Are there things we ought not bless?

I was struck by an articleat Catholic News Agency that reported how the Russian Orthodox Church is considering ending their practice of blessing large weapons including nuclear bombs:

Last month, a committee on ecclesial law met in Moscow and recommended ending the practice of blessing missiles and warheads, and suggested that priests should instead bless only individual soldiers and their personal weapons.

Bishop Savva Tutunov of the Moscow Patriarchate, said in an interview that “one can talk about the blessing of a warrior on military duty in defense of the fatherland.” However at the moment large weapons, including Topol-class intercontinental ballistic missiles, are routinely blessed by Russian Orthodox clergy during military parades.

But there are other voices in the Russian Orthodox community, including Fr. Vsevolod Chaplain, former spokesman for the Patriarch of Moscow, who said in an interviewthat the nuclear weapons are the “guardian angels” of Russia that protect the country from “enslavement by the West.”

For Western Catholic the idea of blessing a nuclear warhead is a little extreme. How ought we to evaluate this practice? The General Introduction to the 1984 Roman CatholicBook of Blessingssays that the root of liturgical blessings comes from the fact that God “who is good has made all things good” (#1). Yet I cannot find a blessing for nuclear bombs in the current ritual and other than a “blessing of anything” I can’t find one in my 1964 edition of the Roman Ritual. However the blessingof different weapons was part of the liturgical patrimony of the West.

So the question today is, are we allowed to bless everything? Is there a valid theological reason to bless a nuclear warhead? For example, would blessing it perhaps make it less likely to be used? What are the theological and pastoral concerns that we should take in this matter? There is a strong anti-war movement in certain quarters of the Catholic Church. So should we stay as far away as possible from any hint of blessing military activities? Or is it the case that any, even superficial, Christian presence is an opportunity to catechize and that we should take advantage of any opportunity to be near people who might not agree with the fulness of the Christian message following the example of St. Paul who says that “to all people I became all things, so that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:22)?

11 comments

  1. The 1961 revision of the Pontificale Romanum suppressed the various military blessings. But when one reads the prayers of even these, it is clear that they are bound up with the whole “noble chivalry” idea, mentioning the protection of defenseless groups, etc. Besides, they were not large-scale indiscriminate destruction weapons as is the case with much of modern weaponry – which might have been the distinction the ROC bishop quoted was aiming at

    The Book of Blessings n. 1985 (Latin n. 1245) specifically mentions installation of military weapons as an occasion that is not suitable for a blessing.

  2. I admit to finding questions like these exceedingly hard to adjudicate. For me, blessing SUVs and other gas-guzzling vehicles should be out of the question too, given the climate emergency we are living in.
    It might be interesting sometime to inquire into what different people think cannot be blessed any more these days. I assume we would get a very diverse (and at points: contradictory) list.

    1. What is happening when objects are blessed?

      To bless an object, e.g. a house, a book, a vehicle is to pray that it will endure and be used for a good purpose, ultimately, the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God. The opposite of to bless is to curse. To curse is to pray that something will not endure so that it will not be used for an evil purpose, ultimately, that it will not obstruct the coming of God’s Kingdom.

  3. When Pope Pius X was asked in 1914 to bless the Austro-Hungarian Army, he replied, ‘We bless peace, not war’.

  4. Well there ‘s another good reason to return to older RC practice.

    We used to exorcise things before we blessed them – none of this ‘God made all things good’ nonsense.

    AG.

  5. View from the Pew
    Regarding: Blessing of weapons.
    – In the pale of settlement; Student: “Rabbi, Rabbi, is there a blessing for the Tsar?” [pause]
    Rabbi: “May the Lord keep the Tzar [pause], far, far away from us.” (apologies to the “Fiddler on the Roof”.)
    – While the Tzar, and his Cossack army were not per se ‘weapons of mass destruction’ they were very deadly and destructive in their own way. Nevertheless by God’s mercy, the Tzar was deserving of a blessing which would secure life, not its destruction.
    – It would seem then that the Patriarch of Moscow needs to issue blessings for weapons the intent of which is to preserve life by asking God to ensure that the missiles remained in their silos, or warehouses and that the responsible parties be given grace to strengthen peace. Were such blessing to be approved, it would be the military / political establishment’s decision to ask for such blessings or no.

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