Psalm 145:9 The Lord is loving to everyone *
and his compassion is over all his works.
10 All your works praise you, O Lord, *
and your faithful servants bless you.
11 They make known the glory of your kingdom *
and speak of your power;
Just as Holy Communion was coming to a close and right before the Post Communion prayer, the Bishop leaned over and asked if I knew I’d be asked to offer blessings, First Blessings, as a newly ordained priest at the conclusion of the service. No, I didn’t know about the tradition, but yes, of course, I was blessed to be asked and grateful he tipped me off in time. I had been to ordinations before but had not witnessed such blessings.
The tradition of Priestly Blessings goes back to the first century (and before that to our Hebrew ancestors and to Moses’ brother, Aaron), tied to the Roman Rite following the Eucharist utilizing Trinitarian language of “May the blessing of almighty God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, come down on you and remain with you forever.” This, the blessing addressed to the congregation at the conclusion of communion and one as a seminarian, then postulant, then candidate, then Transitional Deacon I had mastered and known to expect at my ordination in the context of the Eucharistic prayer.
But so focused was I on the ordination liturgy itself that removing the blessing from its context just didn’t occur the moment the Bishop alerted me that I’d be asked. The simplicity of “May God’s blessing be upon you” while placing my recently anointed hands upon the head of the person asking, just didn’t come forth. Instead, while I did place my hands on their head with a newly found – authority isn’t the right word, but something along the lines of weight – a divine weightiness, I offered a blessing in ‘Jesus’ holy name’ preceded by a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessing that person had been to me and to God’s church. Nothing wrong with what I prayed – the words were of the Holy Spirit – but at the same time, by not using the Trinitarian language of blessing, I am left these few days later to wonder how it was received by those who asked.
I’m left to ponder because now as an ordained priest in God’s church I am feeling the responsibility to respond to the expectations of those with whom I work, pray, and live. I’m no different in terms of what I do to serve God’s church this week than I was last week, but I’m aware that others look at me differently, now – ordained clergy and colleagues but also friends and family who I’ve known in every other context but God’s church. I came upon an article this morning by a recently ordained person who said this about that:
They look at me differently now, though. As much as I’ve tried to assure them that I am still the same person, we all know it isn’t so. I do all the same things, …but, it is not the same person doing them. Though they might not articulate it, in some way, I believe my colleagues and friends do not want me to be the same as before. People long to know the holy is present among them, even if they wrongly attribute special holiness to priests. On my best day, I simply represent the Holy in a particular way, and that may be enough for all of us.
I’ve often included in my sermons and in my teaching and in my writing the call for each of us to be “God’s person” in every aspect of our lives – our homes, our work places, our schools, our travels, our hospital rooms, our communities. We are called to bless the space we are in and between us – to represent the Holy in a particular way.
This is what the psalm reminded me today as I opened the day feeling a little anxious that I didn’t serve God well in those private blessings last Friday. I’m thankful that God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and God’s Word, continues to bless me and bless the space between us.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Daily Office Readings, Proper 13 :AM Psalm 145; PM Psalm 85, 86
Judges 8:22-35; Acts 4:1-12; John 1:43-51
As one who was blessed by the newly ordained, I received your words of blessing on Friday evening with a grateful heart. Just right. Blessing and being blessed. It goes both ways among us creatures, and between us and our Creator. “This quality of mutuality goes to the heart of what blessedness is all about.” (OTW, page 68) As for longing for the holy to be present, I’m reminded of what St Augustine has to say: “The whole of the good Christian is a holy longing. Through longing God extends the soul, by extending it he makes room in it…. So let us long, because we are to be filled…. That is our life, to be exercised by longing.”