I believe every creature is important. The love we give to a pet, and receive from a pet, can draw us more deeply into the larger circle of life, into the wonder of our common relationship to our Creator. – Kevin E. Mackin, O.F.M., Franciscan of the Holy Name Province.
Do you consider your pet a blessing? In early October, you’ll have an opportunity to show how much you care about your faithful friend, as well as all animals and the environment, by attending a yearly event that honors them.
A plethora of pets, from dogs and cats, to snakes and hamsters, even horses and goldfish, attend church for a special ceremony called the Blessing of the Animals. This custom is conducted in remembrance of St. Francis’ love for all creatures. St. Francis of Assisi is the Catholic saint well known for his love of nature. He is the patron saint of animals and the environment.
Each year around October 4th, churches and other groups around the world host services that commemorate of his life and work in which animals. All types of pets, including those that walk crawl, swim or fly, are blessed. These events celebrate both St. Francis’ and God’s compassion and concern for all creatures.
The tradition of animal blessings began centuries ago in rural communities, where they centred on farm animals. Today, in an increasingly urbanized world, city and suburban churches frequently hold blessings for animals that are usually domesticated household companions. At these services cats, dogs, lizards, snakes, chickens, rabbits, gerbils, and many more are represented, either in person, by means of a photograph of the animal, or by having the priest or minister call out names.
Recognizing pets as part of the spiritual family
Laura Hobgood-Oster, Professor of Religion and Environmental Studies at Southwestern University in Austin, Texas, reports a growing number of congregations offer pet blessings. A recent survey she conducted found more than 500 blessing services.
“It’s the changing family structure, where pets are really central, and religious communities are starting to recognize that people need various kinds of rituals that include their pets,” she says. “More and more people in mainline Christianity are considering them to have some kind of soul.”
Louise Hansen, of Sheboygan, Michigan, agrees. “They’re very much a part of my life, and I consider them family members,” she says. “They’re a real blessing and God truly cares about animals.”
The blessings are held mainly by Christian churches in the United States, Britain and Canada. Though it began in the Catholic faith, Episcopalian, Unitarian and others have picked up on the tradition on this day. Most services welcome people and pets of all faiths.
Though it began as a Christian ritual, honoring animals has expanded into a global, non-denominational event. On World Animal Day, celebrated annually on October 4th in memory of St. Francis, animal lovers of all beliefs, nationalities and backgrounds honor the Earth and its creatures. Blessings are held in churches, synagogues and by independent animal chaplains in parks and fields.
What’s in a blessing? To bless is more than an expression of goodwill and caring. According to Christian Bible scripture, the act of blessing means ‘the imparting of power or life.’ The person performing the ritual transmits that power from God to the animal. The blessing of each individual animal means health, healing and life are being passed the Creator for the benefit of the pet in its relationship with its human partners. The Blessing of the Animals reinforces our common kinship with all creatures.
Typical animal blessing services
Animal blessing events vary in content, but most follow a similar format. Most are held outside a church, but sometimes people and their pets are invited inside. They may also take place at a public place, like a park.
People and their animals, leashed or in protective carriers, gather outside the church. The priest or pastor usually opens the ceremony with a prayer. The service may continue with a sermon and remembrances for animals that are sick or have died. Then ministers bless each animal, calling them by name.
At some large gatherings (there can be hundreds or even thousands of humans and animals!), multiple ordained ministers work together. One of the biggest is in the US, in New York City, where an estimated 4,000 animals and 20,000 people participate. It features a large procession which includes all types of animals walking through the cathedral.
During some services, a religious medal with the likeness of St. Francis, which has been blessed by a priest, is given to each pet family. Many pet parents attach these to their pet’s collar for spiritual protection.
To enjoy a typical US service in Austin, Texas, watch this video:
Here are pictures from a St. Francis pet blessing in Phoenix, Arizona.
In his article, “Blessing of Animals,” Kevin E. Mackin, O.F.M., a member of the Franciscan order, describes a service. “At Franciscan churches, a friar with brown robe and white cord often welcomes each animal with a special prayer. The Blessing of Pets usually goes like this:
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.
As the prayer is offered, the pet is gently sprinkled with holy water. Believe it or not, most pets receive this sacramental spritz with dignity, though I must admit I have seen some cats flatten their ears a bit as the drops of water lightly pelt them.”
If you can’t bring your faithful friend
If you want to attend, but can’t bring your pet—for example, if they’re sick, nervous, or have passed away—bring a photo with you that can be displayed and blessed. Some services call out names of pets that can’t be present. Often there are special prayers and remembrances for animals that are ill or have died.
You can also hold your own service at home. (See Blessing your pet at home below)
Locating animal blessing events
Note that blessings are organized by individual churches. Some congregations celebrate this service at variable times of the year. Specific dates, times and details vary. Contact each church or organization for more information.
To locate an event near you, ask your priest or minister, check community event listings, or contact a local animal welfare group. You can search online for a St. Francis Animal Blessing or World Animal Day and include your location to find one close to you.
Two websites that list pet friendly churches are:
St. Francis pet blessing events. Catholic website that lists pet blessing activities around the United States on or near October 4, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.
Episcopal Animal Friendly Congregations. A directory of Episcopal churches, submitted by members, that welcome pets. Contact individual churches for details.
Honoring the legacy of St. Francis
If you can’t attend a blessing, there are other ways to get involved. Animal rescue shelters and wildlife groups often hold fundraising events and have open house, schools have animal-related projects and individuals, and groups or individuals can donate to animal charities or pledge to sponsor a shelter animal. Check your community or look online for more information.
Today we continue the legacy of St. Francis and the spiritual bond between the Creator and all living things, not only with religious blessings, but also by loving and caring for the animal friends that are so important to us, and respecting all of God’s creatures in our daily lives.
Blessing your pet at home
If you and your animal friend can’t make it to a service, you can bless them yourself at home. Here are ‘do-it-yourself’ Franciscan blessings you can recite for your pet.
For all animals:
Blessed are you, Lord God,
maker of all living creatures.
On the fifth and sixth days of creation,
you called forth fish in the sea,
birds in the air and animals on the land.
You inspired St. Francis to call all animals
his brothers and sisters.
We ask you to bless this animal.
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.
For a sick animal:
you created all things for your glory
and made us stewards of this creature.
If it is your will, restore it to health and strength.
Blessed are you, Lord God,
and holy is your name for ever and ever. Amen.
About St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals
His image graces a multitude of garden statues…Francis of Assisi is the Catholic saint best known to the public as the patron saint of animals and nature.
St. Francis (1182-1226) was born in twelfth century Italy into a wealthy family. As a young man, he enjoyed a wild lifestyle and was well known around town as a “party animal.” He decided on a career as a soldier and went to battle. After being captured, he became prisoner of war. It was then Francis decided to renounce the material world and spend the rest of his life preaching the word of God. He founded the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans) dedicated to the virtues of humility and poverty.
The Blessing of the Animals takes place on the day of the Catholic Feast of St. Francis, October 4th, the date of his death in 1226.
Stories about St. Francis and animals
St. Francis’ loved nature and believed all creatures have the ability to praise and love their creator. He made it his habit to ask all animals he encountered to praise and love their creator.
In his article, “Do Our Pets Go To Heaven?,” Franciscan Friar Jack Wintz offers his insight about St. Francis’ view of animals.
“What special intuition caused Francis to address creatures as “brother” or “sister”? At some point I arrived at the conviction, which I’ve never abandoned, that somewhere along the way, it dawned on St. Francis that all creatures (whether human or non-human) belong to one family of creation.” — Friar Jack Wintz, O.F.M. (Franciscan)
Blessing the birds:
One day Francis and the brothers of his religious order were travelling near Bevagna when Francis saw a tree filled with wild birds. He moved closer and greeted them. When they didn’t fly away in fear, he asked if they would listen while he preached to them. This was his message to his feathered friends:
“My brother and sister birds, you should praise your Creator and always love him: he gave you feathers for clothes, wings to fly and all other things that you need. It is God who made you noble among all creatures, making your home in thin, pure air. Without sowing or reaping, you receive God’s guidance and protection.”
Then he made the sign of the cross over them. One of his companions reported the birds responded by extending their wings as Francis moved among them, touching and blessing them.
There was a report that he once quieted a flock of noisy birds that were interrupting a religious ceremony! Much to the wonder of all present, the birds remained quiet until Francis’ sermon was complete.
The wolf of Gubbio:
One of the most famous tales of the saint’s empathy with wild beasts is about a wolf in Italy. It was terrorizing the city of Gubbio, near Assisi, attacking and eating livestock and scaring the locals (and vice versa). To help the frightened residents, Francis walked up to the nearby hills and found the wolf. He made the sign of the cross and instructed it to stop the indiscriminate slaughter, saying:
“Brother Wolf, you do much harm in these parts, and you have done great evil. All these people accuse you and curse you. But, Brother Wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people.”
Francis then led the wolf into town. Surrounded by startled citizens, he negotiated a pact between them. He explained the predator had only been trying to make a living, killing and eating because he was hungry. He told the townspeople to feed the wolf regularly, and he would no longer prey upon them and their flocks. Miraculously, it worked!
Top 10 reasons for dog lovers attend the annual World Animal Day pet blessing
- You and your BFF (best furry friend) can spend quality time together. You get closer to God and dog!
- Your dog gets to go for a ride in the car…(“Oh-boy, oh-boy, oh-boy!!!”).
- You both can meet new friends: you’ll go nose-to-nose and your dog will go nose-to-tail (don’t get these mixed up!).
- The blessing is very paws-itive—it gives your pet a kind of spiritual force field. (Who knows, it might help protect them from really bad stuff, like thunder and having to wear stupid costumes at the holidays!)
- You can tell stories about your furry kid to other pet parents that actually enjoy hearing them!
- It’s a rare chance to wear silly animal theme clothes and accessories and fit right in!
- It’s an awesome photo op and gives you something cool to update your social media.
- Later, you can tell family and friends you went to church with your dog and you won’t be making it up!
- It supports your local church and animal rescue—donations are usually welcome, and many churches donate proceeds to animal rescue efforts.
- It’s a great event you and your dog can enjoy. It’s spiritual, it’s tail-wagging fun, and it’s free!
What: Annual Blessing of the Animals (free event).
When: On or around October 4th, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. (Dates and times vary.)
Who: Animal lovers and their well-behaved pets of all types and denominations are invited.
Why: To have a priest or minister give your pet a spiritual blessing in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals.
Where: Most are at local Christian churches in the United States, Britain and Canada, but services are held globally.
Information: Check local churches, media, and community events announcements or search online.
Guest Article Bio - Barbara Stone is a freelance writer, pet groomer and animal rescuer. She often writes about animal spirituality and pets in the afterlife. Her new book, The Cat in the Music Box: A Message from Pet Heaven, will be available at amazon.com on October 1st. She lives in the Western United States with her furry family. Contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.