One of the more amusing clichés which has evolved in recent years is that now-ubiquitous sign-off now used by many a clergyman, whether in print or in person: “Blessings!” Most commonly the expression begins “Blessings on your . . .” To this is added a word fitting the occasion. So to a pastor one might say, “Blessings on your ministry,” or to a committee, “Blessings on your conference.” To a pastor about to preach, “Blessings on your message” is heard. Or often the word stands alone, as in correspondence, being a closing salutation.
Whence this came is anyone’s guess, but what this historian finds amusing is the fact that it’s so often used by the kinds of Lutheran clergy who at the same time hold tenaciously to an acute anti-Catholic bias. They won’t wear a chasuble or intone the Introit, because that’s Catholic, but they’ll dispense blessings more freely than the most Tridentine of priests!
Among traditional Roman Catholics, the blessing of the priest is eagerly to be sought, and taken quite seriously when obtained. People would approach a priest for no other reason than to ask a blessing on their children (though not, I might add, while kneeling beside their parents partaking in the Sacrament of the Altar). The Vatican magisterium has routinely taught that a solemn duty of the priest is to dispense blessings upon his people.
I am, to be sure, rather vaguely averse to the usage, but not because of this. If anything, the thought that if taken seriously this cliché might offend against the anti-Catholic bigotry in our midst (one of the last acceptable forms of bigotry left in current society) would lead me to find it more, rather than less, palatable! I think Lutheran ministers would do well to consider the dispensing of blessings to be a solemn duty they too ought to do. These can take the form of brief benedictions when meeting with the bereaved, the sick, the distressed, or anyone who comes to meet with them. It ought to be done with the laying on of hands and signing of the cross on the forehead (and perhaps even with chrismating oil, as St. James says). In fact, the thought sits comfortably with me that this is really what is going on at the confirmation ceremonies of our young. The young teens are simply receiving the blessings of their priest as they enter adulthood. We already treat Lutheran confirmations as a sacramental kind of thing, even though we insist that confirmation is not a sacrament. But we routinely have parties whose celebratory mood can rival that of any bar mizpah or quinceñera. These youngsters are simply debutantes of a kind. Fine. So we do it in church, give them the blessings of their pastors, and think those blessings sort of sacramental, in a way. Perhaps a fuller consideration of this would be a fit topic for another day.
Regarding blessings in general, let us take them more seriously than as the bland, vanilla blubbering which the term “blessings” has come to be. Taken as it currently is, I would submit that to those who hear it, at best it generally communicates absolutely nothing, and at worst it gives an indication the one saying it must be a very holy person, that he speaks such a holy word. The latter inference is of course particularly odious to faith, because it smacks of the worst kind of pharisaism.
Let Lutheran ministers take the dispensing of blessings to be a solemn duty, then: they were ordained to do this, certainly, as Jesus said, “He who hears you hears me.” But let them never think that this can as well be something they ought carelessly dispense, in effect attempting to raise the estimation of others as to the degree of their holiness.
Adapted from a 1999 article.