Liturgy Lines: “Bless You!”

by Elizabeth Harrington

This post originally appeared at Liturgy Brisbane on November 3rd, 2016

The first two definitions of the verb ‘to bless’ in my Collins English dictionary are: to consecrate or render holy, beneficial, or prosperous by means of a religious rite; to give honor or glory to a person or thing as divine or holy.

Blessings are used frequently, and in both senses of the word given above, in Catholic ritual. People ask for rosary beads or other religious articles to be blessed. We bless ourselves with holy water as we enter a church. The psalms frequently use phrases such as “Bless the Lord, my soul, bless the Lord!” The celebration of Mass concludes with a blessing and dismissal.

Blessings are sometimes incorporated into another ritual, such as the blessing of the rings in the Order of Matrimony and the blessing of the holy oils at the Chrism Mass. At other times they are celebrated as rituals in their own right (pun intended!) For example, a ceremony of the Blessing of the Fleet is held annually in the Whitsundays.

Judging by the number of phone calls I receive from people seeking help with preparing a service of blessing, one of the Church’s best-kept secrets is the official ritual book entitled Book of Blessings. This book was promulgated in Latin as De Benedictionibus in 1984. It was then translated into English by ICEL. The edition published in the USA in 1989 is the one that has been approved for use in Australia. It is a most useful resource and should be included among the liturgical books of every Catholic parish.

The six sections of the Book of Blessings contain rituals for every conceivable occasion – from blessing animals and factories, to pilgrims and new pastors. The first chapter has blessings for people, the second for buildings and equipment used in human activity, the third for objects found in churches (new baptismal font or chalice, for example), the fourth for devotional aids (religious medals, etc), and the fifth for feasts and seasons (including that elusive blessing of the Advent wreath!). The final chapter picks up any possible people or occasions that haven’t already been dealt with.

As with any liturgy, a blessing is a celebration of the priesthood of Christ. We all share in that priesthood through our baptism and we can all, when appropriate, give or celebrate a blessing. The Book of Blessings identifies a hierarchy of ministers who exercise the ministry of blessing. At celebrations involving the whole diocese, the bishop is the minister. A priest normally presides at a blessing involving the local community, but a deacon or layperson may preside in his absence. Indeed, there are some blessings, especially those associated with home and family, where lay people are the most appropriate presiders.

A service of blessing usually consists of readings from scripture, praise of God, and petition for our needs. As with any liturgy, it is essential that a blessing be prepared and celebrated in a way that ensures the full, conscious and active participation of everyone present. Gestures such as the sprinkling of water or the assembly raising their arms in blessing enrich the celebration by involving people and emphasizing the meaning of the ritual.

“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 © 2016 Elizabeth Harrington, Archdiocese of Brisbane.

3 comments

  1. I think we would participate more fully in shouting or chanting our Amen to these blessings if we were given a timely cue. Historically the Roman and Byzantine rites have provided very well for this with a “forever” line. Apparently those who compiled the Book of Blessings have not done so, which in the case of the triple blessing leads to an uncertain stumble when the presider ends each one. I don’t recommend additional imported formulas such as “let the church say.” I suggest they be chanted with ending notes that provide the needed cue.

  2. I prefer the Extraordinary Form Blessings. Not due to them being in Latin, but the prayers of the revised Book of Blessings seem watered down and not quite the same.

  3. Jay, it has been noted that these blessings tend to avoid blessing the objects, but rather the people. Does anyone know if this reflected in the Latin, or if it is a product of a particular theology in the translation?

    A deacon from my wife’s home parish gave us a copy of the Book of Blessings for our wedding, and while I personally tend to dislike the above-mentioned tendency to avoid blessing objects, it is a wonderful way to ritualize/liturgize our family life, and to experience God omnipresence. The USCCB’s “Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers” contains many of the family-oriented blessings, and Midwest Theological Forum’s “Handbook of Prayers” also contains a sampling of the blessings.

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