Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Scooping up God

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the Oct. 21, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky Just a couple of weeks ago we priests were given opportunity during our annual convocation to reflect on our journey to the priesthood. For a good number of us that trek began way back in our childhood.

My early memories of feeling called to be a priest are many. They were also early. My vocation was born in the days of the so-called Latin Mass, when I was in the seventh and eighth grades.

There was something about Mass that mystified me. I had it memorized and “said” it often. Remembering my pastors at the time, I cannot now separate their personal influence from the sacramental action where I encountered them the most frequently. But attracted to priesthood I was.

Foremost among my childhood attractions to Mass was the blessing the priest imparted at the very end. While speaking this strange language of heaven, he seemed to scoop God out of the sky and spread divine presence on all those around: “Benedicat vos, Omnipotens Deus, Pater, et Filius, et Spritus Sanctus.” We, the congregation, would fall on bended knee, receiving Father’s blessing. Whether at Mass, in the CCD classroom, or at home, this mixture of word and gesture always evoked a sense of awe and reverence.

Now that I am a priest, I obviously find myself imparting the blessing of God in a recognizably similar fashion. (Yes, the faithful still ask for the priest’s blessing - not many, but a significant number.) I still sense that atmosphere of reverence and mystery, but nowadays something is missing. Gone is any sense that the priest is the necessary channel for God’s blessing to be imparted. The “holy man” is no longer needed to snatch God from the heavens and bring grace to earth. Chosen for ordination from among the faithful, the priest is valued as one of God’s people whose unique ministry in the name of the Church makes us conscious of God’s presence and challenge in our lives. He himself is sacrament.

Blessings — and all their associated gestures — should make clear the relationship between God and us. God is not out there, in the heavens, needing to be gathered up and imparted. Everything that exists already exists in God. Everything — except sin — is part of God’s loving, creative, gift of blessing.

The “blessing” of the bread and wine at Mass prior to the Eucharistic prayer is an excellent example of the reverent and powerful union of word and gesture. With either bread or wine slightly raised in his hands, the priest “blesses” these gifts with a short prayer of praise. God’s grace, or blessing, is recognized in the gifts of creation. As part of God’s creation, the bread and wine are already holy in a real sense. Because these works of human hands already speak of God’s loving presence, they can become for us our Bread of Life and Spiritual Drink through the sacramental action of the Church and the work of the Holy Spirit.

There is a part of my heart which misses the mystique of the priest’s blessing, but the emptiness betrays a need to find further balance in my spirituality. To look at blessings as if they snatch God out of the heavens is to let myself think and live as if my life (except for the sacred moments) were somehow separate from God. A more mature understanding of blessings should lead me to a way of thinking and living which is aware of the all-pervasive presence of God. I am beautifully blessed by God all the time — in small ways and in large.

When I either give or receive a blessing, I am now more conscious that this moment of word and gesture puts me in touch with the foundation of the reality in which I live. Life itself is grace and blessing.

(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.) (Download an order form in pdf format to print)

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