Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/670

This page needs to be proofread.




(Ps. xxxi ii , 1). (2) It is used to express a wish or desire that all good fortune, especially of a spiritual or supernatural kind, may go with the person or thing, as when David says: "Blessed art thou, and it shall be well with thee" (Ps. cxx™, 2). (3) It signifies the sanctification or dedication of a person or thing to some sacred purpose; "Christ took bread, and blessed, and broke" (Matt., xxvi, 26). (4) Finally, it is employed to designate a gift; so Naaman addresses Eliseus: "I beseech thee there- fore take a blessing of thy servant" (IV Engs, vi, 15). With these various significations it is not the present purpose to deal. Coming, then, to its strictly liturgical and restricted sense, blessing may be described as a rite, consisting of a ceremony and prayers performed in the name and with the authority of the Church by a duly qualified minister, by which persons or things are sanctified or dedi- cated to Divine service, or by which certain marks of DiWne favour are invoked upon them. The following aspects of the subject will be discussed: (I) Antiquity; (II) Minister; (III) Objects; (IV) Efficacy; and (V) Rite employed in administering.

I. AxTiQuiTY. — The custom of giving blessings goes back to the very earliest times. In the morn- ing of Creation, on the completion of each day's work, God blessed the living creatures that came from His hands, bidding them increase and mul- tiply and fill the earth (Gen., i-ii). When Noe emerged from the Ark, he received God's benediction (Gen., ix, 1), and this heritage he transmitted through his sons, Sem and Japheth, to posterity. The pages of the Old Testament testify abundantly to the great extent to which the practice of blessing prevailed in the patriarchal ages. The head of each tribe and family seemed to be pri\'ileged to bestow it ^Wth a special unction and fruitfulness, and the priests at the express direction of God were wont to administer it to the people. "Thus shall you bless the children of Israel . . . and the Lord will turn His countenance and give them peace" (Xvmi., vi, 23-26). That great value was attributed to blessings is seen from the stratagem adopted by Rebecca to secure Jacob's blessing for her favourite son. In general estimation it was regarded as a mark of Divine complacency and as a sure way to secure God's benevolence, peace, and protection. The New Dispensation saw the adoption of this rite by Oiu- Divine Lord and His Apostles, and so, ele- vated, ennobled, and consecrated by such high and holy usage, it came at a very early stage in the Church's historj- to assume definite and concrete shape as the chief among her sacramentals.

II. Minister. — Since, then, blessings, in the sense in which they are being considered, are entirely of ecclesiastical institution, the Church has the power to determine who shall have the right and duty to confer them. This she has done by entrusting their administration to those who are in sacerdotal orders. The solitary case in which one inferior to a priest is empowered to bless, is where the deacon

, blesses the paschal candle in the ceremonies of Holy Saturday. This exception is more apparent than real. For in the instance referred to the deacon acts by way of a deputy, and, moreover, employs the grains of incense already blessed by the celebrant. Priests, then, are the ordinary ministers of blessings, and this is only in the fitness of things, since they are ordained, as the words of the Pontifical run; "ut quaecumque benedixerint benedicantur, et qua> cumque consecraverint consecrentur" (That what- ever they bless may be blessed, and whatever they consecrate shall be consecrated). When, therefore, laymen and women are represented as blessing others it is to be understood that this is an act of good will on their part, a wish or desire for another's spiritual or temporal prosperity, an appeal to God

which has nothing to recommend it but the merits of personal sanctity. The ordinary greetings and salutations that take place between Christians and Catholics, leavened by mutual wishes for a share of heavenly grace, must not be confounded with liturgical blessings. St. Gregory first definitely taught that the angels are di\aded into liierarchies or orders, each ha\'ing its own role to play in the economy of creation. Similarly the Church recog- nizes different orders or grades among her ministers, assigning to some higher functions than to others. The working out of this idea is seen in the case of conferring blessings. For wliile it is true that a priest can ordinarily give them, some blessings are reserv-ed to the Supreme Pontiff, some to bishops, and some to parish priests and religious. The first class is not large. The pope reserves to himself the right to bless the pallium for archbishops, Agnus- Deis, the Golden Rose, the Royal Sword, and also to give that benediction of persons to which an in- dulgence of some days is attached. He may, and in the case of the last mentioned often does, depute others to give these. To bishops belongs the pri\-i- lege of blessing abbots at their installation, priests at their ordination, and \irgins at their consecration; of blessing churches, cemeteries, oratories, and all articles for use in connexion with the altar, such as chalices, vestments, and cloths, military standards, soldiers, arms, and swords; and of imparting all blessings for which Holy Oils are required. Some of these may, on delegation, be performed by in- feriors. Of the blessings which priests are generally empowered to grant, some are restricted to those who have external jurisdiction, like rectors or parish priests, and others are the exclusive prerogative of persons belonging to a religious order. There is a rule, too, by which an inferior cannot bless a su- perior or even exercise the ordinary powers in his presence. The priest, for instance, who says Mass at which a bishop presides is not to give the final blessing without permission from the prelate. For this curious custom authors cite a text from the Epistle to the Hebrews: "And without all contra- diction that which is less is blessed by that whicii is greater" (vii, 7). It would seem an overstraining of the passage to say that it affords an argument for maintaining that an inferior minister cannot bless one who is his superior in rank or dignity, for the text either merely enunciates an incident of common usage, or means that the inferior by the fact that he blesses is the greater, since he acts as the representative of God.

III. Object.?. — The range of objects that come under the influence of the Church's blessing is as comprehensive as the spiritual and temporal in- terests of her cliildren. All the lower creatures have been made to serve man and minister to his needs. As nothing, then, should be left undone to enhance their utility towards this end, they are placed in a special way under the direct pro%ndence of God. "Every creature of God is good . . ." , as St. Paul says, " for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer" (I Tim., iv, 4-5). There is also the re- flection that the effects of the Fall extended to the inanimate objects of creation, marring in a manner the original aim of their existence and making them, in the hands of evil spirits, ready instruments for the perpetration of iniquity. In the Epistle to the Romans St. Paul describes inanimate nature, blighted by the primal curse, groaning in travail and anx- ioasly awaiting its deliverance from bondage. "The expectation of the creature waiteth for the revela- tion of the Sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him that made it subject, in hope" (viii, 19-20). From this it ^\'ill be easily seen how very reasonable is the an.xiety of the Church that the things wliich