Since blessings are delivered during solemn liturgies but also after the most mundane sneeze, one might wonder what a blessing involves. Biblically, a blessing communicates divine life to the recipient. Which implies that God alone can supply a blessing. God blesses us with strength, peace, success, children, and every good thing. When a representative of God performs the blessing act, it’s God’s blessing and not a personal bounty that s/he invokes.
Creatures are first blessed as they’re launched in Genesis. The seventh day, on which God rests, becomes a source of blessing itself. Patriarchs are each blessed and bestow blessings in turn. The tribe of Abraham becomes a fulcrum of blessing on earth, and Israel a vehicle of blessing for all the nations.
Blessings may literally flow from one person to another with the imposition of hands between fathers and sons. (There are no biblical stories of mothers blessing daughters, but I know plenty of women who do.) Once a blessing is spoken, it can’t be undone—which is what makes the story of Jacob cheating his brother Esau of his paternal blessing so tragic and impactful. These examples convey the seriousness of the blessing act: it’s not magic, but it is real and vital.
While it’s clear the power to bless originates with God, in the psalms we’re urged to “bless the Lord” frequently. In what capacity might we bless God? The intent is to offer thanks or to recognize God’s glory. In “blessing the Lord” we don’t add to God in the same way that God adds to our welfare in the act of blessing.
Jesus demonstrates blessing activity in the miracle of loaves and fishes, at the Last Supper and the Emmaus supper, and at the moment of his Ascension. Jesus also taught that we should answer each curse pronounced on us with a blessing: crossing the streams of bad intent with benevolence, we might say. Paul compares the church’s Eucharist with the blessing cup of Jewish rituals. Finally, it helps to remember that Mary of Nazareth was called “blessed among women” by Elizabeth, and claimed that blessing in her Magnificat.
All of which may give us pause the next time we casually “bless ourselves” with the Sign of the Cross. What aspect of divine blessing do we need, and what do we hope to receive?
Scripture: Genesis 1:22, 28; 2:3; 12:2-3; 27:18-40; 32:27-29; 39:5; Numbers 6:22-27; chs. 22-23; Isaiah 19:24; Matthew 14:19; Mark 14:22; Luke 1:42, 48; 6:28; 24:30, 50-51; 1 Corinthians 10:16
Books: The Priestly Blessing: Rediscovering the Gift, by Stephen Rossetti (Ave Maria Press, 2018)
Blessed Beautiful, and Bodacious: The Gift of Catholic Womanhood, by Pat Gohn (Ave Maria Press, 2013)