Baptists Embrace Roman Catholic Tradition of Pet Blessing Ceremonies

Francis of Assisi, Wikimedia

Cats, dogs, parakeets, bunnies—animal people love their pets. Animals are a gracious and wonderful gift from God. Indeed, God demonstrates by His care for the animals that He, too, loves these creatures which He has so delicately created.

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Luke 12:6

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Matt. 6:26

In spite of how lovable and wonderful our pets may be, though, a disturbing trend long practiced among Roman Catholics has been seeping into Protestant churches. This is the increasingly common practice of holding “pet blessing” ceremonies, usually as a means of honoring the Roman Catholic Saint Francis of Assisi. The Associated Baptist Press reports:

Long a practice of the Catholic and Episcopal churches, animal blessing ceremonies are now cropping up in Baptist settings as creation and pets become more important to many Christians.

“It’s a way to celebrate creation,” [senior pastor Brent Beasley] said.1

Here is the first concern. Could this practice, which on the outside appears cute and friendly, be a subtle way of moving toward that dangerous idolatry of which Scripture speaks in Romans 1:25? Could this be one more way for men to worship the creation rather than the Creator? Perhaps, though many no doubt would object to this suggestion, dismissing it as mere silliness.

There remains, then, a far more plausible danger. The same ABP article continues:

It’s also a sign that animal blessing ceremonies, long the practice of Catholic, Episcopal and other liturgical traditions, have made the leap into the Protestant world.

In fact, the practice is cropping up here and there in moderate and progressive Baptist churches where it will likely spread, said Molly Marshall, president and professor of theology and spiritual formation at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kan.2

Though seemingly harmless, is the growing trend of pet blessing ceremonies in Protestant churches a small, but noticeable step toward ecumenical compromise? To be sure, many liberal denominations have engaged in far graver compromise, but even the embrace of this tradition ought to cause concern.

The practice dates to at least the 1300s when Catholics began commemorating the life of St. Francis, a figure known for promoting vows of poverty, service to others and a love of nature.

Anglicans adopted the practice from at [sic] their founding in the 1500s, said Gerald G. Alexander, associate priest at All Saints Episcopal Church in Jacksonville, Fla.

Blessings usually involve addressing animals by their names, sprinkling them with holy water and praying for them.

“In our tradition it has nothing to do with salvation,” Alexander said. “It is our thanking God for creating these companions for us. We want to bless them because God loves them.”3

While most may breathe a sigh of relief to know that these ceremonies have “nothing to do with salvation,” the question still must be asked: why would Protestants desire to engage in a practice which was designed to venerate a Roman Catholic monk?

Who exactly was Saint Francis of Assisi? Though never ordained to priesthood, Francis of Assisi founded the Franciscan Order of monks, as well as the women’s Order of St. Clare and the Third Order of Saint Francis for both men and women not engaged in monastic living. Additionally, he stands in the Roman Catholic tradition as a notable mystic. The Catholic Encyclopedia provides further details (emphasis added):

Few, however, of those who feel the charm of Francis’s personality may follow the saint to his lonely height of rapt communion with God. For, however engaging a “minstrel of the Lord”, Francis was none the less a profound mystic in the truest sense of the word. The whole world was to him one luminous ladder, mounting upon the rungs of which he approached and beheld God. It is very misleading, however, to portray Francis as living “at a height where dogma ceases to exist”, and still further from the truth to represent the trend of his teaching as one in which orthodoxy is made subservient to “humanitarianism”. A very cursory inquiry into Francis’s religious belief suffices to show that it embraced the entire Catholic dogma, nothing more or less. If then the saint’s sermons were on the whole moral rather than doctrinal, it was less because he preached to meet the wants of his day, and those whom he addressed had not strayed from dogmatic truth; they were still “hearers”, if not “doers”, of the Word. For this reason Francis set aside all questions more theoretical than practical, and returned to the Gospel.

Source

It appears, then, that Saint Francis of Assisi was a Catholic among Catholics, celebrating not merely the Roman Catholic dogma, but striving in his own life to achieve some sort of mystical union with God. Again we ask, why would Protestants desire to engage in a practice which was designed to venerate a Roman Catholic monk?

It is no sin to love one’s pets. Surely God gifts some men with a heart for His furry or feathered creatures, and each one brings joy and blessings into the life of its owner. Thank God for these cold-nosed gifts, then, on a daily basis, not with ceremony and pomp, but with humility and gratefulness. No matter how dear our four-legged friends may be, we must remember that even the cutest whiskered face is not reason enough to aid in ushering in a counter-Reformation, and joining hands (or paws) with Rome.

Footnotes

  1. http://abpnews.com/ministry/congregations/item/7905-pet-blessings-becoming-baptist-practice#.UIWambQce18, accessed 22 October 2012.
  2. http://abpnews.com/ministry/congregations/item/7905-pet-blessings-becoming-baptist-practice#.UIWambQce18, accessed 22 October 2012.
  3. http://abpnews.com/ministry/congregations/item/7905-pet-blessings-becoming-baptist-practice#.UIWambQce18, accessed 22 October 2012.