Blessing of Animals
Annually now, on or around October 4, Christians worldwide celebrate the Feast of Saint Francis with a blessing of animals and prayers for creation.
The Catholic variant of Christianity has specific liturgies for the blessing of animals, highlighting creation and interdependence. United Methodists also have a specific liturgy highlighting creation and mutual interdependence.
Separate variants of Christianity will sometimes combine to hold joint, ecumenical, animal blessing ceremonies, for example Catholic and Episcopalian churches.
Many synagogues now have ceremonies for the blessing of animals, and some say the idea may have originated in ancient Judaism. The Jewish ceremony is often performed on the seventh day of Passover (in the spring) as a celebration of the Hebrews’ (and their animals’) emancipation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. Many Jewish congregations schedule blessings of the animals after the High Holy Days, with ceremonies around the second weekly Torah portion of the Jewish Year, the Parashat Noach, the portion about Noah and the ark, the saving of both humans and other animals, they also being gifts from God.
Other Jewish ceremonies are derived from the Christian ceremony and are not derived from traditional Judaism, which gives some concern for more traditional followers of Judaism.
Coming of age
A Bark Mitzvah is an observance and celebration of a dog’s coming of age, analogous to the Jewish traditional Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah terminology. The term has been in use since at least 1958.
The bark mitzvah ceremony is not universally well regarded in Judaism.
- San Juan del Río, on January 17, feast day of San Antonio.
- Unterammergau, the site of the 11th-century Chapel of St Leonhard, patron saint of horses, which is the terminus of the annual Leonhardritt and Blessing of the Animals.
- Blessing of the Animals at Olvera Street, an event from 1930, is held every Sabado de Gloria (Holy Saturday). It is an all-day event with vendors, performers, and a procession where participants bring their animals to be blessed by religious authorities and others.
- Madrid, where the festival has been celebrated largely uninterrupted since the 19th century. It is also held in other parts of Spain, such as the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean and the northern city of Burgos.
- During the latter part of the 20th century, the blessing of animals and pets in the United States has become mainstream cultural activity, with services occurring in 48 states and districts in 2008.
Culturally significant animals
Rare animal instances can have great significance in belief systems and may be ritually blessed as part of that tradition, for example the white buffalo, Kenahkihinén, in North America.
Places blessing animals
- St. Matthias, Bellwoods, a pioneer in Toronto, for liturgically based blessings in autumn
- All Saints Episcopal Church
- Beaver Lake, Mount Royal, for over 50 years, initially by Canon Horace Baugh
- St Cyprian’s Church, Lenzie
- Elisabethenkirche, Basel offers a church service, Schöpfungsfeier, for the blessing of the human-animal relationship
- St. Francis Episcopal Church in Stamford, Connecticut:
- St Bartholomews Anglican Church at Mount Gravatt: The annual pet blessing ceremony is held to coincide with the Feast of St Francis of Assisi, considered the patron saint of animals. The ceremony commenced in 2010 and features bible readings, songs and individual prayer for each pet.
- Church of San Anton in central Madrid, Day of Saint Anthony, patron saint of animals
- Anglican Cathedral Church of the Redeemer, Calgary: Every fall Since 1998
- Hawaii Kotohira Jinsha – Hawaii Dazaifu Tenmangu Shinto temple, Hawii
- A Rabbi’s backyard in Cleveland, Ohio
- The San Gabriel Mission: The San Gabriel Mission parish performs blessings as a part of its annual San Gabriel Mission Fiesta, celebrating the 1771 founding of the 4th of California’s 22 Catholic missions.
Historical animal blessing and prayer
The Lorscher Bienensegen, believed to date back to the 9th century, is a Christian bee-keeping prayer written in Old High German to bring honey bees back to their hives in good health, and may arise from earlier Anglo-Saxon and apparently pagan “For a Swarm of Bees” in pre-Christian Germanic areas.
Saint Francis of Assisi is associated with the patronage of animals and it has become customary for Catholic and Anglican churches to carryout animal blessing ceremonies on his feast day of 4 October.
Saint Dwynwen is more known for being a Welsh patron saint of lovers but she is also lesser known as being the patron saint of sick animals which she would bless.
Legend has it that in the 4th century, whole herds of wild animals would come for the blessing of Saint Blaise.
According to legend, a cat saved Muhammad from a snake. In gratitude, Muhammad stroked the cat’s back and forehead, thus blessing all cats with the righting reflex.
The domestic cat is a revered animal in Islam. Admired for its cleanliness as well as for being loved by the Islamic prophet Muhammad, the cat is considered “the quintessential pet” by Muslims.
Cats have been venerated in the Near East since antiquity, a tradition adopted by Islam, albeit in a much modified form. According to many hadiths, Muhammad prohibited the persecution and killing of cats.
The American poet and travel author Bayard Taylor (1825–1878) was astonished when he discovered a Syrian hospital where cats roamed freely. The institution, in which domestic felines were sheltered and nourished, was funded by a waqf, along with caretakers’ wages, veterinary care and cat food. Edward William Lane (1801–1876), a British Orientalist who resided in Cairo, described a cat garden originally endowed by the 13th-century Egyptian sultan Baibars, whose European contemporaries held a very different attitude towards cats, eating them or killing them under papal decrees. Wilfred Thesiger, in his book “The Marsh Arabs”, notes that cats were allowed free entry to community buildings in villages in the Mesopotamian Marshes, and even fed, though dogs and other animals were driven out. Aside from protecting granaries and food stores from pests, cats were valued by the paper-based Arab-Islamic cultures for preying on mice that destroyed books. For that reason, cats are often depicted in paintings alongside Islamic scholars and bibliophiles. The medieval Egyptian zoologist Al-Damiri (1344–1405) wrote that the first cat was created when God caused a lion to sneeze, after animals on Noah’s Ark complained of mice.
Animal chaplaincy is typically associated with veterinary work. Veterinary chaplains minister in regard to the spirituality associated with animals and the human-animal bond and responsibilities, and perform animal blessings as part of a broad range of services.
Types of animals blessed
- Australia: dogs, cats, tropical birds, reptiles, rodents, native Australian bees, goldfish, ferrets, hermit crabs, mounted police horses, rabbits, mice
- Spain: dogs, rabbits, iguanas, doves
- Canada: horses, dogs, cats, birds, donkeys, sheep, hawks, parots, weasels, skunks
- Working animals, for example military or police dogs.
The safety of animals and people is important. Due consideration also needs to be given to any mess some animals may make.
Blessing of Animals
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 Saint 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 Pet Blessing
Dearest God, Heavenly Father
maker of all living creatures,
we ask you to bless (name of pet),
who brings so much joy into our lives.
By the power of Your love,
enable him (her) to live according to your plan.
May we always praise You for all Your beauty in creation.
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
Blessed are You, God, in all Your creatures!
– Basilica and Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation.
A Covenant Liturgy for Human and Animal Companions
Mindful of our kinship with all living creatures, and our responsibility to care for them, let us renew our covenant with the animals in our care.
Leader: Will you name this creature?
Human: (name of animal is given)
Leader: Will you care for [name], and love and protect him/her, in good times and bad, as long as he/she lives?
Human: I will.
(The human companion is invited to touch/pat/stroke the animal as a sign of the covenant reaffirmed between them.)
We give thanks for the creatures who live alongside us as companions and friends; for their loyalty, love, and trust which enrich our lives and give us joy. May we learn the value of kindness, the power of mercy, the strength of gentleness, and a new spirit of humility. Amen.
–From Animal Rites: Liturgies of Animal Care by the Rev. Andrew Linzey