Bless Your Children
By Archabbot Ignatius
Is the average family as close-knit as it used to be? Hardly. To even a casual observer the declining unity of the modern family is evident. The scattered members of many families seem never to have experienced “how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” Home, in many instances, is a place to be shunned rather than a haven to be sought. Cars, movies, public recreation, and innumerable clubs and organizations are often blamed for causing the breakdown of home life. But they are not the cause of family disunion. Nor is even an overuse of these things causing the difficulty. An abuse of outside recreation is merely a symptom of the lack of family oneness and home attraction, not its cause. What is lacking is a unifying principle, a bond that will cement the members of a family together so tightly that the disruptive agencies will lose their power.
Natural ties are not strong enough; they can be overcome by natural forces. The bond that can really keep parents and children close to one another is their mutual love “in Christ.” All love comes from God. So family that is close to God will naturally develop stronger ties between its members.
There is a little known custom that can go a long way toward developing this awareness of God’s love and its connection with family living. It’s called the parental blessing.
Parents Have Always Blessed Their Children
Parental blessing is as old as the human race. It began with the oldest patriarchs. Throughout the Old Testament it was the usual method of transmitting divine favors. The blessings conferred on their children by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are known to all who read the Bible. The Bible gives us an authoritative statement on parental blessing:
In word and deed honor your father that his blessing may come upon you; for a father’s blessing gives a family firm roots, but a mother’s curse uproots the growing plant” (Ecclus 3:8-9).
There are many Scriptural instances in which a parent’s blessing is efficacious. Consider young Tobias. He had to undertake a long journey to collect a debt for his aged, blind father. Before departing he received the blessing of the elder Tobias in these beautiful words: “May you have a good journey, may God be with you in your way, and may His Angel accompany you.” God sent the Angel Raphael, disguised as a traveler, to accompany the young man. He protected Tobias and saw that he collected the money. Tobias won the daughter of the debtor for his wife, and when he returned to his father, the father was cured of his blindness. Surely, God answered the blessing of his father.
Christ Wants You To Bless Your Children
Our Lord used to gather little children around Himself and bless them. “Suffer the little children to come unto Me,” He said. “And embracing them, and laying His hands upon them, He blessed them.” Parents of today love their children. They embrace them. Why do they not lay hands upon them in a blessing? Parents so rarely bless their children that one is inclined to think the privilege no longer exists. Has the parental blessing lost its efficacy in the New Testament? Has Christ’s coming changed the essential relations between parent and child? Has matrimony, elevated by the Savior to the dignity of a Sacrament, been lowered in spiritual value? Surely not. Jesus, in the New Testament, has increased the number and capacity of the channels of grace, of which the parental blessing is one.
Jesus wants children to be blessed. Certainly the blessing bestowed by Jesus is more efficacious than that bestowed by parents. So also is the blessing of a Priest. Even so, parental blessing is something so holy, so powerful; that it deserves to be called “Sacramental of the Domestic Hearth.” The picture of the young mother placing hands of benediction on an innocent child is beautiful. No less inspiring is the sight of an aged parent, giving with trembling hands a blessing to a full-grown son or daughter. This is a privilege that belongs to fathers and mothers. Often you are urged to do your duty. Here you are urged to use a privilege that is yours by divine grant – a privilege that goes with the dignity of parenthood. Why not bless your children?
The Value of Blessing
If this “Sacramental of the Domestic Hearth” were more frequently administered, there would be happier, contented families. The two indispensable factors for happiness in the home are amiable authority on the part of the parents and loving obedience on the pat of the children. Parents who bless are reminded frequently of their responsible dignity. In their power to bless they recognize the channel of grace that they do not want to obstruct by bad example. It is easy, too, for the child to see God’s representatives in a parent before whom he frequently kneels for blessing. With this recognition come the love, reverence, and obedience that children owe their parents. If your home is not all that you would like it to be, try blessing your children regularly. It will encourage oneness, love, reverence, and obedience.
In the lives of the Saints and the saintly, we find many examples to spur us on in promoting this worthy custom. The last words of the mother of St. Gregory of Nyssa were her words of benediction pronounced over her ten children. The dying mother of St. Edmund called her son from Paris to England to bestow on him her blessing. St. Thomas Moore, even when advanced in years and dignity as the Lord Chancellor of England, never left his father’s home without asking for his blessing. St. Therese, the Little Flower, whose simple sanctity has made her so popular, tells us that the custom of blessing the children prevailed in the Martin home. In her autobiography, she expressly mentions the blessing received from her father on one occasion, the day she entered the convent. She writes: “The next morning, after a last look at the happy home of my childhood, I set out for the Carmel, where we all heard Mass. I embraced my dear ones, and knelt for my father’s blessing. He, too, knelt down and blessed me through tears.”
Some years ago, the papers attracted the attention of readers with the headline: “Bishop Kneels for Mother’s Blessing.” The Bishop was the Right Reverend F. T. Roch, Bishop of Tuticurin He met his mother at the railway station. There, in the presence of a crowd of people, he “knelt before his mother to receive her blessing, and the grand old lady, placing her wrinkled hands on the head of her illustrious son, moved many a spectator to tears.” Fathers and mothers, open up to your children this effective means of grace. Make a diligent and frequent use of this great privilege.
When To Bless Your Children
When ought parents to bless their children? At night or after evenings prayers is a very good time to give the daily blessing. Before going on a trip, undertaking an important or dangerous task, and during sickness, children ought to get their parents’ blessing. At the more important turning points in life –entering school, First Holy Communion, marriage, or upon entering a convent or monastery– parents ought to solemnly bless their children.
Send a blessing even to your absent children. Before you go to bed at night, think of the absent sons or daughters. They may be in real need of your help. Your blessing is the most powerful help you can give them. Protect them with the sacred sign of the Cross that you make over them. Include a “God bless you, my child” in your letters. If possible, your last blessing should be given to all the children when you are at the point of death.
How to Give The Blessing
How is the parental blessing given? It should be done in a simple but reverent manner. Place your hand on the head of the kneeling child and say: “I bless you my child, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” While saying this, make the sign of the Cross upon his forehead with the thumb of your right hand. If you bless all your children at once, simply extend your hand over them all, and trace a Cross over them, while you pronounce the words. Actually, the form of the blessing is not important. Any appropriate words of your own choosing may be used. Vary them to suit the occasion. The words of Tobias quoted earlier in this pamphlet may be adapted to any situation. Simply let the words of blessing indicate what you wish for your children. The children may be in any position for the blessing, though kneeling is naturally more significant. The Blessing need not be solemn, but it should be serious.
I hope young parents will welcome this happy privilege. I hope that the proud young mother will lay hands of blessing upon their precious baby and continue the custom throughout their lives. And what of the older families, where through ignorance of this sacramental custom, the parental blessing has never been given? Older parents rather reluctantly make a change in their family life. But they will not refuse their blessing if their grown-up sons and daughters ask for it. Nor ought children hesitate in asking for a gift that surpasses all natural gifts that parents can give. Hopefully, some of these parents will offer a blessing to their children, at least on the major events of their lives.
Good fathers and mothers endure labors, fatigue, and pain to give their children natural gifts, life and life’s necessities. Generously add to these bestowals the crowning gift – your blessing. It will help to sanctify all the rest. St. Ambrose says: “You may not be rich, you may be unable to bequeath any great possessions to your children; but one thing you can give them: the heritage of your blessing. And it is better to be blessed than to be rich.” May God doubly bless the parents who bless their children.
Queen of the Holy Rosary Mediatrix of Peace Shrine
W5703 Shrine Road, Necedah, WI 54646
Phone: (608) 565-2617 (L-472A)