When someone sneezes, we automatically respond, “God bless you.” (Supposedly this practice was begun by Pope Gregory the Great during the plague.) My answering machine message ends with “Have a blessed day!” Just what is a blessing? It is a prayer to call down God’s goodness and protection on someone or something. When Jacob was dying, he gave a special blessing to each of the twelve tribes of Israel. People brought their children to Jesus so that he might bless them. A papal blessing is the gift of the pope’s apostolic blessing on the occasion of a special anniversary or celebration and certified by a beautiful document from Rome. Priests bless us at the end of Mass, and they bless rosaries, pets, and houses. But popes, priests, and deacons are not the only ones who can bless. The catechism states, “Every baptized person is called to be a blessing and to bless.” (2669) We can bestow blessings because our baptism made us a priestly people. It makes sense that family members would want to bless one another.
How to Bless
Some time ago a father began blessing his daughters before they went to bed at night. He traces the Sign of the Cross on their foreheads and says simply, “May God bless you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” With the youngest girl, he began kneeling before her so that she could bless him too. He says that he wishes he had thought of doing this when the older girls were young.
Blessings can be administered with holy water or oil. While saying the words, you can place one or both hands on your child’s head, trace a cross on your child’s forehead, or give him or her a warm hug. You can make up your own words like this: May the Lord bless you and keep you safe, give you a restful sleep, and have you awake with joy tomorrow.
When to Bless
Any time is a good time to bestow a blessing. The following times are especially appropriate:
- before the children leave the house
- on a special occasion
- for a birthday
- for a baptismal anniversary
- for a name day
- before a special event such as a sports game or a recital
- before a surgery
By the way, when singing “Happy Birthday” you might make it a habit to sing the second verse too: “May the dear Lord bless you. . . .”
The National Conference of Catholic bishops published a book called Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers. Among the numerous blessings it contains are blessings before and after birth, for times of sickness, times of trouble, new beginnings, before moving from a home, blessings of tools for work, objects for use or entertainment, and blessings of fields and garden. May you have a blessed day!
I remember that on my thirtieth birthday, a traumatic day, when I was serving breakfast to our chaplain, I knelt and asked for a blessing. What blessing was special to you?