Non Solum: Repeating Blessings

As I mentioned in my description of the new church building for the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, KS, the bishop and pastor repeated the rite for dedicating the altar and church at all weekend liturgies. This decision was made to involve the entire community as much as possible.

While Roman Catholics might object to this, it made me think about ways we do something similar. So often we see parishes blessing and lighting ceremonies for Advent wreaths repeated at every weekend liturgy.

It is pastorally appropriate to repeat blessings? Should this be encouraged for the sake of community involvement? Or is this practice at odds with the nature of blessings?

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  1. It was more than a decade ago that there was a gathering of the Society for Catholic Liturgy at the Mundelein Seminary campus outside Chicago. Cardinal George came for a general Q&A session one afternoon. A question was raised by one of the SCL members about the Book of Blessings and a possible revision, since the blessings seemed to focus more on the community engaged in the blessing, and less on the change caused blessing of God upon the object/persons/activity.

    Cardinal George’s response was that, of course, we as Catholics believe that there is an “ontological change” (he was ever the epistemologist) to the object/persons that have been blessed. He then said something about looking into a review/revision of the book.

    I think that’s what is at the core of the issue here – do we believe/understand the object(s) of the blessing to be primary, or do we believe/understand the community participating in the rite of blessing to primary? If the former, then when an object is blessed it is blessed permanently; if the latter, then the blessing recurs when a different community is gathered (or a community is gathered at a different time).

    1. @Alan Hommerding:

      I think the answer to that either/or question, is simply, “yes.”

      I very much pray that we as a Church can begin see the double-yes in response to many issues we see as either/or (i.e., vernacular or Latin, versus populum or ad orientem, contemporary or traditional music), and one day we will understand that while we all will still have preferences, one of all of these pairs does not need to win and the other does not need to die.

    2. @Alan Hommerding:
      The blessing of an Advent wreath seems to be an invocative blessing, and could be repeated ad infinitum for each different community that comes before it.

      If it were a constitutive blessing, that would be different.

  2. With Alan and Cdl. George. A building with deep meaning for the community should be blessed by all the community, not just clerics, which would require the whole community. Blessing a person would be done once for a specific reason. But blessings can be done any time, any where by anyone. Asking the Trinity specifically to bless, or transform? Limitless.

  3. “It is pastorally appropriate to repeat blessings? ”

    It depends. I would view repeated blessing of an Advent wreath to be excessive – it’s quite at the periphery of the liturgy, and more appropriately belongs in the domestic church, as it were.

    The ritual for dedication does not seem to contemplate that it would be repeated, because there are probably unspoken operating assumptions that bishops would not be present for the entire weekend’s regular liturgies, or that congregants at all Masses would stand for the elaboration of the liturgy necessary. However, the ritual does recommend that it be scheduled for a time when maximum attendance is possible, so that’s a positive value expressed.

    I am inclined to the both/and rather than either/or view of blessings where appropriate: both constitutive and invocative. I am not a fan of when the former is elided because “we don’t do that any more”, which serves only to intensify skepticism on my part.

  4. Liturgically, I think, things should be as they appear. No artificial stuff, no “fakey” Lectionary/Book of the Gospels binders. Either something is blessed or it isn’t. Be real. Don’t do it just for show.
    If you look at the blessings of ashes and palms (among others) there is an alternate prayer that implies these things have already been blessed, and the current prayer is one of praise/thanksgiving.

  5. I think I’ve said this on this blog before, but I’m fond of quoting a priest friend of mine who, when asked “Please, Father, would you bless my rosary?”, would always give a definitive “No!”. And after a short pause, add “But I’ll ask God to.”

    That is an object lesson in basic theology. We ourselves can’t bless, whether we are ordained or not ordained. We can only invoke God’s blessing on a person or thing. Alan asked “do we believe/understand the object(s) of the blessing to be primary, or do we believe/understand the community participating in the rite of blessing to primary?”. I believe the answer is “Neither”. There is a third way: it is God who is primary.

    I believe that Cardinal George’s reference to an ontological change is at best misleading. The rosary really doesn’t change when God blesses it, and yet we tend to believe that something akin to transubstantiation has occurred. It hasn’t. Furthermore, we think that the more important the person is who is invoking God’s blessing, the bigger and better the change. So a rosary “blessed by the Pope” is intrinsically “worth more” than one blessed by Fr Schneider in your local parish. I believe we really need to get rid of these misconceptions, which border on the superstitious.

    When someone asks God to bless a rosary — or a building — in our presence, we are not asking, or should not be asking, that the thing itself be changed but that those persons who will use it will be changed. When we ordain someone, we are not “giving them power”; we are praying that people’s lives will be influenced, improved, transformed through the ministry of that person. The important thing is not that the newly-ordained is changed but that other people will be changed as a result of his ordination.

    So on this basis, it seems possible to say that most everyday blessings can be repeated as often as people want to invoke God’s grace on a person or object. The question is, whether a larger blessing such as a new church building is in the same category.

    Pastorally, if it is not possible for the entire community to be present, it would seem desirable to repeat, in the same way that some dioceses have as many as six or eight Chrism Masses. It’s similar to the argument about what happens on Palm Sunday. The rubrics tell us that the procession should only happen once, at the “principal Mass”, otherwise it’s the solemn entrance or the simple entrance. But, if you think about it, whichever Mass it is, the Mass that you are present at is in fact the principal Mass for you on that day.

  6. Perhaps a definition of terms:
    “To Bless”= to take a person or object from everyday life (everything from a rosary to a brewery) and, putting it back into everyday usage for the honor and glory of God. That is why some things are said to be “blessed by use”.

    “To Consecrate”= to take a person or object permanently from everyday usage and dedicated exclusively for divine purposes/honor of God.

    I would respectfully disagree with Card. George’s using “ontological change” when referring to blessings. It might very well be appropriate for consecrations.

  7. Robert Orsi’s new book from Harvard University Press, History and Presence, may be of interest in the discussion of sacred objects. It is a sophisticated study of the Catholic experience of God’s presence through the material world. Blessings seem to me to belong to this universe of meaning.
    https://www.amazon.com/History-Presence-Robert-Orsi/dp/0674047893
    Princeton professor of Christian origins Peter Brown says of it, “The men and women studied in this book do not belong to ‘a world we have lost.’ They belong to a world we have lost sight of. “

  8. One interesting fact that seems to emerge in this discussion is that objects are normally blessed only once, yet people are blessed over and over again, daily even, as parents bless their children and we bless ourselves with holy water upon entering a church building. Cardinal George’s claim of an “ontological change” effected by blessing seems to me to be without grounding and just wrong. I am leery of applying the philosophical terms we use for Eucharistic consecration and holy orders to rosaries and palms and the family bible, much less motorcycles, power boats, school rooms, and, let’s face it, weapons of war. That does not mean that material things are unimportant or that some objects actually bear a sacred character. But I doubt very much we have to keep blessing our objects over and over, as if the blessing expired. Objects don’t change as people do, so while we are new every morning and probably need new blessing, our rosaries do not. Right?

  9. I believe the meaning of a blessing is to be found in the words of the blessing prayer. The blessing of an Advent wreath, for example, is not directed at the wreath, but to the assembly: “Let your blessing come upon us as we light the candles of this wreath.” So the blessing should most certainly be repeated with every assembly on the first Sunday of Advent.
    The blessing of a rosary too is directed, not at the rosary, but at the people who will pray the rosary: “Lord, send your blessing upon all who use this rosary…” And the sign of the cross is made, not over the rosary, but over the people. Given certain pastoral circumstances, I could see the same rosary being “reblessed,” since it’s the people who are being prayed for, not the beads. It could be that a second blessing, with it’s required liturgy of the word, might help rekindle a person’s devotional life. Again, it would depend on the pastoral circumstances. Repeated blessings given to an object, as if recharging a battery, are not appropriate.

    1. @Jan Larson:
      It’s interesting that in the Book of Blessings, no longer is there a sign of the Cross made for the blessing; it is the “word” the “effects” the blessing. Very true, blessings are oriented for the benefit of persons not things but ‘things’ still count in that as sacramentals they “alert us” to the goodness of God.

      1. @John Swencki:
        Well, there was a Decree that makes clear the Sign of the Cross is made for a blessing.

        URBIS ET ORBIS DECRETUM

        De signo sanctae Crucis in benedictionibus semper adhibendo

        Cum ex usitato more semper liturgica viguisset consuetudo, ut in ritibus benedictionis signum crucis adhiberetur, id dextera manu a celebrante super personas aut res describendo, pro quibus misericordia impetratur, haec Congregatio de Cultu Divino et Disciplina Sacramentorum ad dirimenda dubia statuit, ut, etiam si textus illius partis Ritualis Romani cui titulus De Benedictionibus silentio signum ipsum praetereatur vel expressa in eo careat mentione temporis opportuni huius actionis, attamen tamquam necessarium in quavis benedictione sacris ministris peragenda supradictum signum crucis usurpetur.

        Hac vero absente mentione, tempus opportunum habeatur cum textus benedictionis verba benedictio, benedicere vel similia praebeat vel his deficientibus verbis, cum concluditur ipsa oratio benedictionis.

        Contrariis quibuslibet minime obstantibus.

        Ex aedibus Congregationis de Cultu Divino et Disciplina Sacramentorum, die 14 Septembris A. D. 2002, in festo Exaltationis Sanctae Crucis.

        GEORGIUS A. card. MEDINA ESTÉVEZ, Praefectus

        ✠ Franciscus Pius Tamburrino
        archiep. a Secretis

      2. @John Swencki:
        A DECREE FOR THE CITY AND THE WORLD

        On always making use of the sign of the holy Cross in blessings

        Since, from the established usage, the liturgical custom has always been in force that in the rites of blessing the sign of the cross is employed by being traced by the celebrant with the right hand over the persons or things for whom mercy is implored, this Congregation for divine worship and the discipline of the sacraments, in order to dispel any doubts, has established that, even if the text of the part of the Roman ritual entitled “The Book of Blessings” remains silent about the sign itself or lacks an express mention of the appropriate time for this action, nevertheless the sacred ministers should adopt the aforementioned sign of the cross as necessary when carrying out any blessing.

        Without a mention, however, the appropriate time should be regarded as when the text of the blessing uses the words blessing, to bless, or similar or, lacking these words, when the prayer of blessing itself is concluded.

        Anything to the contrary not withstanding.

        From the office of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, on 14 September, 2002, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

        GEORGE A. card. MEDINA ESTEVEZ, Prefect

        ✠ Francesco Pio Tamburrino
        archbishop Secretary

  10. Considering we get blessed again and again at the end of every Mass, I don’t see re-blessing an altar or advent wreath as problematic.

  11. For those who use the Blessing and Sprinkling rite during Easter: do you bless the water every week? If so, is this because the water is replaced each week or are you re-blessing the same water over and over? The rite seems to presume that the water is blessed each time the rite is used. But if so, what does that say about the water that was blessed in the font at the Easter Vigil?

    1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt:
      I would think the water is replaced each week (perhaps for each weekend liturgy). Also it seems the water blessed at the Vigil is for baptism. Water blessed at the Vigil when there are no baptisms is a reminder of baptism, and has a different formula, and is to be used for the sprinkling rite during the Easter season. Water used for the sprinkling rite for the rest of the year is likewise a reminder of baptism, and of our need for forgiveness and health of mind and body, and has again a different formula.

      1. @Stephen Palanca:
        The 1998 Sacramentary provided 2 options for Thanksgiving over the Water during the Easter Season as part of the various options in the Introductory Rites.

  12. For a possible secular example of two blessings, see the swearing in of Justice Gorsuch, as reported by CBS: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/neil-gorsuch-takes-supreme-court-seat-after-divisive-confirmation/

    Only after describing the ceremony, and the symbolism of the swearing in being performed at the White House does it bother to mention that it had already been done before:

    “Earllier Monday, Chief Justice John Roberts administered the Constitutional oath to Gorsuch in a private ceremony in the high court’s Justices’ Conference Room.”

    So which was the “real” one? Did they both count? Did the second one finish the incomplete process started by the first one?

  13. Why receive Communion more than once in one’s life? Does the Eucharist’s ‘effectiveness’ have a duration? Of course not. But our openness to grace does waver at times from lesser to greater and back again. Whether its blessing ourselves or being blessed, or receiving the Eucharist, we’re given multiple opportunities to taste and see how good is the Lord… and really take it all in! Dedicating something with a blessing is needed only once– the statement is said, the deed is done.

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