At various times and in many different ways, priests bless things.
Most notably, at the end of a liturgy, the priest blesses the whole congregation -- pretty much no matter who is out there in the pews or what these people may or may not have done. Priests have been known to bless entire crowds at other public events.
It's a blessing. Priests give out lots of them. So does the pope, come to think of it.
Most importantly, it's not the moment at the end of Confession when, after hearing the penitent confess his or her sins, the priest extends his hand over the person's head and says:
God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.
The penitent answers: Amen.
This brings us to yet another one of those moments when Pope Francis takes an action that shocks people in the mainstream media, even though it is not all that shocking to people who are active in the Catholic Church.
Wait, is The Daily Beast mainstream media? Well, this particular story is pretty straightforward news, so let's go for it since it has the key information in one chunk. We'll jump in at the summary material:
The latest in a long list of dust-ups came this week when Francis apparently gave his blessing to Francesca Pardi, a children’s book author who happens to be lesbian and who has a title on the list of banned books in the Venice school district that has sparked a feud between Venice mayor Luigi Bugnaro and the likes of Elton John.
In the wake of the fiasco in Venice, during which one of Pardi’s books was yanked from public schools, she sent a few books to the pontiff along with a letter asking for his blessing. As we have seen countless times before, the pope gave a seeingly impromptu response, bestowing on Pardi and her wife and four children an apostolic blessing. She tweeted a picture of the papal envelope addressed to her with the announcement, “The pope answered!”
How many other undiscovered news stories were there in the pope's mail that same day or week? We will never know. We do know that what may appear to be shifts in doctrines about homosexuality are worth headlines, any time, any place.
But moving on:
A few days later, she posted on her Facebook page a lengthy clarification of the facts after the story of her blessing broke. For one, she says, the book is not in the Vatican library. “Fact one: I received a letter that was written on behalf of Pope Francis.
Now there is a candid wording: "Written on behalf of ..." Who knows what that means, in busy executive speech?
Fact two: the Vatican has confirmed to me that my letter had been read,” she wrote. “Fact three: I was told that the gift of the books and the letter were a delicate gesture and theat they appreciated the sentiments. Fact four: it was expressed that we continue our activities in the service of the younger generation and dissemination of human and Christian values. Fact five: it is a private expression of respect for us and for our business. Fact six: Meri and I have received the apostolic blessing. These are the facts. The rest are interpretations.”
OK, my instinct is that the only real news here is in Fact four, which concerns the alleged content of the papal letter. Was the actual text of said letter released by people on either side of this exchange, or are reporters simply taking Pardi's word for this info: "It was expressed that we continue our activities in the service of the younger generation and dissemination of human and Christian values."
After the headline and after this fact claim, the story does include a bit of basic information about what this does NOT mean.
The pope’s blessing of the author, of course, does not mean the Vatican approves same-sex unions. On the contrary, the Vatican spokesman was quick to repeat what has become a mantra when speaking for Francis, that the pope’s actions do not change Church teachings. Papal spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini said in a statement, “The blessing of the pope at the end of the letter was directed to the person, not at any possible teachings that are not in line with the doctrine of the church on gender theory, which hasn't changed a bit as the Holy Father has repeated even recently.”
Church teachings may not have changed, but actions like the blessing of a lesbian author do have a trickle down effect.
Yes, and there we are again. What is the practical impact of this gesture? Press coverage. Did the pope deliberately have someone write this letter and send it to Pardi as part of a press campaign to change centuries of Catholic teaching? The answer to that question depends on what you think this pope is up to, before his upcoming visit to the United States.
I contacted a reader active in Catholic apologetics and asked for his reaction. Basically, the reader said blessings of this kind are not that big a deal.
The recipient also plays a part. Without their consent to the grace imparted, it will not become efficacious in their lives. ... Every sinner needs blessings.
Well, that was worth a couple of hundred stories. Stay tuned, I guess.
IMAGE: A popular online images with obvious digital editing.