BENEDICTION: In the Roman Catholic Church a part of every liturgical act, belonging to the class of sacramental. (q.v.)--i.e., things which were instituted, not by Christ but by the hierarchic Church with divine authority, and which are supposed, in their application to persons and things, to communicate quasi ex opere operato through ordained priests the grace of God consisting in purification, supernatural revivification, and sanctification. The higher the hierarchical position of him who bestows the blessing, the more powerful it is. Benediction and exorcism are always connected; the latter breaks demoniac influences and drives away the demons, while the former communicates divine powers, not only positively, but also negatively in the way of purification, by blotting out sins of omission and the temporal punishment of sins, and removing satanic influences, thus having itself a sort of exorcism though not explicit. Where exorcism alone takes place, it is in an imperative manner, whereas the benediction is precative, yet with an effective divine power quasi ex opere operato by means of the sign of the cross. The personal benediction effects either a lasting habitus (e.g., anointing at baptism), or a forma gratis actualis for a passing object and condition (e.g., benediction for travelers, and the sick); both kinds work either in the main negatively by the removal of satanic influences or positively in illumination and bestowal of supernatural strength in body and soul. Benedictions of things are always primarily negative, and positive only in the second place, that the use and enjoyment of the objects may conduce to the welfare of man's body and soul. The supernatural powers are attached to the things by means of the benediction, and in their effect they are independent of the conduct of man ; either they make the things permanently res sacræ, affecting men in a purifying and sanctifying manner (baptismal water, holy water, rosaries, etc.), or they are of transient effect as conveying God's grace and protection. Sometimes they are also connected with indulgences. If anointing is applied, the benediction becomes a consecration, whereby the thing is dedicated to the service of God (e.g., monstrances, crosses, pictures, flags, organs, etc.).
As to the Evangelical conception of the benedictions, the words of Johann Gerhard give the proper point of view: "The priests [in the Old Testament] blessed by praying for good things; God blessed by bestowing the good things. Their blessing was votive, his effective. God promises to confirm this sacerdotal blessing on condition that it is given according to his word and will." Thus it is only God who effectively blesses; that is, communicates divine powers of his grace and his spirit; all human blessing is only intercession with God for his blessing. [According to the Roman Catholic view, the objective difference between liturgical and extraliturgical, ecclesiastical and private benediction is that in the former the efficacy emanates from the Church as a body by whose authority the rite was instituted and in whose name it is conferred and, in consequence, is supposed to be greater than in the latter where the effect depends on the intercession of an individual.] According to the Evangelical idea, there exists no objective difference between liturgical and extraliturgical, ecclesiastical and private benediction; it is only in a psychological way that the former may be more efficacious for the fulfilment of the subjective conditions of the hearing of prayer. Again, only persons, not things, can be blessed with God's spirit and grace. If things are nevertheless blessed, it means that they are set apart for ritual use and so long as they are thus employed, they will be sacred, while they are desecrated when used lightly apart from ritual purposes. The benediction of things takes place only by metonymy; the things are mentioned, but the persons are meant who use them. Thus, e.g., a cemetery is dedicated to its special use and handed over to the reverential protection of the living; a church edifice is dedicated by its being used and offered to the living congregation as a valuable religious possession because of its use. But the Roman Catholic traditions still in many ways influence the ideas held even among Protestants on the subject of benediction.
E. C. ACHELIS