The Blessing of the Animals

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Oct. 4 is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the saint we pet lovers turn to for help when the cat won't stop coughing up hairballs or the dog's arthritis seems particularly painful. It's not that we think St. Francis can work magic - magic has no place in a world where God's power is ever-present - but his gentleness with and kindness toward all creatures great and small makes him the perfect intercessor for our friends with furry legs, wings or fins.

Many churches in the Arlington Diocese will celebrate St. Francis' feast day with a Blessing of the Animals, an annual bring-your-pet-to-the-church-but-make-sure-you-clean-up-after-it festival. St. Charles in Clarendon and St. Francis of Assisi in Triangle will do theirs on the actual feast day, Oct. 4; St. Bernadette in Springfield will have one blessing on the feast day, but will also bless pets of the school children the day before. St. Ann in Arlington will combine their blessing of the animals with a request for donations for the Arlington Animal Welfare League.

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan didn't wait, but gave a blessing to three dozen rescue animals outside St. Patrick's Cathedral Sept. 30.

It's not hard to understand why the Blessing of the Animals is so popular: We form a bond with our pets that is more basic than almost any other relationship. They rely on us in an intrinsic way, completely dependent upon us for their sustenance and their happiness. They obey us without question, and when they err, they return to us penitent, eager for reconciliation with us. In a way, that bond emulates the bond we should have with God, who is truly our Lord and Master.

During the Blessing of the Animals, the celebrant prays the following prayer:

"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."

On this feast of St. Francis of Assisi, may we thank God for blessing us with the companions we have adopted into our homes and, with the same love and care that we show them, may we love and care for each other.

Witko can be reached at mwitko@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014