Those who were at the ordination in Montreal last weekend—or any other ordination recently—might note that the examination describes the tasks of priestly ministry: “you are to preach, to declare God’s forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce God’s blessing, to preside at the administration of holy baptism and at the celebration of the mysteries of Christ’s body and blood, and to perform the other ministrations entrusted to you.” (BAS p. 646, 1979 BCP p. 531).
Perhaps those who are studying at Dio while discerning a call to priestly ministry can point to one or more of those tasks as part of their particular vocation. When I was a student, my imagination was captured first and foremost by “to preach” and “to preside at the administration of holy baptism and at the celebration of the mysteries of Christ’s body and blood.”
I learned the importance of the “to pronounce God’s blessing” in a reception hall at St. Joseph’s Oratory a few years after I was ordained. After an ecumenical service, I ran into an acquaintance, a Roman Catholic priest. I was holding my then-infant son, and, almost as soon as he greeted me, he asked to bless my baby. I don’t remember the words of the blessing—just that it seemed like such a natural reflex, naming this baby as God’s beloved, speaking of God’s care and protection for him. For my sleeping baby, I don’t think anything changed—he didn’t even stir, even as I was given new insight into priestly ministry.
Most of the time, pronouncing God’s blessing is about seeing and affirming what is already true, and proclaiming it in word and deed. Speaking God’s blessing doesn’t make things into what they are not, turn the profane into something holy. Instead, it makes public what people and things already are: created by, loved by, redeemed by God. When we speak God’s blessing over babies and their parents, or congregations at the end of a service, or couples at their weddings, or over those who are sick or scared or alone, we are announcing that God knows them and loves them. When we bless homes, or hospital rooms, we aren’t making them into places where God is now, but once was not, but rather recognize that God dwells among us.
Sometimes, the “other ministrations entrusted to you” take up the bulk of my working days. The other tasks find their place, too. But this call—to pronounce God’s blessing—remains a touchstone that I return to again and again. It is foundational to priestly ministry, and it’s essence—to see and proclaim the truth of God’s presence and action—is at the heart of the ministry of the whole people of God.
This message was written by College Chaplain Jen Bourque for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.