I recently became Catholic and keep hearing about all of the stuff you have that is “blessed.” Someone even gave me a holy card that they said had been blessed. I like the idea, I just don’t know what it means for something to be blessed.
I am glad that you are asking this question. Even though you haven’t been Catholic for very long, you know that it is good for Catholics to ask questions. In this case, your question is one that not a lot of Catholics even know about. Hopefully this response will not only help you, but them as well.
You are correct in noting that almost anything can be blessed
|Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike
For a thing to be blessed means that it becomes holy. In fact, we often use those two words interchangeably. They convey the same sense of being “set apart.”
In the Old Testament, God calls His people to be holy, or he tells them that the Sabbath day will be “holy unto the Lord.” This particular sense of holiness highlights the “otherness” of someone or something who is blessed. It is no longer ordinary but has been “set apart.” If we stop for a moment and consider what it meant for Israel to be holy in practical terms, we quickly see that it means that they had to be different. For God’s Chosen People to be “blessed” or “holy,” it would mean that they couldn’t just live like everyone else and they couldn’t just look like everyone else. They would have to conduct themselves differently. This is one of the reasons the People of Israel had so many unusual laws governing what they ate and what they wore. They were set apart, and this meant that they had to live the blessing — they had to live differently.
Now, to be “blessed” did not merely mean to be “set apart.” It meant to be set apart for something. There is no virtue in simply being different. Israel was holy because it was set apart for the Lord. To be blessed (or to have an object blessed) is to be set apart for a purpose. Another way to word it: to be blessed is to be set apart for God’s purposes. It is not simply to be “removed from use,” but to be “elevated to a higher purpose and use.” You could also think of the term “consecrated.” In this sense, you could see how certain people or things were “consecrated” for a purpose: how Samson and John the Baptist were both consecrated from the womb, or how the altar in the Temple was consecrated for the worship of God.
When we bring forth an object or a person to be blessed, we are presenting that person or thing to God so that (by the power of the Holy Spirit and the invocation of the Name of Jesus), they would be set apart for God’s purposes. For example, many people will ask me if I can bless their cross on a chain or a bracelet. When they bring it to me, it is merely jewelry. But after it is blessed, it ceases to be jewelry that is nothing more than an accessory to one’s outfit: that object has been set apart for a purpose. It will still be worn like jewelry, but the purpose for which it is worn has been changed, because the object has been consecrated for a higher purpose. In the case of the cross around one’s neck, the higher use is that it will, from then on, only point to Christ and his saving death and resurrection.
Why do we do this, though? Why bless all of these ordinary objects around us? We do this for the simple reason that we are very much like ancient Israel. Our tendency is also to want to be just like everyone else. Having all of these reminders around us that have been consecrated to the Lord assists us and reminds us that we too have been consecrated to God.
Think of part of the Mass on the feast day of Saint Blaise. On that day, faithful people show up and have their throats blessed. The prayer reads like this: “Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It is a prayer for protection and healing. But consider this: for a thing to be blessed is for that thing to be consecrated for a purpose. All of those who present themselves (and their throats) to be blessed are essentially offering their throats to be set apart for God’s purposes.
I like reflecting on this and being reminded that I must use my throat (my voice) for God’s purposes only. If my throat has been blessed then it is no longer merely “my throat,” and I cannot use it however I want; I have to use it to point to Jesus and his saving death and resurrection.
But wait, you’ve been baptized! Which means that you have been blessed. You have been made holy, consecrated for the Lord at your baptism. To be holy does not mean being perfect, but it does mean being set apart for God and his purposes. Because of that fact, all of us who have been baptized have received a very high call: to always be people who, by our lives, point to Christ and his saving death and resurrection
Father Michael Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth.