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Is It Legitimate for Parents to Bless
Their Children?


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Dear TIA,

I am an adamant supporter of the Latin Mass and the Traditional Teachings of the Catholic Church. I also appreciate the work that you do.

After our Mass, the Traditionalists gather and hold a social-refreshment gathering where certain issues are discussed. One of the topics that came up was the Blessing of Children by their Parents before they depart from the house, or when they're older and arrive to visit or call. The child asks for their parent's or an older relative's blessing. This custom or tradition is practiced in many Hispanic and Filipino Families. This custom I am not sure, but I believe it originated in Spain which might have introduced it to the territories it occupied.

The controversy was that some said that the blessing by making the Sign of the Cross with your hand in front of your son or daughter was solely reserved for Priests. But it was OK for a Parent to sprinkle Holy Water on their child and recite the sign of the cross. I read somewhere the most powerful gift a Parent could give to his children, in the name of God, was his blessing.

Any comments you are able to provide would be greatly appreciated

     Sincerely in Christ,

     M.R.

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TIA responds:

Dear M.R.,

There are blessings proper to priests, and others proper to lay people.

The basic doctrine on blessing is that only God can produce in His creatures the effects of His blessing. However, the power to bless, which is essentially divine, was communicated by God to those creatures who represent Him on earth. While God, when He blesses, produces directly and by His own authority the effects of a blessing, His representatives and His ministers bless by invoking His name and by supplication. (Dictionnaire de Theologie Catholique, Vancant & Mangenot, entry Benediction)

There are three kinds of representatives of God included in this teaching: those who represent God by natural, religious or civil authority such as the fathers of families, priests or kings. (Dictionnaire de la Bible, Vigouroux, entry Benediction; Dictionnaire d’Archeologie Chretienne, Cabrol & Leclercq, entry Benediction)

The blessings of the sacred ministers are made in the name of the Church. The blessings of the fathers of family are private blessings.

1. Blessing proper to Church ministers

The Church divides the blessings reserved to her ministers (Pope, Bishop, priest, deacon or lector) into constitutive and invocative blessings.

A constitutive blessing is the one by which a person or thing becomes permanently destined for the divine worship. For example: the ordination of a priest or the consecration of the chalice for the Mass.

An invocative blessing is the one by which graces are asked for the spiritual benefit of persons or things. For example: the blessing of a woman after her parturition, the blessing of the fields to give good crops. (Code of Canon Law, 1917, canons 1145-1147; Dictionnaire de Droit Canonique, Naz, entry Sacramentaux)

2. Blessing proper to fathers

A. Ancient custom

It is a custom from time immemorial for lay people to bless their children and their friends or to curse their enemies.

Thus, Isaac blessed Jacob and with this blessing he replaced Esau. Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph, placing his hands over their heads. Moses blessed all the Israelites before he died. Solomon blessed all the people when the Temple was dedicated to God. Balaam blessed Israel by the order of the Lord, etc.

The blessing of children was also an old custom among the pagans. The whole theater play Oedipus the King by the Greek playwright Sophocles was based upon the blessing/curse Oedipus received when he was born.

B. Doctrine

The dominative power, says Suarez, does not pertain to the power of the keys and, therefore, does not come from Christ through a special gift given to the Church... The dominative power is the power of the head of the family over his children, the master over his servants. It is clearly distinct from the power of the keys and, consequently,  the power of jurisdiction, properly speaking. (Dictionnaire de Droit Canonique, R. Naz, entry, Abbesses)

C. Base on the Scriptures

In Ecclesiasticus we read: “The father’s blessing establishes the houses of the children; but the mother’s curse roots up the foundations” (3:11)

Fr. Cornelius a Lapide comments on this verse: “Here a reward is promised to the children who honor their parents. The latter will bless them, will desire good for them, and will pray to God that they will have every possible good. This blessing of fathers is given to them by God by the authority of their lordly and paternal right. It is normally efficacious and brought to effect by God.

“By ‘houses’ we should not understand only the material habitations, but more than that, the offspring and family. Hence, the verse translates:The blessing of the father makes the son be adorned with a rich, honored and splendid offspring and a family that will endure. But the curse of the mother destroys it to its very foundations; that is, it destroys and wipes out the offspring and family, its goods and honors.

“Examples of blessings are Noah's blessing to Sam and Japheth, and Abraham's blessing to Isaac, and Issac's to Jacob. This clearly shows that the foundation and root of the family and the happiness of the children lies is the honor of the parents.” (In Ecclesiasticum 3:11)

Therefore, you see that fathers can bless their children without any problem. The blessing can be the simple words: "God bless you," or making the Sign of the Cross in the air over them or on their foreheads. The Sign of the Cross is equivalent to affirming that Our Lord Jesus Christ is God and you are praying to Him to protect your children. You are not usurping any prerogative of the Church's ministers; you are only using your own natural paternal authority as a representative of God.

On another occasion, we may add more on this interesting topic, giving historic examples of the blessings of lords and kings, which also are perfectly legitimate and do not clash with those blessings reserved to the ministers of the Church.

We hope this will give you more assurance in continuing such a good custom.

     Cordially,

     TIA correspondence desk
Posted February 23, 2012

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