20 February 2022

Homily - What does it mean to bless God, someone, or an object?

The Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

A week from today the Bishop will come to bless our new organ, which you have not yet heard because it has not yet been set aside for divine worship. Today King David says, “Bless the Lord, my soul” and the Lord Jesus tells us to “bless those who curse you” (Psalm 103:1; Luke 6:28). We speak, then, of blessing things, of blessing God, and of blessing people, but surely blessing things, blessing God, and blessing people does not carry the same connotation. What, then, does it mean to bless?

It seems to me that when some people think of blessings, they think of blessings over objects, whether it be a Bible, rosary, candle, statue, medal, or other object of religious devotion. Some mistakenly think that such a blessing somehow grants a quasi-magical power to the blessed object; this, of course, is not the case. What, then, does it mean to bless something or someone, or to bless God?

Our English word “bless” comes from the Old English word bletsian, meaning “to consecrate by a religious rite, make holy, give thanks.” To consecrate something – literally, to make something holy – is to remove it from the everyday world, to set it aside exclusively for divine purposes. This is what the Church does when she blesses an object. For example, during the blessing of an organ, the Church first blesses God – she thanks and praises him - by calling to mind the great celestial hymn sung by the angels and, indeed, by all of creation. Similarly, during the blessing of sacred vestments, the Church blesses God – she thanks and praises him - for the priesthood of Jesus Christ in which ministers of the New Covenant share.

In the texts of these two blessings, we can learn something important about what the Church does through blessings: “Blessings … refer first and foremost to God, whose majesty and goodness they extol…;” David blesses God by praising his goodness and rejoicing in his majesty.[1] Here we must come to another meaning of blessings: we cannot set God apart from our everyday lives because he is not of this world; consequently, there must be another meaning, a secondary meaning, of blessing.

Our English word “blessing” is used when the Latin texts speak of a benedictio, a word comprising two Latin words: bene, meaning “good,” and dictio, meaning “I speak.” In Latin, then, a blessing, a benediction, is good words that are spoken. To bless God is to speak good things about him, which is to say, words spoken in praise of God because of his goodness which he continually communicates to us.

Perhaps paradoxically, it is precisely by invoking God’s goodness that blessings “also involve human beings, whom he governs and in his providence [he] protects. Further, blessings apply to created things through which, in their abundance and variety, God blesses human beings.”[2] For this reason, when the Church sets aside an organ explicitly for sacred use, she prays that the organ’s music “may lead us to express our prayer and praise in melodies that are pleasing to you [God].”[3] Similarly, when the Church sets aside certain vestments for the exclusive worship of God, she prays that the sacred ministers who wear them may be “prepared for the celebration of the liturgy and set apart by your blessing, wear them with reverence and honor them [the vestments] by the holiness of their lives.”[4] But the sacred vestments do not simply remind bishops, priests, and deacons of the holiness of life to which they are called; through the holiness of their lives and the noble beauty of the garments, you, too, ought to be inspired and led to greater holiness of life so you might bless God through the witness of your lives.

In these two blessings, we see that we bless God “by praising him and thanking him and by offering him … reverent worship and service.”[5] Consequently, in order that the Christian faithful may bless God through and with their very lives, the Church also blesses people because “Christ, the Father’s supreme blessing upon us, is portrayed in the gospel as blessing those he encountered, especially the children, and as offering to his Father prayers of blessing.”[6]

Regardless of whether they pertain to God, to things, or to people, blessings are aimed at growth in holiness, which “is the goal of Christian life.”[7] Indeed, “what God wants most of all for each one of you is that you should become holy. He loves you much more than you could ever begin to imagine, and he wants the very best for you. And by far the best thing for you is to grow in holiness.[8] We grow in holiness when we bless God because we call to him his own holiness. We grow in holiness when we bless people because we recall God’s activity and presence in their lives. We grow in holiness when we bless objects because we recall God’s particular care for us in the things he has made.

This is why the Second Vatican Council taught that, through her blessings, the Church

sanctifies almost every event of [our] lives with the divine grace which flows from the Paschal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot thus be directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God.[9]

Blessings, then, are “a promise of divine help, a proclamation of his favor, [and] a reassurance of his faithfulness to the covenant he made with his people.”[10] When we sing in the Psalms, “Bless the Lord, my soul,” we remember God’s faithful love; when we follow the command of Jesus to “bless those who curse you,” we remember God’s great mercy toward us; when we bless objects, we remember God’s fatherly care for us. Through each of these forms of blessing, may our lives, too, become a blessing, a hymn of praise to God raised in gratitude to him. Amen.

[1] Book of Blessings, 7.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 1337.

[4] Ibid., 1352.

[5] Ibid., 6.

[6] Ibid., 3.

[7] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 1 November 2010.

[8] Ibid., Homily, 17 September 2010.

[9] Sacrosanctum Concilium, 61.

[10] Book of Blessings, 6.

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