SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
February 6, 2012
I heard a television evangelist say that blessings were hijacked and so Christians have neglected and forgotten the gift of blessings. Is that true?
He may have meant that the Catholic Church hijacked them because it set rules for who can give different blessings. But there are a wide variety of blessings in Scripture and there are many types of blessings in the Church.
Certainly, for Catholics, our lives are enveloped in blessings. Calling for blessings are frequent from the simple, perhaps frivolous, sneezing "bless you" to the solemn Urbi et Orbi (to the city of Rome and to the world) blessing given by popes at Easter and Christmas.
The word "blessing" likely comes from the Germanic bletsian from around 725 and the 1225 blessen from Old English, meaning to make holy by sacrifice. The translation of benedicere in the Bible may have influenced its present understanding "to wish well" and "to praise." The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: "Blessing is a divine and life-giving action" (n. 1078).
A child is a blessing.
Blessings are common in the Old Testament with a variety of meanings. Often, they mean "to be favoured by God." This meaning appears in the Bible at the beginning of Genesis when God blesses creation and again when God tells Abraham "I will bless you. I will make your name great" (12.1-2).
GIFT TO MOSES
God gave to Moses a specific manner for the priests to bless the people in a text we read at New Year's Day Mass: "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his countenance shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his countenance to you and grant you peace"(Numbers 6.24-26). Here, blessing is prayer that the one blest be favoured by God.
The heads of tribes (patriarchs) were privileged to bestow blessings with special fruitfulness on their oldest sons. These could not be revoked. Rebecca tricked Isaac into blessing the second son but it could not be changed (Genesis 27.23-37). Here, the blessing is an inheritance and gift.
Blessings can refer to praise of God as the psalms so amply do.
Christ's coming was the greatest blessing of all. The Gospel of Luke opens with blessings. In the exchange between Elizabeth and Mary, Elizabeth uses the word "blessed" five times in four verses as she proclaims Mary and "the fruit of her womb" as "blessed" (1.42-45).
Mary in her Magnificat proclaims "all generations will call me blessed" (v. 48).
Matthew and Luke give us the Beatitudes (blessings). Jesus is said to bless a number of times: he blesses children (Mark 10.16); he blesses food when feeding the multitude (Matthew 14.19; John 6.11). At the final judgment, Christ will say, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father" (Matthew 25.34).
Catholics have continued with many blessings of all sorts. At Mass, blessings are given to the people by the priest at the beginning and end. The bread and wine are blessed before they are consecrated. At Benediction, blessing is with the Blessed Sacrament.
The Church blesses or consecrates objects such as altars, chalices, etc. for permanent, sacred use. Other blessings are of persons, objects of piety such as rosaries, crosses and of material things used in daily life such as foods, animals, houses, schools, vehicles, etc.
These formal blessings are a rite performed by a priest or bishop in the name and with the authority of the Church and consist of prayers, use of incense and holy water.
BE A BLESSING AND BLESS
In addition to these formal blessings, "every baptized person is called to be a blessing and to bless" (Catechism, 1669). We consider children a blessing from God. Parents bless their children.
We bless one another, maybe inadvertently, when we say "good-bye," a word which comes from "God be with you." When we make the sign of the cross, we call it "blessing ourselves." We bless our success or good luck.
When surprised we might say "bless me." We ask God to bless others or our food. These blessings acknowledge God as the source of all blessing. The value of these blessings comes from one's prayerful desire to invoke God's care on those receiving the blessing.
Blessings are sacramentals; they do not confer grace as sacraments do but "prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it" (Catechism 1670). Sacramentals, like sacraments, can sanctify the events of our lives and material things can work toward "the sanctification of humanity and the praise of God" (Catechism 1670).
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