One of the most powerful Catholic actions that can happen in a home is the simple act of giving a blessing.
Blessings are considered sacramentals, meaning that they are “sacred signs or sacred actions” (Youcat 272) that help us to grow more like Christ and receive the graces available in the sacraments. Blessings typically consist of prayer, the use of Scripture and a corresponding sign, usually the Sign of the Cross. Although we are accustomed to seeing and/or receiving blessings in church by the presider or deacon, there are many instances in everyday life, especially within the home, where it is appropriate for families to bless each other. This is especially true of parents blessing their children, where parents exercise their function as priestly people who participate in the priesthood of Christ through their baptism.
The Priestly Blessing
Scripture is full of examples of God blessing his people and fathers blessing their children. One of the best loved blessings is given by God to Moses in the book of Numbers, sometimes referred to as the Priestly Blessing. God said to Moses, “Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them: This is how you shall bless the Israelites. Say to them:
‘The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!’
So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites and I will bless them. “ (Numbers 6:24-27)
The footnotes of the NAB (New American Bible) explain that the word “peace,” translated as shalom in Hebrew, refers to “the idea of happiness, good health, prosperity, friendship, and general well-being.” To bless someone in the name of peace was to pray for all of these things to descend upon the person. Simply put, blessings call down God’s favor and protection upon the one who is blessed. It is to look upon a person with love and delight, to recognize the goodness in him or her, and to want that goodness and grace to multiply.
Just as God looked upon Adam and Eve in the garden and blessed them (Genesis 1:28), so we are also called to imitate God in being people who bless, In fact, the Catechism reminds us that “every baptized person is called to be a blessing and to bless.”
Blessing at Home
The easiest way to incorporate blessings into everyday life is to print out the Priestly Blessing above (or just memorize it) and tape it on the back of the door your family uses most, ie. garage door, front door, back door, etc. As you leave for school, work, sports practice, dance practice or anywhere else, just take about 3 or 4 seconds to bless each other. Recite the blessing while you make the sign of the cross on each other’s forehead. If you do this consistently, you’ll be surprised at the results.
I will share that my husband was fortunate to grow up in a home where he was blessed almost every time he left the house, and this was one of the traditions he passed on to our children, blessing them in their comings and goings. It is such a powerful, yet simple, sign of conveying favor and love to another person that it wasn’t long before our children’s friends, having watched this ritual a few times, started lining up to get a blessing as well when they left our house! Additionally, introducing parents to the practice of giving blessings is something I do at our church formation sessions. It really is quite something to see the look on many parent’s faces when their child blesses them, and prays that the peace of God will descend upon them.
As with most of our Catholic traditions, it is the repetition and practicing over time that allows these practices to bear fruit. The habit of blessing reminds us that God is with us, and goes out with us as well. It also shows us that each of us is a God-bearer, made in his image. Inserting God into the few seconds before we leave is an opportunity to breathe a little, pray and hope. As this school year ramps up, consider adding the practice of everyday blessings into your home life.
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