Sermon for the Sunday Within the Octave of the Nativity – December 31, 2017 by Monsignor Patrick Perez
In today’s gospel we read, “And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, His mother, Behold, the Child” et cetera. There’s a French spiritual writer from the 1700’s I like to read for sermons who says, “because Simeon blessed them, today you talk about blessings”, so that is what I am going to do and I hope it is a blessing to talk about blessing.
There are different ways that the word blessing is used. One question I get a lot is for example in the psalms, “O all ye Works of the Lord, O bless the Lord”. -- People ask, well if the Lord is God how do you bless Him? Isn’t that a little cheeky because He is already God and the blessings come from Him. – No, there are many uses of the word blessed and that particular one is another word for “praise”. So when it says Bless the Lord O my soul”, that means praise the Lord.
What I want to talk about today is the specific kinds of blessing that we have in the Church for various things and events. In this sense a blessing may be described as a rite consisting of a ceremony and prayers performed in the name and with the authority of the Church by a duly qualified minister through which persons or things are sanctified as dedicated to divine service, or by which certain marks of divine favor are invoked upon them. Why bless anything? If you have a rosary and you buy it from the store, what’s the difference between using just any rosary to pray or using a blessed rosary? If you are going to have some food, what’s the difference between just eating plain food and eating food that’s been blessed? What’s better about driving in a car that’s been blessed? It doesn’t improve your driving – maybe we should bless the driver with the car. (Monsignor laughing) When I’m pope I’ll alter the books. But why is it better to drive in a blessed car than an unblessed car? That’s a good question. The answer goes back to the early, early times of creation when Satan – well, he was Lucifer for a while and then became Satan when he rebelled against God. We know original sin came into the world after the sin of Adam but what happened when the angels fell, which when combined with the sin of Adam, caused a change to pretty much everything that was?
In those events, when the bad angels turned on God and tempted Adam to sin and he did sin in fact, all of creation was given over in part to the devil. Everything (well, not everything you see here) but everything down the block anyway was given over to Satan in part. And according to one spiritual writer I read, it was sort of interesting. What belongs to the devil even in part he can use against us for our ruin. An interesting concept; you know I was kind of wondering about that myself, but think about it. What belongs to him even partly he uses his part for our destruction and so we have these things called blessings to counter the devil’s part.
I’ll say a few words about blessings today as more or less an encouragement to let you know more things can be blessed than what we do bless very often, and also to get things blessed, for example your cars or whatever. I’ll talk about that in a minute.
First of all, how old is the idea of blessing? Well, if you look in Genesis when God was creating animals and us and things like that, at the end of every -what you might call work day when God was busy creating, He blessed his creatures, His creation it says, every single day what He created He blessed and He said things like, “Go forth and multiply”. So really the whole concept of imparting blessing goes back to the very very beginning of everything. And if you look in the Bible it has continued since then. We have many, many instances of the patriarchs of the family blessing the first-born son or God blessing things, angels blessing things. It’s all through the Bible. So the antiquity is as old as things get.
Who may bless, speaking now specifically about Church oriented blessings? Remember, the blessings that we use – like you bring me something to have blessed – these kinds of blessings are entirely of ecclesiastical origin. They come entirely from the Church. So the Church can designate who are the ministers, who is entitled, authorized, deputized in the name of the Church to give these blessings to whatever or whomever we give them. And the Church has decided that in order to impart these blessings you have to have the priestly character. I don’t mean just me, although I am told I am quite a priestly character. But what I mean is you have to have the priestly character on your soul, so that means almost always a priest or a bishop. Now there is one exception to that which you probably already know and that is when the deacon on Holy Saturday blesses the paschal candle during the paschal vigil. Aside from that, you have to have the priestly character.
Furthermore, the Church has reserved certain blessings not just to any priest. There are certain reserved to (not any more but used to be) certain orders; there are blessings that the bishops reserve to themselves and there are blessings which the popes reserve to themselves. There aren’t very many of those. Like with the pope there are only about – well, actually of the blessings reserved to the pope he doesn’t do any of them anymore so I guess it kind of doesn’t matter. (Monsignor laughing) But to the popes it was reserved to bless the sacramentals, the Agnus Dei’s which they threw out after Vatican II. It used to be to the popes to bless the sword of a king, the sword of state of a Catholic kingdom, and, of course, when is the last time that has been done? So anyway, for the most part there are still some reserved to the bishops. Really, the pope doesn’t use any of those – and any other one that a priest can bless.
What can be blessed? Anything appropriate. You wouldn’t bless something that wasn’t appropriate. We all have some idea of what’s appropriate, but if it is beneficial to the Christian faithful in any way or even the Christian faithful themselves, you can bless it. It can be animals, it could be people, it could be things, and it could be many, many things, if not almost anything that you would use.
How do you do this? What rite would one employ for the blessing of whatever it is to bless? The Church is very specific about one thing and that is you have to use an approved form of a blessing. So this is particularly disturbing in certain cases, namely Novus Ordo cases, where they just go Oh, I bless this, Om shalom, I bless this and you know, invoke Gaia and Brahma and Vishnu, and whatever the Novus Ordo people invoke these days. It’s not blessed in that case. You have to use something in one of the books that is approved by the Church. Even if they say May the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, descend upon this rosary and remain forever, it’s not blessed because that’s the blessing of people with the word rosary put in there. So if things being what they should, the person should turn into a rosary just to teach the priest a lesson. But you can’t do things like that. You have to use an approved form.
For this form we use the Roman Ritual – and I thought you would like to know, Where do we get the Roman Ritual? You’ll get asked, Was it in the Bible? Blessing is in the Bible, but remember that Christ said to us, “Ask and you shall receive” or “Whatever you ask for in My Name you shall be given”. And He gave the power to the Church and this comes from an exercise of the Power of the Keys. This book has a history. In the very early days whatever blessings there were, plus the Mass, plus everything bishops did, ordinations and such (when I say early I’m talking third century, fourth century). They were all in one book and the book was called the Sacramentary. Now don’t be fooled because the Novus Ordo people have a book called the Sacramentary which has nothing to do with the real one. They chose an ancient established title for something that has nothing ancient or established in it, as more or less another one of their deceptions.
This Sacramentary had everything in it. The Sacramentary was for the Western Church. We’re still talking Catholic when we say Eastern Church though. The Eastern Church had a book called the Euchologion (if you want to remember that one) and in fact they still do. They still have all their things for the Mass and all their blessings in one book in the Eastern Rites of the Church. We have now several – over the years it became more convenient and especially as blessings were added, to divide the books into different things. So now we have the Missal which is on the altar. You can see how big the Missal is and that’s kind of a small Missal. There are ones that are much thicker. That’s just for the Mass. We have the Ritual. You can see how big the Ritual is. We have another book called the Pontifical which is the book that the bishops use for things to do with bishops like ordinations and confirmations, consecrations of chalices, et cetera. You can see if we have something this thick and something that thick (Monsignor demonstrating) and another book that is about this thick you could hardly carry those things around. So they broke them up into separate volumes.
Now we who are of the Tridentine mentality are used to standardization of our rituals. We take great pleasure in the fact that the ritual for our Mass was standardized and codified and one particular form of it was made obligatory for the Western Church. That’s what the Council of Trent and the follow up did for the Mass that we celebrate here. However, it wasn’t exactly the same with the blessings. We did get a standard Pontifical for us beginning in the eighth century but there was no book for priests that was standardized until 1614. In fact Paul V made the first ritually in 1614, the 17th of June exactly. He points out that Clement VIII had already issued a uniform text of the Pontifical which he did way back when, and the ceremonies for bishops.
As I said there was no standard text. Paul V came out with this book I’m holding here and it was added to but what was the case then was many different diocese. You see, there was much more diocesan independence in the old days. The bishops could make up blessings and authorize them themselves for their diocese. And this happened around the world with several outstanding examples. There was for example the Ambrosian Ritual just like there is the Ambrosian Rite of the Mass in Milan, different places had them. So in 1614 the Pope said this is our standard ritual, however, if your diocese has a ritual you can keep on using that if you want to. Or you can mix the two of them and use one and the other as you see fit. So that’s what happened in the 16th and 17th centuries which brings us down to the 18th century I suppose, Benedict XIV revised it again. Finally Leo XIII approved the typical edition. This is basically the Leo 13th edition with a couple of additions.
Now what can be blessed? As I said, anything that is fitting. But there are a couple of things to remember. I said a priest is the ordinary minister of the blessings in this book. And on the one hand any of you technically can bless something. For example, parents can bless their children and should bless their children. I know many a family, I’ve known pretty much all my life where before they went to bed all the kids would line up in front of the father and he would make the Sign of the Cross on their forehead and bless them and send them to bed. If you are on a tropical island all by yourself and your rosary hasn’t been blessed yet, you can make up a blessing I suppose and bless it yourself. However, there is one caveat: because you are an individual, the power of your blessing depends on your holiness. If you are exceedingly holy then your blessing is going to be pretty good. Okay? If you are so-so holy, then your blessing is going to be so-so, but if you are on a tropical island by yourself I guess you have to make the best of it. So if it’s a so so blessing that your rosary is going to get, that’s what it’s going to get. However, it can’t compare with the blessing of the Church because when a priest blesses something even if he is not very holy he gives the blessing of the Church to that particular item. So you get the same blessing from some not-very-holy priest as you do pretty much from a very holy priest.
Now just a few things to show you what can be blessed – there are a lot of interesting things I saw on line as I was doing this sermon, something from a local ritual in, of course, Germany, that you can bless bacon. I was encouraged by that because bacon is already awesome (Monsignor and congregation laughing) Can you imagine blessed bacon and by the way – I mentioned this before but there is a very nice blessing for beer. Now obviously heavily influenced by the Germans here. So what can you bless? Animals - you can bless animals, sick animals, blessings for any kind of animal; there are blessings for habits and clothing, blessings of foods, specifically a sacramental blessing for oil, for wine, for different things like that. There is the blessing of chalk for the Epiphany. When you take home the blessed chalk and there is a prayer you can say with it, you are not actually blessing your house in the same way a priest would but you are using the chalk blessed by a priest on the doorway of your house and that’s where most of its power comes from. There are blessings of herbs; there are blessings of goats; gold; barns; grapes; food of any kind; linens; a kiln; lambs; oil, oats. You get the idea, just about anything. There are some that need a specific blessing, like if you have something with a St. Benedict medal on it the blessing is this long so don’t just stand at the altar rail after Mass and go I need this blessed right now. You can leave it with me, I’ll bless it and then I’ll give it back to you.
But there are other things if there is no specific blessing required that is called the blessing for all things. Now most priests I know, would have this memorized, it‘s just the blessing for all things. So if you say my mother gave me this special Christmas turnip twaddler this year and I feel it’s probably unsafe to use without your blessing Father, then I just use the blessing for all things. So anything you want blessed you just bring it. And usually what I’ll do is, after Mass either if it’s small bring it here or go out – you know, to bless your car.
So this is the deal on blessings. It’s something we should take advantage of as often as we can. The Church gave us these blessings to take those things away from Satan, give them back to God and make them so he cannot use them against us anymore. And never forget then, the blessing before meals and grace after meals. People neglect this and just a final note on that. The blessing before meals is to pray for God to take it away from the power of Satan. So it’s a blessing. There is no thanksgiving, there is no word of thanksgiving in Bless us O Lord, in these thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty through Christ Our Lord. Amen. So thanksgiving being a proper part of the whole scene there, we thank Him at the end, We give Thee thanks Almighty God for all these goods which we have received through Christ Our Lord. Amen. So we have grace before and after meals and don’t neglect those.
So that is, I think, it for blessings. Make use of them often and don’t be afraid – you’re not bothering me or bothering any other priest to ask us to bless something for you.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.