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Sometimes people imagine that when a priest blesses a rosary, car or house it is like sticking a label on it to make it holy. That is not the best way to think about blessings. Blessing starts with God and involves a two-way movement – from God to us and us to God.
We start with God’s goodness and care for us. So the first meaning of blessing is the praise and thanksgiving we offer God in worship. Blessed are you Lord God of all creation… We praise you, we bless you, we give you thanks… We acknowledge that God cares for us. We rejoice in God’s providence. This is the movement from us to God.
When we celebrate blessings – whether it be the blessing of a rosary, a wheat crop, a mother or a bridge – the person or thing or event that we bless becomes an opportunity to praise God for creation and to invoke the protection of God’s mercy upon our world. Our blessing is a way of saying that God is the source of all blessing.
Blessing also involves a movement from God to us. It is an invocation upon a person, thing or event asking that it will become a sign, a sign of God’s goodness. When we bless another person we invoke divine help upon them; we pray that they may be placed under God’s loving care. When we bless water, we ask that it will serve as a reminder of our baptism and a reminder that we are saved in the death and resurrection of Christ. Holy water is precious because through the blessing it becomes an eloquent sign of God’s gracious kindness; but it doesn’t change the water as consecration changes the bread and wine. When we bless a rosary or image, we ask that it will open our hearts to God’s grace. Thus blessings are really for people. We bless objects or places primarily in view of the people who use them.
When a priest blesses, he does so as a representative of the Church. The whole body of Christ joins in praising God and in asking that the person or thing will be an occasion to experience God’s love. This adds a communal dimension to the blessing. Sometimes these blessings are formal and involve a full liturgy with Scripture and a gathering of people (the blessing of the oils at the Chrism Mass, for example). However blessing is not the exclusive domain of the priest or the church building. Families bless God and bless their food at the meal table. Parents bless their children as they go to bed or set off for school.
So blessings are not like magic or Harry Potter spells that would assign spiritual power to a mere object or place. All good comes from God. A blessing brings people into the orbit of God’s loving kindness, sometimes through a particular place or thing.