Who can give blessings? Why mix water with wine?

| Father Kenneth Doyle | October 22, 2014 | 0 Comments

Q. Can anyone other than a priest or deacon do a Catholic blessing?

A. As your question would suggest, aside from certain blessings reserved to a bishop (e.g., the consecration of the sacramental oils at the chrism Mass during Holy Week), it is a priest who normally imparts a Catholic blessing.

QandACertain blessings also are entrusted to deacons — at rites where a deacon is presiding, such as a baptism, a wedding ceremony or the distribution of holy Communion outside of Mass. But many blessings are done properly — and perhaps more appropriately — by laypeople.

The most common example is the blessing of food before a meal, which many families do each evening around the dinner table.

The Church’s Book of Blessings lists several other blessings that are normally done by laypeople, including the blessing of sons and daughters by their parents. (In Irish families particularly, parents often gather their children for a blessing when they are leaving home for a new venture or embarking on a trip.)

Another example recommended by the Book of Blessings is the blessing of a newly engaged couple by both sets of parents.

Laypeople may also use a suggested prayer of blessing when moving into a new home, although more commonly the parish priest is invited to mark that joyful event.

In one particularly touching prayer, the Book of Blessings envisions a catechist gathering his or her class and asking God’s blessing over them in these words:

“With your unfailing protection, watch over these children. . . .  Grant that they will confess your name in willing faith, be fervent in charity and persevere courageously in the hope of reaching your kingdom.”

Q. I have long wondered why the priest mixes water with the wine at the offertory of the Mass. I have done some research and learned that this was the practice as early as the second century, but I don’t understand why it is done.

A. When the priest at the offertory of the Mass pours a drop of water into the chalice filled with wine, it symbolizes the commingling of the divinity of Jesus with our humanity.

When doing so, the priest says to himself: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

This symbolic gesture can be found in the earliest rituals of the Eucharist, and St. Cyprian speaks of it in the middle of the third century: “When the water is mingled in the cup with wine, the people are made one with Christ.”

St. Thomas Aquinas in “Summa Theologiae” mentions a second symbolism: the water and the blood that flowed together from the side of Christ during his passion. St. Thomas also notes the “probability” that Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper with wine tempered with water, since that mixture was a common practice among Jews and in Mediterranean cultures of the time.

Father Doyle writes for Catholic News Service. A priest of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., he previously served as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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