It is not often that parents get to perform official liturgical blessings. One example occurs during the Rite of Baptism. One of the first actions in the Rite of Baptism for infants is the blessing of the child. It is a simple blessing where the minister, parents, and optionally godparents trace the sign of the cross on the head of the child. It is a sign that welcomes the child into the Christian community and claims the child for Christ Himself. And in Her wisdom, the Church incorporates parents into this liturgical act.
Fortunately, I have been a beneficiary of many other parental blessings throughout my life. At every arrival or departure, and every commencement of an important event, from baseball games to entering religious life, I have received a similar blessing from my mother. She would trace the sign of the cross on my forehead and utter the blessing, “God Bless, Be Safe, Have Fun.” Perhaps mom learned it from the liturgy itself or received it as a traditional family practice handed down from her parents. Whatever the origin, all of my activities, whether I realized it or not, were marked by parental love and God’s blessing with the sign of the cross.
During the Christmas season we rightly meditate on the blessing of the Incarnation, especially the Word made Flesh in the Baby Jesus. What a wonder it must have been for Mary to hold her Divine Son in her arms and offer her parental love through a motherly blessing. Not that Baby Jesus was in need of a blessing – after all, He is Divine! – but the special character of the Incarnation was such that the Word made Flesh had a mother, a most Blessed Mother. Undoubtedly, this Blessed Mother imparted a kind of parental blessing to her most beloved Son throughout His life.
Perhaps, this is one of the joys of the Christmas season: a reawakened recognition of parental love. We can give thanks to God for sending His Son to us by receiving the blessings of our own parents with love and acceptance, just like the Christ-Child did. As children we do not often understand the sacrifices parents make on our behalf. We are often too caught up in our own selfish interests to notice, or we simply ignore the little things they do behind the scenes. As adults we come to recognize how that parental love – those parental blessings – decisively helped to form us into the Christians we are today. It is worth taking a few minutes to tell them that. Even those of us who may be estranged from our parents due to so many unfortunate circumstances can still honor them through prayer on their behalf.
The joy of the Christmas blessing some 2,000 years ago in the small town of Bethlehem began all the great blessings that parents have given throughout history in the name of Christ. Blessings, safety, and a little bit of fun. Remember, the Word was not brought into the world without them.
Image: Ferdinand Georg Waldmuller, Children Singing and Praying