Sixth Sunday after Pentecost—12 July AD 2020
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On Blessing and Cursing
17th Century Giovanni Lanfranco The Multiplication of the Loaves
Raccolta della Manna
[ Ordinary of the Mass ]
[ English Text ]
[ Latin Text ]
“And they had a few
little fishes, and He blessed them, and commanded them to be set before
And they did eat, and were filled, and they took up that which was left
of the fragments, seven baskets:
and, they that had eaten were about four thousand....”
This sentence from
Saint Mark's Gospel tells us something about the word “blessing.” In
Latin we use the word “benedícere” which is simply a fusion of
the two words “bene” and "dícere"—literally, “to say
something good” about someone or something. Sometimes we use the word
“Benediction,” although most people reserve that word for a blessing
with the Blessed Sacrament. This grammar explains how we can say: "Benedicamus
Dómino—Let us bless the Lord” at the end of the Masses of Advent and
Lent. When we “bless the Lord,” we are not conferring a benefit on
Him, or making Him any holier, as we do when He blesses us. To bless
Him is simply to say something good about Him—we understand that to mean
that we witnessing and proclaiming His great Holiness to all who hear
us. Likewise, it would be correct to bless the Angels or the saints—we
would simply be acknowledging their goodness.
In some cases, however,
the act of blessing does seem to be an exercise of power. The
multiplication of fishes in today's Gospel seems to be caused by our
Lord's blessing. We see much the same in the Institution of the Blessed
Sacrament and in Its renewal in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass:
... the day before He suffered, took bread
into His holy and venerable hands ...
+ broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying: Take ye
all and eat of this. For this is My Body….
Usually, we refer to
this sort of blessing as a “consecration,”—an exercise of the Divine
power by Christ or one of His priests, setting something specially
aside. Likewise, the “consecration” of a bishop. Priests do truly
change the nature of many things by blessing them. In conferring the
Sacraments, the priest is giving a blessing instituted by Christ,
thereby changing the spiritual state of the recipient. He may bless an
enormous number of things, acting on behalf of Christ's Church—the
sacramentals, about which I spoke to you last week.
In traditional Catholic
society, it is understood that even lay people can confer God's graces
and protection on those persons and places for whom they are
responsible. Usually, such blessings are “deprecatory”—which is to say
that the one giving the blessing calls on God to grant His favor.
Parents are expected to bless their children—perhaps at bed time, when
starting out on a journey, or before some period of separation. The
head of the household is called on to bless things like Advent wreaths
and Christmas trees. The blessing before meals is often delegated to
one of the children, perhaps to get them in the habit of doing so when
they are away from the family, or when they come to have a family of
So we see that so many
of God's graces can be shared through blessings. But we should be
keenly aware that we human beings are capable of doing just the
opposite. Just as we can commend someone to God's graces by saying
something good about them (bene dícere), we can also detract from
them by saying something bad (mala dícere), which translates as
“malediction,” or even a “curse.” Fortunately, this is usually nothing
more than emotionally vocalized complaint against someone who has failed
us in some way, but it can become something much worse.
You will probably
remember last week's Gospel, which dealt with the idea of being angry
with a brother. We were directed to resolve our anger before offering
our gift at the altar—before turning our minds to the worship of God.
There were three degrees of anger and three consequences of acting on
I say to you, that whosoever is angry
with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment.
And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca,
shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall
say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
The first degree is
just an internal feeling of annoyance. The second is a verbal complaint
about the brother's incompetence—our Lord says that this offence is
serious enough to be judged by the Sanhedrin (or a Church court in the
case of Christians). The highest degree was an emotional outburst,
proclaiming the brother's utter stupidity—“thou fool”—an offense already
condemned to the fire of Hell!!
So, what is it about
these three degrees of anger that makes them evil enough to possibly
deserve the pains of Hell? It would seem that such anger turns the
natural order of things upside down. God is love, yet anger is hate.
God blesses us abundantly, and expects us to bless those around us in
imitation of His goodness. In the third case—the emotional outburst of
anger—it seems as though we are calling upon God to act against our
brother—we can say that it seems as though we are calling on God to
curse him!! Doing that would be liable to hell fire because wishing the
damnation of a brother would be the greatest possible abuse of our
ability to call upon God for the things we need or want—a sort of
“anti-prayer.” And, so much the worse if we actually misuse God's name
in our curse!!
Saint Paul sums up the
proper Christian approach to the question of blessing or cursing in his
Epistle to the Romans:
Bless them that persecute you: bless,
and curse not.
Our Lord reiterates
this in Saint Matthew' Gospel:
But I say unto you, Love your
enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them
that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully
use you, and persecute you.
And Saint Paul
Revenge not yourselves, my dearly
beloved; but give place unto wrath, for it is
written: Revenge is mine, I will repay, saith the
Lord. But if thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat;
if he thirst, give him to drink. For, doing this,
thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not
overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.
By blessing our
enemy—by doing him good rather than cursing him—we set the natural order
of things right side up again. All men and women are God's beloved sons
and daughters. By blessing rather than cursing, we join with God in
loving our brothers and sisters. What He calls “Revenge” is nothing
less than restoring the mutual love He wants all of us to have for one
Notice that God’s
“Revenge” is very sweet!