Friday, October 19, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 45, “Blessing”

Dear friend,

“Bless you!” When I sneeze, women are more prone to say this to me than men. Also, I’ve found that Catholic men are more likely to say it than other men. But what does it mean? I must confess: I’ve lived many long years in confusion about blessing—though I’m pretty sure “Bless you” is short for “God bless you.”

Another example. When we line up to receive communion at mass, young children and those “not disposed” to receive communion cross their hands over their chests, to receive a blessing instead. This is fine if the Eucharistic minister (the person serving communion) is a priest; but as an “extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist,” a lay person authorized to serve communion, I cannot bless you.

Why is that? Can’t we all bless each other? What’s so special about blessing?

Romano Guardini explains in this chapter. He cites three examples in the Gospels: Jesus blessing the little children who come to him; Jesus blessing the bread and wine at the Last Supper; and Jesus blessing his Apostles before his Ascension. But then God has been blessing his creation since the fifth day, and the sixth, and the seventh, as we find when we look back at Genesis 1 and 2. Then in Genesis 3, God’s blessing is destroyed by Adam’s sin.

To summarize two full pages: “Blessing is directed to living things.… Blessing is the power that releases the fertility of living things and brings them to fulfillment.… [But] not until Christ’s advent do we learn what blessing really means.… He himself is the living power of salvation from whom blessing streams.…[Jesus’s] blessing goes deeper than mere corporal well-being, warmth of heart, and earthly success, penetrating to the profundity of God in man which is the fountainhead of the individual divine life.… Blessing opens the recipient to a fertility not of this world… Jesus’s blessing redeems us from the curse. Not as the sun frees from darkness or the golden hero of a saga frees from the claws of the dragon..… [But in the end] the battle is a bitter one, not because evil is difficult for God to conquer, but because man’s heart refuses to learn.”

No wonder I can’t bless you when you come to receive communion. When we bless each other, creatures are pretending to be creators. “Where [his] will dominates and is realized, man closes himself against that abundance which comes from sacred blessing.”

What did we say back in school when someone sneezed? If we said anything at all, instead of ignoring, we probably said, “Wow. Good one. Wow.” Or maybe possibly “Gesundheit,” which is only a wish for your good health. “Bless you” would have been a bit too precious.

In faith,

This series of posts continues here with chapter 46.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Webster:
    I was once told that "Bless you" for a sneeze comes from an older tradition of saying" May God bless you and the Devil miss you"--when sick, one should approach mortality with this prayer in mind!
    Also on the subject of the crossed arms for non-Communicants: I don't know when this started--I missed the memo on it and on the joining of hands for the Our Father. I am never sure of the protocol and since I am also not sure of the origin of these gestures I am not really comfortable! This summer a priest ignored my son standing in front of him with arms crossed. After Mass I inquired about it. He told me that the blessing at the end of Mass is for all, including these little ones. Having kids come up is not only unnecessarily redundant but it puts him in a bad position--he is dispensing Communion and does not want to risk that there might be a fragment on his hand when he has to put the Eucharist down and bless someone. It also puts the ministers in an awkward position for reasons you have already explained.
    Let me know if you hear any more about these to pints you raise!


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