blessing each other….AND the pope!

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So, here’s the background story on this week’s Prairie Messenger article….

The PM sends it’s Easter issue out early, to ensure that reader’s have it in time for Easter. My friend and editor, Maureen, asked if I could write a piece for this issue. I thought of the great blessing experience we had last Easter in our parish, and decided to expand on the theme of blessing.

I gleefully recounted the story of the day that I ‘dared’ to bless Pope Benedict in St. Peter’s square, and included it in the article. Days after the article was submitted, lo and behold……there is our new pope standing on the papal balcony asking us all to give him a blessing!

My personal story lost it’s ‘wow’ factor, but the yearning and wish expressed in the article had come true. I quickly sent a P.S. to Maureen, and she happily included it.

Pope Francis, in one small gesture, has equalized and promoted the wonderful gift of blessing each other. And, God bless him for it!

Here is the article….. During Easter’s jubilant days, go ahead and bless!

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.

vatican approves blessing rite for unborn children

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This Mother’s Day, Catholics in the U.S. will have a new Rite for Unborn Children. The announcement was made this week on March 26, the Feast of the Annunciation. According to the CNS News Brief,

The blessing was prepared to support parents awaiting the birth of their child, to encourage parish prayers for and recognition of the gift of the child in the womb, and to foster respect for human life within society. It can be offered within the context of Mass as well as outside of Mass, and for an individual mother, a couple or a group of expectant parents. “We wanted to make this announcement as soon as possible so that parishes might begin to look at how this blessing might be woven into the fabric of parish life,” said Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship. “Eventually the new blessing will be included in the Book of Blessings when that text is revised.”

This is all very nice, but leaves me puzzled. Why is blessing an unborn child considered a new rite? Was there no such rite before? Do we need an official rite?

I went to my old, tattered version of the Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers, published by the American bishops back in 1988. It includes several ‘Blessings before and after Birth’; for the Conception or Adoption of a Child: during Pregnancy, for both parents: during Pregnancy for the Mother: near the Time of Birth: Thanksgiving for a Newborn or Newly Adopted Child: Parents’ Thanksgiving: Bringing a Child into the Home: and even a Mother’s Blessing of a Child when Nursing or Feeding.

A newer version of Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers is now available. The Canadian Bishops have since published Blessings and Prayers for Home and Family, available on the CCCB web-site. We used the older book often when the children were younger. It was a handy reference for special prayers, and graces before a meal during liturgical seasons and feast days.

But, we didn’t actually need any special resources to bless the unborn children in our family. Each night, we gathered as a family and recited a list of prayers. We ended with a litany of names. God bless Mommy and Daddy. God bless Grandma and Grandpa. God bless Babcia and Dziadzio. God bless…and then began a list of all our children including cousins. For many years, the list ended with ‘AAAAAND the new baby’! It was a simple prayer of blessing, raised to the heavens by loving siblings and cousins asking for the safe arrival of the newest family member.

While it is nice that the American bishops feel the need for an official rite of blessing, I can’t help but think that attached to this official rite might be the desire to keep the act of blessing within “official” hands. It reminds me a bit of the pastors who invite non-Catholics into their communion line so they may receive a “priestly” blessing, rather than a watered down version from the lay Eucharistic minister.

We all need all the blessings we can get. And it is a wonderful idea for the parish community to have an opportunity to join in a prayer of blessing for expectant parents and their child. God bless the bishops for promoting this. The books of blessings for home and family encourage and invite us ALL to bless each other. For what is a blessing, but a shout out to God? When we bless someone, we are asking God to shower them with the courage, grace, faith, hope and love needed to live fully both the joys and sorrows of life. And, we don’t need an official Rite to do this.

(see also bless you!…can I?)