Liturgy Lines: Blessings

by Elizabeth Harrington. 

This article originally appeared at Liturgy Brisbane on April 20th, 2017.

 

Sometimes people imagine that when a priest blesses a rosary, car or house it is like sticking a label on it to make it holy. That is not the best way to think about blessings.  Blessing starts with God and involves a two-way movement – from God to us and us to God.

We start with God’s goodness and care for us. So the first meaning of blessing is the praise and thanksgiving we offer God in worship. Blessed are you Lord God of all creation… We praise you, we bless you, we give you thanks… We acknowledge that God cares for us.  We rejoice in God’s providence.  This is the movement from us to God.

When we celebrate blessings – whether it be the blessing of a rosary, a wheat crop, a mother or a bridge – the person or thing or event that we bless becomes an opportunity to praise God for creation and to invoke the protection of God’s mercy upon our world. Our blessing is a way of saying that God is the source of all blessing.

Blessing also involves a movement from God to us. It is an invocation upon a person, thing or event asking that it will become a sign, a sign of God’s goodness. When we bless another person we invoke divine help upon them; we pray that they may be placed under God’s loving care.  When we bless water, we ask that it will serve as a reminder of our baptism and a reminder that we are saved in the death and resurrection of Christ.  Holy water is precious because through the blessing it becomes an eloquent sign of God’s gracious kindness; but it doesn’t change the water as consecration changes the bread and wine.  When we bless a rosary or image, we ask that it will open our hearts to God’s grace.  Thus blessings are really for people.  We bless objects or places primarily in view of the people who use them.

When a priest blesses, he does so as a representative of the Church. The whole body of Christ joins in praising God and in asking that the person or thing will be an occasion to experience God’s love.  This adds a communal dimension to the blessing.  Sometimes these blessings are formal and involve a full liturgy with Scripture and a gathering of people (the blessing of the oils at the Chrism Mass, for example).  However blessing is not the exclusive domain of the priest or the church building.  Families bless God and bless their food at the meal table.  Parents bless their children as they go to bed or set off for school.

So blessings are not like magic or Harry Potter spells that would assign spiritual power to a mere object or place.  All good comes from God.  A blessing brings people into the orbit of God’s loving kindness, sometimes through a particular place or thing.

God bless!

“Liturgy Lines” are short 500-word essays on liturgical topics written by Elizabeth Harrington, Liturgy Brisbane’s education officer. They have been published every week in The Catholic Leader since 1999.

Copyright © 2017 Elizabeth Harrington, Archdiocese of Brisbane.

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4 comments

  1. The significance of ordination in relation to blessing is a matter open to some question, even though as the essay says, “When a priest blesses, he does so as a representative of the Church.”
    An example that has struck me is in “Pastoral Care of the Sick” from the Roman Ritual. Often, as in #61 Visits to the Sick, there are distinct formulas for ordained and non-ordained:
    “If the minister is a priest or deacon, he immediately concludes, ‘May the blessing of almighty God, the Father, and the Son, + and the Holy Spirit, come upon you and remain with you for ever.’ The priest [sic] may lay hands upon the sick person’s head.” THEN “A minister who is not a priest or deacon invokes God’s blessing and makes the sign of the cross on himself or herself, while saying: ‘May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life.’ The minister may then trace the sign of the cross on the sick person’s forehead.”
    This isn’t about Anointing of the Sick, absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or consecration of the Eucharistic elements, all of which are reserved to priests. This is a blessing reserved to priests and deacons i.e. the ordained, and is governed apparently by CIC (1983) can. 1168-1169.
    What are the issues that make it imprudent (if not impossible) for a lay person to bless a sick person, invoking the Blessed Trinity?

  2. Regarding: “When a priest blesses, he does so as a representative of the Church.”
    – This is a good article.
    – In the context of Church the Body of Christ as it is in the world: when a lay person blesses he or she does it as a member of that Body, the church. That is when a lay person blesses someone or something the Church or Jesus Christ does not decamp from the premises. Indeed a Christian blesses in the name of the Triune God in whom and from whom the Word is manifested in the here and now by the Body of Christ the Church, and in each person a creature of God.
    – Too often the blessing of a cleric is seen by some as more meritorious than the blessing by a lay person.
    – When clerics insist that a blessing from them take precedence it is always understood by the many as a play for an increase of stipends as oppose to a catechesis on the the truth of the matter of blessings.

  3. “When clerics insist that a blessing from them take precedence it is always understood by the many as a play for an increase of stipends”

    I am rather mystified by this idea. I’ve never heard of a priest taking a stipend for a mere blessing.

    1. @Karl Liam Saur:
      Something like a house blessing, I wouldn’t begrudge the priest a stipend, considering the money it takes to put gas in the car and Fr. taking the time out of his schedule to do it.

      I’ve never heard of a priest taking a stipend for blessing a Rosary or holy medal, but sometimes I have gotten the sense that a priest doesn’t see the efficaciousness of a priestly blessing upon a holy object in the same way I do.

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