Navigating the Faith: Blessings

by Dianne Rachal, Director of the Office of Worship

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.” Ephesians 1:3

The source from whom every good gift comes is God. He made all things good, and continues his blessings as a sign of his merciful love. Christ is the Father’s supreme blessing upon us.  The power of the Holy Spirit enables us to offer the Father praise, adoration and thanksgiving, and, through works of charity, to be numbered among the blessed in the Father’s kingdom.

Blessings fall within the category of sacramentals. Sacramentals are instituted for the sanctification of certain ministries of the Church, certain states of life, a great variety of circumstances in Christian life and the use of many things helpful to people.  Among sacramentals, blessings (of persons, meals, objects and places) come first. Every blessing praises God and prays for his gifts.  In Christ, Christians are blessed by God the Father “with every spiritual blessing.” This is why the Church imparts blessings by invoking the name of Jesus, usually while making the holy sign of the cross of Christ.

Blessings are signs to the faithful of the spiritual benefits achieved through the Church’s intercession. Blessings always include a prayer, often accompanied by a specific sign, such as the laying on of hands, the sign of the cross, the sprinkling of holy water and incensation. When we make the sign of the cross with holy water when entering a church, we are reminded of our baptism, awakened to the presence of God, and disposed to receiving God’s grace.  Unlike a sacrament, a sacramental does not itself confer the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Scripture recounts how God blessed all living creatures, especially Adam and Eve, Noah and his sons, and the people of Israel.  Jesus blessed little children, loaves and fishes, the bread and wine at the Last Supper. The Church has instituted various blessings for people as well as objects to prompt the faithful to implore God’s protection, divine assistance, faithfulness and favor.

Who can give blessings?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Every baptized person is called to be a ‘blessing’ and to bless. (No. 1669)  Lay people may bless their children, food at mealtime, Christmas trees or make the sign of the cross for example. The blessings given by lay people do not confer a sacred character on the person or thing, but merely invoke God’s protection and blessing.The more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more its administration is reserved to the ordained ministry of bishops, priests and deacons.

Consecrations are the solemn rites by which persons or things are permanently made over to the service of God.  Consecrations and dedications are reserved for bishops, such as the consecrations of priests, virgins and sacred chrism, and the dedication of churches and altars. Priests can impart all other blessings apart from blessings reserved to bishops.  A deacon “can impart only those blessings which are expressly permitted to him by law.”  Deacons can give blessings at all the rites at which they preside, including Liturgy of the Hours, Baptism, marriage, Holy Communion outside Mass and Eucharistic Benediction, and may bless objects like rosaries and holy water outside of Mass.

Blessings are categorized into two types: invocative and constitutive.  In an invocative blessing, the minister implores the divine favor of God to grant some spiritual or temporal good without any change of condition, such as when a parent blesses a child.  An invocative blessing is a recognition of God’s goodness in bestowing this blessing upon us, such as when we offer a blessing for our food at meal time.

A constitutive blessing, invoked by a bishop, priest or deacon, signifies the permanent sanctification and dedication of a person or thing for some sacred purpose.  Here the person or object takes on a sacred character and would not be returned to non-sacred or profane use.  For example, when religious Sisters or Brothers profess final vows, they are blessed, indicating a permanent change in their lives.  When a chalice is blessed, it becomes a sacred vessel dedicated solely to sacred usage. Likewise holy water once blessed cannot return to ordinary water.

Blessing of Graves
Each November 2nd as the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day) is celebrated, we turn our attention to commemorating the departed who are buried in a cemetery.  The Book of Blessings has a rite for the Order for Visiting a Cemetery on All Souls Day, commonly known as the blessing of the graves. This rite may be celebrated on November 2 or on another day during the month of November. It may be used at a public celebration or by family members when they visit the cemetery. This practice reminds the faithful that our departed brothers and sisters in Christ are in need of our prayers, especially those who are still in Purgatory. In our diocese priests and deacons visit most of the cemeteries to bless the graves on weekends close to All Souls Day.

The notion of blessing is bound up with praising God and giving thanks to God; bound up with our way of seeing, understanding and being in this world and in the human community.  Whether we say simply, “God bless you,” when someone sneezes, or join in a formal rite of blessing with song and prayer and Scripture, we are proclaiming the good news of God’s love and reign. The Preface for Eucharistic Prayer IV captures this understanding of a blessing: “Father in Heaven… source of life and goodness, you have created all things, to fill your creatures with every blessing and lead all men to the joyful vision of your light.”

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