A family blessing for a returning service member

Help ease your loved one’s transition with this healing, whole-family ritual

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By Paul Boudreau


Returning troops all have had different experiences. Some, like Emilio Sanchez, have served in combat. Others worked as medics, gunners, truck drivers, or on ships offshore. But all have been exposed to the violence and human degradation of war. Some carry grave wounds in their bodies, and others are wounded in their souls. All are in need of healing. They are our children and our friends. They need to be accepted, affirmed, and welcomed home.


Below is a ceremony that may be performed in the home or anywhere the community gathers. This ceremony is best led by a parent or older sibling of the service member, or anyone who is recognized as a leader of the family or the community. With some adjustments, it can also be performed by a priest or deacon in a church.


Place on a table: three white candles with some matches or a lighter, a pitcher of water and an empty bowl, and a small dish of salt. A crucifix, a Bible, and the image of a favorite saint may also be placed on the table.


Family, neighbors, friends, and the service member sit around the table. The person leading the ceremony begins with the Sign of the Cross.

    LEADER:     In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
    ALL:     Amen.

The oldest person in the gathering lights the first candle.

    LEADER:     God made the light to chase away the darkness. Blessed be God.
    ALL:     Blessed be God.

The youngest person in the gathering lights the second candle
(with help from an adult, if necessary).

    LEADER:     The light of truth shows us the way of peace. Blessed be God.
    ALL:     Blessed be God.

The service member lights the third candle.

    LEADER:     The light is our joy to be together again.
Blessed be God.
    ALL:     Blessed be God.

The leader pours water from the pitcher into the bowl.

    LEADER:     God’s gift of water cleans and refreshes us and sustains our life.
    ALL:     We give thanks to God.

The leader sprinkles salt in the water.

    LEADER:     God’s gift of salt purifies our bodies and brightens our taste.
    ALL:     We give thanks to God.

A member of the gathering dips his/her fingers in the water and touches the service member’s head.

    LEADER:     We give thanks to God for the safe return of N. (name of service member), our son/daughter, brother/sister, and friend. May his/her memories of war be lightened, and may ideas of peace and goodness find a place in his/her thoughts. For this we pray.
    ALL:     Loving God, hear our prayer.

A member of the gathering dips his/her fingers in the water and touches the service member’s eyes and ears.

    LEADER:     Our dear N. has seen and heard many things while away at war. May the sights and sounds of home, family, and friends dispel any darkness and fill him/her with joy and thanksgiving. For this we pray.
    ALL:     Loving God, hear our prayer.

A member of the gathering dips his/her fingers in the water and touches the service member’s lips.

    LEADER:     N. has spoken many words and tasted many things away from home. Now may N. speak words that will bring peace and taste the things that will provide comfort. For this we pray.
    ALL:     Loving God, hear our prayer.

A member of the gathering dips his/her fingers in the water
and touches the service member’s hands.

    LEADER:     Our dear N. has worked with his/her hands to free a people from oppression and to serve and protect his/her comrades. Now may N. touch the things of home, family, and community, and may these things bring N. contentment and peace. For this we pray.
    ALL:     Loving God, hear our prayer.

The leader then dips both hands in the water and touches
the service member on the shoulders, arms, chest, and back.

    LEADER:     We are so thankful that N. has come home to us. May his/her life be cleansed of every hurt. May every poison of war and toxin of violence be banished from N.’s body. May the wounds of N.’s flesh and spirit be healed. May all hurt and anger and fear be chased away. And may the light of goodness and the love of family and friends give comfort. May N.’s life among us be a source of joy and gladness and peace. For this we pray.

    ALL:     Loving God, hear our prayer.
    LEADER:     And together we pray:
    ALL:     (Recite the Lord’s Prayer.)

At the end of the Lord’s Prayer, the leader makes the Sign of the Cross.

    LEADER:     In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.
    ALL:     Amen.  C

Paul Boudreau

Father Paul Boudreau is a priest of the Diocese of Norwich, Connecticut, currently serving in the Diocese of San Bernardino, California. He is an award-winning author, teacher, and retreat leader.