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.