Benedictions are an important element in ecclesiastical liturgy. SEE BENEDICTION.
I. Definition, etc. — Benediction, in contradistinction from the allied expressions, consecration, dedication, may be defined to be a certain holy action which, combined with prayer, seeks for God's grace for persons, and, in a lower degree, a blessing upon things, with a view whether to their efficiency. or safety. To dedicate is to offer a place to God, to bless and sanctify it. To consecrate is to separate things, utensils, vestments, etc., from common use for divine worship, so that they become holy things. Like many other points of ritual, the practice of benediction passed from the Jewish to the Christian Church. In the infancy of the former, under Aaron, we discover the existence of the blessing of the congregation by the priest after the morning and the evening sacrifice (Le 9:22); and later notices may be seen in 1Ch 23:13; Ecclus. 36:17; 45:15; 1, 20. The actual form is prescribed in Nu 6:22 sq.; comp. Ps 67:1.
The benediction, ordinarily pronounced by priests (as, e.g. in the case of Zacharias, for whose blessing the people waited, Lu 1:21), would on occasions of special solemnity be reserved for the high-priest. Even the king, as the viceroy of the Most High, might give the blessing (comp. 2Sa 6:18; 1Ki 8:55; 1Ch 16:2). It would appear that Levites had ordinarily, though not invariably, the power of giving the blessing. Comp. 2Ch 30:27.
The actual formula referred to above does not occur in the New Testament, though our Lord is spoken of as blessing little children and his disciples (Mr 10:16; Lu 24:50), besides the blessing on the occasion of the institution of the Eucharist (Mt 26:26). Still the general tenor and form of the blessing must have been similar, and the familiar "peace" of the benediction is probably a relic of the old Aaronitic form.
II. Minister of Benediction. — It will be obvious, from the nature of the case, that a benediction is imparted by a superior to an inferior. (see Heb 7:7, where this is explicitly stated). Hence it is laid down in the Apostolic Constitutions, that a bishop may bestow the blessing, and receive it from other bishops, but not from priests; so, too, a priest may bless his fellow-priests and receive the blessing from them or from a bishop; the deacon merely receives and cannot impart the blessing. Thus, if a bishop be present, to him does the Benedictio super plebem appertain, and only in the absence of a bishop, unless special authority be given, is it permitted to the priest, whose blessing, however, is not held as of the same solemn import as that of the bishop. The ancient Sacramentaries do not distinguish between episcopal and sacerdotal blessings; while in later times a minutely developed system has been formed. The benedictions were divided into solemnes and communes, magnoe and parvoe, etc. The Benedictio solemnis appears to have belonged strictly to the bishop, and to his representative in his absence; other benedictions the priest may confer in the presence of the bishop; but they can in no case be imparted by a deacon or layman. Benedictio parva and Benedictio magna are thought by some to be the blessings conferred by the priest and bishop respectively; others say, that the former is a private benediction, while the latter is a public and solemn one. From the 8th century abbots who were priests have possessed sundry episcopal rights, including that of benediction within the limits of their own cloisters.
III. Objects of Benediction. — Benedictions are of the following classes:
1. Personal, i.e. such as are in immediate connection with various holy offices. and specially liturgical. These include (a) general blessing; the one communicated to the whole congregation in the dismission formula; or (b)
special; as those at the eucharist, baptism, ordination, marriage, penance, extreme unction, burial. The old Latin Sacramentaries agree in placing a benediction in the mass after the Lord's Prayer, and before the Communion. Up to this point the congregation was prohibited from leaving, as e.g. by the Council of Agde (A.D. 506), and the first and third councils of Orleans. Besides this there was also a short benediction at the end of the service. This long benediction is not found in the Eastern ritual, at the corresponding part of which occurs what is known as the Prayer of Inclination." Some of the Eastern liturgies give a long benediction after the post-communion prayers of thanksgiving; also the Nestorian liturgy of Theodore the interpreter closes with a similar benediction. At the end of the Ethiopic liturgy is a prayer of the people, of the nature of a benediction.
Of non-liturgical blessings appertaining to persons, the general blessing was properly, though not exclusively, the episcopal prerogative. It would seem that, especially on the entrance of a bishop into a place, his blessing was reverently besought by the people. This blessing was eagerly sought for even by princes.
2. Benedictions of Things. — We call attention to the distinction between benediction and the stronger term consecration, in that in the one regard is had but to the bestowal of certain grace or efficacy, whereas in the other, a thing is not only destined for a holy use, but is viewed as changed into a holy thing. Augusti brings out this distinction by a comparison of the phrases panis benedictus and panis consecratus; and the Greek Church recognizes the same difference. Similar is the distinction between benedictiones invocative and benedictiones constitutive, sacrative, destinative; the names of which show that the one invoke God's grace, the other dedicate permanently to his service.
Under this head may be enumerated,
(1) Benedictio fontis, the blessing of the baptismal water, etc. SEE BAPTISM.
(2.) Benedictio aquce lustralis. SEE HOLY WATER.
(3.) Benzedictionpanis et vini, which substances when blessed bore the name of the saint on whose festival the benediction took place; as St. John's wine, St. Mark's bread, etc. SEE ELEMENTS.
(4.) Benedictio salis, SEE SALT, whether for admixture with holy water or otherwise.
(5.) "Benedictio lactis et mellis. SEE MILK AND HONEY.
(7.) Benedictio incensi. SEE INCENSE.
(8.) Benedictio cereorum, as for the special feast of Candlemas-day, Feb. 2. SEE CANDLE.
(9.) Benedictio cinerum, of Ash Wednesday. SEE LENT.
(10.) Benedictio palmarum, of Palm Sunday processions.
(11.) Benedictio paschales, whether of Easter eggs or the paschal lamb or the Easter candles.
To these may be added an immense number of varieties of benedictions for almost every imaginable occasion, wherein the pious of past ages deemed that the Church could draw forth on their behalf from a rich store of blessing. Thus we may mention, in addition to those already cited, the following benedictions of things, occurring mainly in the Gregorian Sacramentary:
(1) Of a house; (2) of clusters or beans; (3) on new fruits; (4) on all things you have wished; (5) of flesh; (6) of a Well; (7) of cheese and eggs; (8) of fire; (9) of books.
IV. Mode of Imparting Benediction. — The Christian ritual was foreshadowed by the Jewish. In the commentary on Numbers and Deuteronomy known as Sifrey, we have further directions given:
(1) the blessing is to be pronounced in the Hebrew language; (2) the imparter of the blessing is to stand, and (3) with outstretched hands; (4) the sacred name (Jehovah) is to be used; (5) the priest must face the people, and (6) speak in a loud voice.
During the conferring of the blessing the people must not look at the priest, for at the time the glory of God is supposed to rest upon him. Also, his hands are disposed so that the fingers go in pairs, fore-fingers with middle fingers, ring-fingers with little fingers, with the tips of the two thumbs and of the two fore-fingers respectively touching each other, thus arranging the whole ten fingers in six divisions.
The foregoing points afford a very close parallel to the usages of the Christian Church, That the imparter of the blessing should stand is but in accordance with the natural order of things, and this is a point universally observed, so that the Latin Church does but stereotype usage when in the ritual of Paul V this attitude is prescribed. As to the kneeling of the recipients of the blessing, we may find ancient evidence in the Apostolic Constitutions, where the injunction is prefixed to the benediction, ". . and let the deacon say, kneel and be blessed." The order of the Jewish ritual that the priest should face the people is paralleled (to say nothing of unvarying custom) by the rubric before the benediction in the mass in ancient Sacramentaries; and that to pronounce the blessing in a loud voice by the equivalent command constantly met with in Greek service-books.
The lifting up of hands is an inseparable adjunct of benedictions. An occasional addition is that of the laying-on of hands; see Apostolic Constitutions, where the benediction upon penitents is associated with this act. The feeling of the greater worth and power of the right hand is shown by its use.
With this natural and almost universal gesture, the act of benediction is usually represented in ancient art. Thus the Lord extends his open hand over the dsemoniac in the bass-reliefs of a sarcophagus at Verona. In the Greek Church and in Greek paintings for the most part, the hand outstretched in blessing has the thumb touching the tip of the ring-finger, while the forefinger, the middle, and the little finger are erected. According to Neale, this method "is supposed to symbolize the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father alone; and according to others, to form the sacred name I H C by the position of the fingers." In the Latin manner of benediction the erected fingers are the thumb, the forefinger, and the middle finger, with the other two doubled down on the palm of the hand. The hand of the Lord is thus represented in some monuments when he works a miracle; e.g. in the healing of the man born blind. It is, however, only in comparatively modern times that the rite of benediction has constituted a distinction between the Greek and Latin churches. For instance, in the most Roman of monuments, the Vatican confessio of St. Peter, the Lord gives the blessing in the Greek manner; in the triumphal arch of St. Mark's Church, in the Latin manner. On the other hand, the bass-relief of a Greek diptych represents St. Peter giving the blessing in the Latin manner, while St. Andrew blesses in the Greek manner.
V. Benedictionals. — It has already been shown that various early forms of benedictions are found interspersed in ancient Sacramentaries. In that attributed to pope Leo are found forms of blessing "for those ascending from the font," and "of milk and honey," as well as a "benediction of the font," which is possibly a later addition. It is, however, in the somewhat later Sacramentary of Gregory the Great that we meet with specimens of benedictions on a more extended scale, in some MSS., variously interspersed through the book, and in some given separately, forming the so-called Benedictionale. This is the case with the very ancient MS., of the Caesarean Library. Another of somewhat different form is from two MSS. of the time of Charlemagne now in the Vatican. The Liber Sacramentorum of Ratoldus, of the 10th century, also contains numerous benedictions, but the fullest benedictional is that found in two MSS. of the Monastery of St. Theodoric, near Rheims, written about the year 900. A large collection of benedictions is also to be found in the: Pontifical of Egbert (archbishop of York, A.D. 732-66), published by the Surtees Society in 1853.