BLESSING OF THE ANIMALS
Saint Francis of Assisi (Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone) was a Catholic deacon and the founder of the Order of Friars Minor, more commonly known as the Franciscans. He is known as the patron saint of animals, the environment, and Italy, and it is customary for Catholic churches to hold ceremonies blessing animals on his feast day.
We celebrate it too by blessing our parishioner’s pets. In previous years the blessing has been held outdoors after the church service, but recently we have held the blessing in the church as part of the regular service. It’s quite a sight to see the collection of animals that attends (mostly dogs and cats, with occasional birds, rabbits, and lizards). We are waiting to see our first horse!
More about Saint Francis (from Wikipedia)
Many of the stories that surround the life of St. Francis deal with his love for animals. Perhaps the most famous incident that illustrates the Saint’s humility towards nature is recounted in the “Fioretti” (“Little Flowers”), a collection of legends and folklore that sprang up after the Saint’s death. It is said that, one day, while Francis was traveling with some companions, they happened upon a place in the road where birds filled the trees on either side. Francis told his companions to “wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds”. The birds surrounded him, drawn by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away. Francis spoke to them:
My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you… you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests. And although you neither know how to spin or weave, God dresses you and your children, for the Creator loves you greatly and He blesses you abundantly. Therefore… always seek to praise God.
Another legend from the Fioretti tells that in the city of Gubbio, where Francis lived for some time, was a wolf “terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals”. Francis had compassion upon the townsfolk, and went up into the hills to find the wolf. Soon, fear of the animal had caused all his companions to flee, though the saint pressed on. When he found the wolf, he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. Miraculously the wolf closed his jaws and lay down at the feet of St. Francis. “Brother Wolf, you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil…”, said Francis. “All these people accuse you and curse you… But brother wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people”. Then Francis led the wolf into the town, and surrounded by startled citizens made a pact between them and the wolf. Because the wolf had “done evil out of hunger”, the townsfolk were to feed the wolf regularly, and in return, the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks. In this manner Gubbio was freed from the menace of the predator. Francis, ever the lover of animals, even made a pact on behalf of the town dogs, that they would not bother the wolf again. It is also said that Francis, to show the townspeople that they would not be harmed, blessed the wolf.
Another legend has it that St. Francis on his deathbed thanked his donkey for carrying and helping him throughout his life, and his donkey wept.