“Sit, Natasha!” Please, please behave here I said to myself silently after coaxing her to sit down.
Excitement and energy filled the air on the church lawn this bright sunny morning. It is tradition at this particular church to have the Blessing of the Animals as part of the main service on the Sunday near St. Francis Day. The service is held outside, on the large lawn. An altar is set at the front; metal chairs in rows are arranged for the congregation, choir and acolytes. The congregation on the day I’m writing about included dogs of many sizes and shapes, their humans holding onto their leashed canines with care. Small carry cases sat safety on their human’s lap, containing cats, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, or a ferret; a child held tightly to a bowl with his pet turtle inside.
It was Natasha’s first Blessing of the Animals Day, and we weren’t sure how our newly rescued sweet, gentle yet very energetic six-year-old lab would behave among all these people and pets. Well, we kind of had an idea, which is why my young teenagers and I had brought her to an empty row of seats in the back. On walks at home, she was the mayor – greeting everyone and every dog we met; she wanted to do the same here but the service was starting.
Through the background noise of barks and dog movements, the service continued. An amazing thing happened at the consecration of the bread and wine: the animals became still and quiet. “Sanctify them by your holy spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son…” was heard clearly by all. The animals remained quiet through the Lord’s Prayer. They got excited again when it was time to go up for their blessings, but the timing of their quietness was amazing: animals spiritual?
The Blessing of the Animals service is held in remembrance of St. Francis’ love for all animals. St. Francis of Assisi is known as the Patron Saint of animals and the environment. His feast day is observed October 4 each year in the Anglican, Lutheran and Catholic churches. Blessing of the Animals services are held at many of these churches and all are welcome.
St. Francis’ love of animals is told through many stories of his kindness toward them: the rabbit he rescued from a trap, the fish he was given to eat but he set it free instead, the pet lamb that loved him and followed him around, the birds he sang to and the wolf he tamed.
Francis was born in 1882 in Assai, Italy and lived the lavish life of the son of a wealthy merchant. As he matured, his encounters with beggars and lepers helped him to decide to devote his life to ministering to the poor. Over his father’s objections, Francis renounced all material values. He founded three religious orders, including what we now call the Franciscans. Francis died on October 3, 1226 and was canonized by Pope Gregory IX on July 16, 1228.
Francis wrote a Canticle of the Creatures, an ode to God’s living things. “All praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures.”
© Diane L. Neuls DeBlasio 2013