All About Blessings
Question: I’m confused about blessings. I’ve heard some people say that only priests can give blessings. But I’ve heard other people say we should bless our houses, or our children. And in your book you talk about blessings for various foods and other things. Can you help me understand?
Answer: I hope so! First, what even IS a blessing? A blessing is a type of sacramental. Sacramentals, like holy water, blessed rosaries, images, etc., and blessings themselves, do not confer grace to people in the way that the sacraments do, but their use helps to predisposed us to better receive those graces in the sacraments.
The Catechism tells us: “Every baptized person is called to be a blessing, and to bless. Hence lay people may preside at certain blessings; the more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry (bishops, priests, or deacons).” (CCC 1669)
We laypeople get to bless things over which we have dominion, like our homes, children, food, animals, and possessions. But we don’t get to bless things that are beyond our scope, like churches or buildings. We do not have the authority to use particular hand gestures that are reserved for clergy giving blessings, specifically the cross of benediction, made in the air towards a person or group, and the orans posture, holding the hands out in the air to symbolize praying in the stead of others.
Laypeople do not transform things by our blessings in the way that an ordained person does, and the blessing of a layperson cannot create a sacramental. However, we are authorized to use holy water that has been made into a sacramental by an ordained person. By God's grace and our request, the sacramental properties of the holy water can be shared by the newly blessed person or thing.
Blessings have a hierarchical nature to them. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church begins with the pope, and can be traced through bishops, pastors, mother superiors, heads of household, etc, (paths vary depending on one’s vocation) down to the individual. It is appropriate that the person of the highest hierarchical status give the blessing when present. For example: a priest would not bless in the presence of a bishop, a layperson would not give a blessing when a deacon was present, a child would not give a blessing when the head of the household is present.
In our family we love to invite priests over to perform important blessings (and stay for dinner!), for instance a home blessing when we first moved into our house. It’s easy to bring a crucifix or rosary to Mass and ask Father to bless it. But it is also an important part of our faith and family culture to ask God’s blessing on our people and things ourselves, over the course of the liturgical year.
Two traditional Catholic days for blessing are coming up soon: Candlemas on February 2nd is the day for blessing candles, the next day, February 3rd is the feast of St. Blaise and the day for blessing throats. If your parish offers these blessings after Mass, it’s great to get them there, but if that doesn’t work, definitely grab some holy water and the appropriate prayers and have the head of the household take care of it!
Kendra Tierney is a wife and a mother of nine children from little to teenager. She's a homeschooler and a regular schooler, and an enthusiastic amateur experimenter in the domestic arts. She writes the award-winning Catholic mommy blog Catholic All Year, is a contributor to the Blessed Is She and Take Up and Read Ministries, and is the voice of liturgical living at Endow Ministries. She is the author of A Little Book about Confession for Children, the Traditional Catholic Prayers for Awesome Catholic Kids series of prayer books, and the Catholic All Year Compendium: Liturgical Living for Real Life.