Column: Double meaning of ‘blessed’ deserves further study

Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.
Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Mike Stubbs

Once in a while after Mass, someone will ask me to bless a rosary or a medal or some other article of devotion.

What do they mean by that? Does “to bless” mean to set aside for a religious purpose? Does it mean to infuse with spiritual power? Does it mean to ask for God’s favor — in this case, asking God to use the article of devotion as an instrument to convey that favor?

We might note that the English word “blessed” translates two different words in the Greek text. The first is a verb in the passive voice: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Often in the Bible, the passive voice indicates action by God, who, out of reverence, is not specifically named. This is called the divine passive. If we convert that sentence to the active voice, it would read: “God has blessed you among women and God has blessed the fruit of your womb.”

We return to the question that I posed earlier: What does “to bless” mean in this case?

It appears that it means “God has shown favor” to Mary and to her unborn child. Understood this way, Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary would correlate closely to the angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary, “Hail, O highly favored one” (Lk 1:28). The angel goes on to clarify, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

God has shown favor to Mary by choosing her to become the mother of the Messiah. That is the blessing God has conferred upon her. “Blessed are you among women.”

And in the case of Jesus, what blessing has God conferred upon him? God has designated him as the Messiah: “Blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

Elizabeth recognized Jesus as the Messiah by calling him Lord: “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Thus, the blessing of the mother is linked to the blessing of her son. Mary is blessed, because Jesus has been blessed.

And what about the third instance of the word “blessed” in the Gospel reading? “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” In this case, the English word “blessed” translates a Greek adjective that can also mean “fortunate, happy.” The word focuses upon the state of being fortunate, and does not point to any action which resulted in that state. It is the same word that begins the beatitudes found in Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels, (Mt 5:3-12; Lk 6:20-23).

In that way, the word “blessed” links Sunday’s Gospel reading to another significant passage in the Gospels — the beatitudes, a focal point of Jesus’ teaching. That teaching shows us how we also can be blessed.

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