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Blessing objects

Pope Benedict XVI blesses a rosary during his weekly general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican in 2011. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

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Question: What is current Church teaching about whether objects should be blessed with holy water or not?

Kathleen Ferrone via email

Answer: The ritual often indicates that the blessed object should be sprinkled with holy water. However, if for some reason the object cannot be sprinkled with holy water, it does not mean that the object is not blessed. The word “blessing” comes from the Latin word benedictio, which literally means to speak well of something: bene (well) + dicare (to speak). Hence the blessing is conferred through the words of the priest and by the gesture of his hands, usually including the sign of the cross. Holy water, if available, can be sprinkled. But it is not always at hand. It is also the case that holy water might damage a book or other similar item, and so the sprinkling can be omitted. The point is, the blessing is given, holy water or not. The use of holy water remains most appropriate to extend blessings when a priest is not present. Thus one can bless one’s own self with holy water, or one can bless a room or object with holy water, simply by sprinkling the blessed water. This action extends the blessing of a priest in a way, since it contains within itself a blessing and blesses what it touches.

Presence of Christ

Question: Msgr. Pope’s answer about Christ’s Real Presence is a bit misleading (“What is Real Presence?,” April 3). He says, “The true presence of Christ is reserved to the Eucharist alone.” But the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that Christ is also present in the assembly that gathers, in the person of his minister and in the proclamation of the word (No. 1088). In all these ways, Christ’s presence is true. Yes, his presence in the Eucharist is different. However, this does not make the other ways Jesus is present any less true.

David Werning via email

Answer: The objection expressed here technically is correct. Christ is present in a true manner in the other ways mentioned. The priest celebrant, the people gathered and the word proclaimed manifest an actual presence, not merely a symbolic presence.

However, the expression “the True Presence” is reserved by tradition to the Eucharist alone. It has developed over the centuries as a kind of shorthand to the teaching of the Council of Trent that the Lord Jesus is present in the Eucharistic species, “really, truly and substantially.” As such, the expression “the True Presence” has a sacral character and is meant in a restricted sense. Catholics do not speak of the presence of Christ in the gathered people or the priest as “the True Presence.” Through tradition and the use of the definite article, “the” indicates something unique and special about the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist. The presence in the Eucharist is not a presence that is merely “different,” it is superlative.

So simply advancing the dictionary meaning of the word “true” and applying it to the other modes of presence fails to acknowledge the restricted use of the term that is traditionally applied only to the Eucharist. Grammatically, the term “idiom” is used to characterize phrases of this sort. An idiom is a group of words established by common usage as having a meaning not deducible from the simply literal meaning of the individual words. Thus whether one considers the phrase “the True Presence” an idiom, or, as seems preferable, a sacral expression, it remains important to respect the usage.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.

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