Pet blessings have become a popular local custom
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 4—This is the annual feast day for St. Francis of Assisi—but the 40-year trend of hosting pet blessings now is scattered throughout the autumn in congregations nationwide.
The most elaborate annual pet blessing, each year, is held at St. John the Divine in New York City. The landmark church hosted its first blessing of the animals in 1985, which is credited with touching off a wave of such blessings nationwide that continues to grow nearly 40 years later. This year, the church held its blessing on October 1 and posted a video of the entire service on its website. (That video is more than 2 hours long—but you can find the blessing near the end.)
Many Catholic and Protestant congregations across the U.S. host versions of a St. Francis blessing service either on the actual feast day or on a convenient autumn weekend. Many churches held services October 1 and many others will offer blessings on October 8.
Dates vary widely. So, if you are interested, check local listings.
Who was St. Francis?
St. Francis of Assisi not only founded the Franciscan Order and the Order of St. Clare, but he also created the first Nativity scene. St. Francis insisted that animals are an integral part of God’s creation.
As with many famous saints, St. Francis’ life began in wealth. Born to a cloth merchant in Assisi in 1181, Francis lived in luxury until war called him away from home, in 1204. It was immediately following the war that Francis received a vision. He soon lost his desire for a worldly life and returned to Assisi as a peasant. Francis’ father disowned him for his choice to follow Christ, and the saint-to-be began both begging and preaching on the streets. Francis created an order that would, in 10 years, number more than 5,000.
St. Francis was canonized less than two years after his death.
St. Francis wasn’t the first to raise the question of animals in heaven—and he wasn’t the first to affirm his belief, either! (It’s a common theme in Psalms that all creatures of God, whether human or beast, have a duty to praise God.) Nor was St. Francis the last to preach this message. Although some evangelical Christians believe that our pets are barred from heaven, the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, was famous as an early advocate for humane treatment of animals. Wesley preached that we will see our pets in heaven.
Most importantly today for the millions who are concerned about global warming, St. Francis challenged everyone to protect nature, preaching that we are, after all, God’s stewards on earth.
Legends about St. Francis paint a portrait of a man whose donkey wept upon his death; who blessed a wolf and commanded him to stop harming townspeople and their flocks; and who garnered rapt attention from birds when he told his companions that he would “preach to” his “sisters the birds.” It’s said that during his sermon, not one bird flew away.
St. Francis believed that nature was the mirror of God. In his Canticle of the Sun, St. Francis refers to “Brother Sun,” “Sister Moon” and even “Sister Death.” The saint called all creatures his “brothers” and “sisters.” This time of year, many congregations sing the hymn, All Creatures of Our God and King, which was based on Francis’ Canticle.
AT HOME: ST. FRANCIS FOR FAMILIES
Whether you’re honoring St. Francis or your own pet today, there are plenty of activities to choose from! Those wishing to remember the saint can pray the Canticle of the Sun; learn more about the fantastic festival in Assisi today; or cook up an Italian feast. (Catholic Culture has additional ideas.)
Aside from taking your pet for a walk or to a pet-blessing service, animal lovers can raise money for a local animal shelter; make Fido an herbal flea collar; or even take a lesson in pet communication. (TLC has more.)