in other contexts, such as a visit to a shrine, a meeting with a priest, a prayer recited in a group, or during a pilgrimage” is very much in line with Pope Francis’ often repeated desire that the Church reaches out to all her children, particularly those who feel isolated or on the margins. Such blessings can reassure that God loves and cares for them in their particular circumstances, and that the Church accompanies each of us in the often difficult journey of Christian faith and love. As Bishop, I welcome the initiative taken, and the possibilities it offers, and pray that it will assist the clergy in caring for those who seek our pastoral care and support, so that they experience the desired blessing from the Lord, who loves us so much that he took on our nature in order to save us all.

May Our Blessed Lady, Mother of God, be with all her children, and help us grow in faith and love.

Yours in Christ,


+ Joseph Toal

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