is there a hierarchy of blessings?

An interesting dialogue has unfolded on the previous post regarding blessings. Are blessings given by an ordained man more effective or special? Here are some thoughts…

Many of us were raised to believe in a hierarchy of blessings. This reflected the church as a structure of hierarchical leadership, and was ingrained within our Catholic psyche. A deacon’s blessing was greater than a lay person’s. A priest’s blessing was greater than a deacon’s. A bishop’s blessing was greater than a priest’s. And a papal blessing was the best of all!

Promoting this belief has fed the great divide between the ordained and the laity – a divide that has benefited the ordained for centuries. It went beyond affirming the special sacramental gifts received in ordination, to a belief in an assumed wisdom. And, an assumed holiness. (Thankfully, our Church has been careful to teach that the efficacy of the sacraments does not depend on the holiness of the priests.)

This assumption of holiness in the ordained has got us into a lot of trouble, and has allowed a lot of evil to go unchecked and unpunished in our church. So, no, I can no longer believe that the blessing of an ordained man is automatically holier or more effective. St. Francis might have had a big enough heart to prostrate himself before every priest merely because he was a priest; even if that priest was the greatest sinner of all. My heart isn’t that big.

Whether lay or ordained, God listens to the prayers of both sinners and saints. So, hopefully God will receive kindly the blessings of all. But, my own human nature tells me that when a true person of prayer tells me they are praying for me, then somehow that prayer will be given special hearing; because it is a prayer that comes from the depths of the heart. (This is why it is so wonderful to join our prayers to that great communion of saints.)

And, I feel the same way about blessings. A blessing is a prayerful shout out to God to shower graces on a specific person, event, place or thing.  I don’t believe that the efficacy of the prayer depends on our official status in the Church, or even if we are Catholic or not! When a person that I love and respect for their deep faith offers to bless me, than I feel truly blessed.

A former pastor always invited the parish community to join him in special blessings. This was a powerful gesture, especially during the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) as women and men journeyed to the Easter sacraments. As he read the ‘official’ blessings of the Church, we all turned to the person and raised our hands in a blessing gesture. This simple action took the focus away from the priest as some magical dispenser of blessings, to a blessing community. And when the entire community blesses, then you can’t help but believe that the the blessings will overflow.

2 thoughts on “is there a hierarchy of blessings?

  1. I think that a blessing is calling upon a person or thing to be what it was created to be. If I had to choose between two people blessing me, a Cardinal or someone like Mother Teresa, I would get in Mother Teresa’s line.
    Our priest tells of an incident that happened to him on the way home from his ordination in Ireland. The next farmer over from his family’s farm, a man he had known his entire life, saw him coming down the road and ran across the field to him, jumped over a stone wall and knelt in the mud for his new priestly blessing. He blessed the man, then knelt down in the mud before the farmer and asked to pray for him. This priest told us be felt unworthy to kneel before this man who worked the land and faithfully raised a large family in grinding poverty. More importantly, he continues to state that he knew it then, and he knows it even more today fifty years later, that kneeling in the mud,and the prayer of the farmer, was the moment of his ordination as a priest and not what happened to him in the cathedral.

  2. I’m still not sure how to word this, but I will try. My husband is a permanent deacon. He says that everyone is called to bless (such as blessing the R.C.I.A. people, as you mentioned). He says that there is no difference between the blessing of a deacon, priest, bishop, or pope, as all of these people have received the sacrament of ordination. An ordained man can pray over a person (a blessing) and have it be the same as a lay person praying over a person (a blessing). However, when an ordained man gives a blessing which includes the words “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, it consecrates the object — it sets the object apart. For instance, an ordained person can make holy water, but this cannot happen with a lay person praying over water. Once an object receives a special blessing from an ordained man (such as a Rosary), that object is consecrated, and should not be thrown in the garbage.

Comments are closed.