BLESSING OUR LIVES I
Over the next few days, Godzdogz will be offering a couple of features on blessings. Today’s reflection will look at some theological aspects of blessings, and in the days that follow there’ll be a couple of concrete examples, blessings celebrated in ways that go beyond what happens in the Church building and reach into our every day lives. The use of blessings can both draw God nearer into our lives, and draw us closer to him who is the source of all blessing.
When we talk of blessings, certain situations may come to mind. One of the most obvious is probably the final blessing at the end of the Mass, just before the dismissal. Or we may have in mind a pilgrimage, whether it is to Walsingham or Lourdes, where enthusiastic pilgrims (or tourists) ask priests or deacons to bless their newly acquired rosary. Or some of us may be familiar with the tradition of house blessings, where the year of the blessing is written in chalk over the door. But if we try to remember other situations where we give or receive blessings, it might become less evident. Blessings are easily something we connect with the life of the Church, but when it comes to our daily life, there often seems to be a gap. How do we let God into our lives? How can blessings be a way of sanctifying our daily life?
The Book of Blessings states that ‘the celebration of a blessing … prepares us to receive the chief effect of the sacraments and makes holy the various situations of human life’ (General Introduction (GI) 14). If we look into the list of contents of this book, we soon find that there exist a blessing for almost any human situation – not just blessings that are only connected to parishes and churches. There are blessings of persons in all stages of life; for small children, for families, for students (and teachers!), for sick persons and for elderly peoples. But the list doesn’t stop there. We find blessings of animals, of fields and flocks and for seeds at planting time. Or what about blessing of an athletic event, of tools or other equipment for work, or of your fishing gear? It soon becomes clear that blessings can be involved in a vast variety of human activities, and may lead us to better understand God’s presence in our daily life. In this way blessings may strengthen the bonds between Creator and creation, leading us towards our highest goal, or, as the Book of Blessings expresses it: ‘Human sanctification and God’s glorification are the ends toward which all the Church’s other activities are directed’ (GI 9).
So what exactly are blessings, and what do they involve?
Blessings are a part of the liturgy of the Church and are described as sacramentals given and received in faith. The Book of Blessings refers to Vatican Council II which emphasises the importance of the full, conscious and active participation of all liturgical celebration. Sacrosanctum Concilium clearly states this:
For well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event in their lives; they are given access to the stream of divine grace which flows from the paschal mystery of the passion, death, the resurrection of Christ, the font from which all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. There is hardly any proper use of material things which cannot thus be directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God. (SC 61)
Being children of God through our Saviour Jesus Christ, we are filled with holiness by the Holy Spirit. As members of Christ’s Body, we are ‘showered with every blessing’ (GI 4). This constant stream of God’s gifts is to be recognised every time we celebrate a blessing. Blessings also highlight the very creation and its continued existence – we and the whole universe are sustained by God’s gracious goodness. Because we are one body in Christ, it follows that blessings should be celebrated in the fellowship of the faithful. In cases when this is not possible, the one who presides should still keep in mind that he or she represents the Church, and that the celebration is done in unity with all the faithful.
A blessing consists normally of two parts, ‘first, the proclamation of the word of God, and second, the praise of God’s goodness and the petition for his help’ (GI 20). We should note here how the Church underlines the importance of proclaiming the Word as we ask for God’s blessing. A blessing ‘is a genuine sacred sign, deriving its meaning and effectiveness from God’s word that is proclaimed’ (GI 21). In practice, blessings are often being performed without any biblical reference, and in this way a good opportunity of catechesis is lost.
As we have seen, blessings can be aimed not only towards persons, but also to animals, houses, even roads, railways, bridges and airports, boats, objects, technical devices… We should keep in mind that when the Church invokes blessings on places and objects, it is always with a view to the people who use them: ‘Thus the celebration of blessings becomes the means for us to profess that as we make use of what God has created we wish to find him and to love him and serve him with all fidelity’ (GI 12).
We have now seen how blessings reflect the fundamental reality in which we live, as we are sustained by God’s creative blessing in every moment of our lives. We see how blessings can lead us towards our Lord, and strengthen the fellowship we share as members of the one and same Body of Christ. We have also become more aware of how the material world can be made holy for us through blessings, and how this may sustain and deepen our faith.
Now it just remains to give some concrete examples of how blessings may be realised in our lives. Over the next few days, Godzdogz will present the text and images of two very practical and material situations where our two Dominican deacons celebrate a blessing.