ASK FATHER: “Properly blessed” devotional objects

From a reader…


What does it mean for an article of devotion to be “properly blessed” as stated in the Enchiridion of Indulgences? Many of our sacramentals have been blessed by priests or deacons, and two by bishops (my daughter’s crucifix and an icon of Christ Pantocrator). However, only a handful were blessed according to a given formula. Most (including the two by bishops) were generally blessed with a quick sign of the cross and perhaps a brief off-the-cuff prayer. I have no doubt they are blessed, but I do wonder what the Enchiridion means by “properly” blessed and whether this has any bearing on indulgences.

The Latin says: “N. 15 – Christifidelis indulgentiam consequi valet si devote utitur aliquo ex sequentibus pietatis obiectis, rite benedicto: nempe crucifixo vel cruce, corona, scapulari, numismate.

In the concession in the Enchiridion, I sense that “rite benedicto” probably means something along the lines of “blessed by a priest or bishop” rather than “once touched to a relic or the tomb of a saint or dipped in Lourdes water, or waved with kisses at the Pope’s receding back”, etc.  Get my meaning?

The key here is “rite benedicto“. The adverb “properly” is used to render the Latin adverb “rite“. Properly is “fitting, suitably” and “according to the circumstances”, etc. Rite is the same, but deeper. You will see the connection of rite with “rites” and “ritual”. Rite is properly insofar as it also has reference to the fitting way of doing things according to the rites that are prescribed. Latin rite is, literally, “according to religious ceremonies or observances” and “in the usual way, manner, or fashion; according to custom or usage” and again, “especially in the manner or form prescribed by law, legally, formally, solemnly”.

In English we might say something along the lines of “we built a bridge” or “we built a proper bridge”, as in the Bridge Over The River Kwai. Of course the irony there, is that it wasn’t at all a proper bridge, from the get go. But that’s one way: doing the job well (in the movie they did a bad job well, a job that ought not to have been done at all).

A “proper” cuppa involves hotting the pot, having the right amount of tea, etc., rather than dipping a bag. Are both products cups of tea? Sure they are. One is arguably better than the other.

However, with devotional objects which are sacramentals by the blessings they received, we are into a whole other level of proper. We have to have due respect for the sacredness of the devotional object and respect for the beauty and dignity and needs of the souls of those who use them.

It is possible for a priest to bless something on the fly, as for example many times when, caught by a visitor in St. Peter’s Square as I flew off to an appointment, asked me to bless a Rosary, saying with intent and the sign of the Cross, “Benedictus benedicat!… May the Blessed One bless this!”, as I learned from my old boss the late great Card. Mayer.

Those things were properly blessed, in that they were truly blessed, but not properly blessed in the better sense of duly, what is owed on a deeper level, Latin rite.   Even in audiences with Pope’s, when at the end he gives the blessing with the intention of blessing objects, he gives the Apostolic Benediction, with the responses as so forth.  There is some due rite in there.

There are blessings for many things designated by the Church, in the Rituale Romanum, as good ways to bless objects. The Rituale was intended as a model for local books, but it is hard to improve on for what it is. Of course it can’t cover every possible thing, so it also includes a Blessing for All Things.

I think that there are levels of rite, but they ought to involve ritual.   Even when I blessed on the fly, I would stop and do what I did slowly and with obvious intent.  Otherwise, the prepared priest – semper paratus – gets out his stole and holy water, if he has it (the blessing for a Rosary does not call for holy water, by the way) and says the designated (proper) prayers.   I have an app on my phone that has many of the common blessings and, just as priests would do well to memorize a Mass formulary in view of their future incarceration, priests would do well to memorize the Blessing for All Things.

Rite benedicto… implies that a thing is truly blessed.  When I blessed things even on the fly, they were truly blessed.  However, that rite goes farther than just up to the edge of efficacy.   It involves proper and due rites, rites which are owed to the meaning of the moment.

This is part of the problem with the Novus Ordo, isn’t it?  Utilitarianism… the reduction of rites to the minimum for efficacy.

We should all strive against that minimizing attitude.

One of the things that I do in the parish in the announcements is tell people that it they have objects to be blessed, to bring them to the sacristy directly after Mass where I will bless them.  We use the proper prayers in the Rituale and holy water when needed and do it right.   When we are done, there is no doubt in the person’s mind that these things were properly blessed.

Father, bishops, when blessing, when possible, do it right (rite).  Put on the stole you no doubt carry and say the prayers which you have memorized or have on a card in your wallet, etc.  Make a bit of a deal out of it, even if it isn’t a huge deal or a big deal.

And, please, Fathers, if people ask for a blessing for themselves, don’t ramble or struggle to recreate the wheel as if what you come up with is meaningful.  Just use the good old formula.  Please?

Lastly, yes, you can gain the indulgence using an object that was truly blessed, even if not very ritually blessed.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. LeeGilbert says:

    Related question: Is it sacrilegious to bless things that have already been blessed? On my mother’s death I came into possession of a number of rosaries which probably had been blessed, and I wonder about having them blessed again. [I don’t think that does any harm.]

    Also, frankly, this is something about which I am careless, first in not having new rosaries blessed at all, and secondly in doubting that it matters in the least. Does it matter? And how would it matter? I would think that the faith and devotion with which I say the rosary are the elements that count with Heaven, and whether or not the rosary was blessed is altogether by the way. No doubt these questions reflect the protestantized and then secularized atmosphere in which we all live, but still I really have them . . .

    FWIW, on the subject of sacramentals a number of years ago I dropped blessed St. Benedict’s medals into the magazine racks of a local newspaper/magazine store ( The Book Nook in Lisle, IL) that also had a lot of pornography, fully expecting the place to burn to the ground. Within the year it was sold to a good Catholic woman who jettisoned the pornography and gave the place an entirely different atmosphere.

    The reason I expected it to burn to the ground was that a friend told of doing something similar with some of those felt Sacred Heart badges, and her target in another state DID burn to the ground shortly thereafter.

    Of this sort of thing, I am sure we should do more. Hagan lio! I have about fifty properly blessed St. Benedict’s medals which I would happily distribute about the Vatican were I ever to go there again, paying especial attention to its peripheries, of course. Naturally, this would be without incendiary expectations, but with a change in administration who could argue?

  2. Ms. M-S says:

    Well, Fr. Z., you have gladdened my heart with your reference to “due rites, rites which are owed to the meaning of the moment.” This due reverence in due rites is what makes it a joy rather than a trial to drive one to four hours for a Sunday TLM.

  3. scrchristensen says:

    I recently brought a new rosary to my priest for a blessing and expected a quick dab of holy water, some pious words, and a sign of the cross. Instead he grabbed me by the hand, led me to the sacristy, and removed a piece of paper from his breviary on which he had printed the proper rosary blessing from Rituale Romanum! He performed the blessing and we parted ways.

    I have since prayed with that rosary more often and more devoutly than *ever* in my life.

    Before that blessing I would try and say a daily rosary, but maybe do so only 3-5 times a week. Since the blessing (over a month ago) I have been managing at least one rosary a day if not 2 or 3.

    Praised be God for giving us dear priests who bestow on us laity the treasures of Holy Mother Church!

  4. WmHesch says:

    One of the most common misconceptions is that blessings of SCAPULARS “transfer” from one scapular to the next.

    This is true with respect to the enrollment and plenary indulgences on the respective feasts, which were granted to the Orders (e.g. feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel)

    Also, one of the changes in the 1999 Enchiridion is that the indulgence also attaches to objects BLESSED BY A DEACON. This was not the case in previous iterations.

    However, in order to gain the partial indulgence attached to devotional objects- then the current scapular must be blessed.

    [No. Once you are enrolled in the Brown Scapular, you do not have to have your replacement scapulars blessed. You can start using them right away.]

  5. Fr. Pius, OP says:

    If I’m not mistaken, the picture is of Fr. Gabriel Harty, OP, the “Rosary Priest of Ireland”. He was famous in Ireland–and a bit here–for preaching devotion to the Rosary. He’s in his late 90s by now, but I think he’s still going.

  6. Elizabeth D says:

    “One of the most common misconceptions is that blessings of SCAPULARS “transfer” from one scapular to the next.” This is not a misconcepetion, a scapular is different from a medal. A scapular is a habit that you are vested with. A brown scapular is a small form of the Carmelite habit and you wear it to participate in the charism and graces and relationship with Mary of the Carmelite Order. After your original brown scapular has been blessed and you have been vested with it (note: you are not joining the confraternity unless you are actually joining the confraternity–and it probably does not exist where you are), you can replace worn out scapulars by touching the new one to the old. I think this is the custom with religious habits that were blessed when the person made their profession, and there is a continuity of wearing the same habit even when the original one wears out. Even someone who hasn’t been in some way formally vested with the Brown Scapular can wear it and practice Carmelite spirituality and devotion to Mary. I think a lot of confusion arises from a loss of understanding of the brown scapular as the Carmelite habit. It is not “generically” Marian, in its aspect as a Marian devotion it is a devotion specifically to Mary as patroness of the Carmelite Order.

    I think some confusion also comes from odd things like the “green scapular” that has no connection with any religious habit but is basically a religious medal in the form of a scapular! Recently I saw a priest was having people hide blessed green scapulars around the grounds of the Capitol in Washington DC! It is a blessed object, a sacramental, that may dispose someone to receive grace, but it’s not a form of habit. Like a medal I assume one of those things would be individually blessed when you got a new one.

  7. RichR says:

    De Benedictiones just needs to be burned and erased from the Church’s memory. Much like today’s drywall edifices, neither will be remembered in 100 years.

  8. Unwilling says:

    My Rosary (the beads only – the cord had to be replaced) was originally blessed by Pope John xxiii (who had a most tender devotion to the Virgin) for a friend of mine, who considered it blessed also by Pope Paul vi as he held it aloft when that Pope gave an Urbi et Orbi blessing in the square. My friend gave it to me in 1970. I have always considered it more than adequately blessed; but now I wonder — especially whether the restringing cancelled the blessing. And I wonder whether subsequent blessings remove former. Any thoughts?

    [It’s okay to have it blessed again. Probably a good idea.]

  9. jaykay says:

    Fr. Pius O.P.: yes, that is indeed Fr. Harty, now aged about 96 and still very much with us. In fact, he brought out another Rosary book earlier this year.

  10. luciavento says:

    It’s not merely nearly blessed, it’s really most sincerely blessed!

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