Seminar delivered by Fr Christopher Willcock, SJ on May 3, 2005
On Tuesday May 3rd, 2005, Fr Christopher Willcock SJ gave a seminar on "Everyday Blessings the Heart's Song, the Church's Praise". Chris teaches at the United Faculty of Theology. He is also a composer and illustrated his address with three pieces of his own music, A Newman Grace, Cleanse Us, Lord, and It is Good to Give You Thanks.
Fr Christopher spoke about the various meanings and situations when giving blessings are appropriate. For one thing, he sees blessings as being a two-way affair between what can be an area of understanding or even an absence of understanding for different people. Blessing, he explained, is the development of a habit which is rooted in our daily life. Secondly, he spoke about how music can shape that habit and bring it to fruition. He believes that just as blessing and thanksgiving are part of the Eucharist, so then the degree to which we give a blessing in our lives is the degree to which we can be called a Eucharistic people.
"I, or we, bless God." What does this mean? If God is the source of all blessing, then that blessing is a public act by a preacher directed at the Creator. It is a public act of recognition, and is thus different from a prayer or meditation.
Fr Christopher considers that blessings preserve the link between the world and its origin. A relationship or covenant is established whereby God and the creation bless each other. A formal blessing, or Grace, is said before a formal or family meal, in which thanks is given for the food and the life that the food gives us. An example of an informal blessing is that given after someone sneezes.
Between the Eucharist and non-eucharistic meals there is a relationship which is neither accidental nor imaginary. There is a network of associations and habits that feed and foster our non-eucharistic meal, as the food keeps us alive. As the world has changed in the past fifty years, most are informal meals today. But formal ones have their codes of seating, dress, order and other conventions. A formal blessing in the meal calls for a response in which we thank God, the cook, the farmer, and so on in a chain of thanksgiving.
He noted, mentioning St Augustine, Hippolytus and Tertullian, how we needed to consider the Creator and not just the created. In the early Christian era every action had an appropriate prayer. Prayers were linked with hours, communal prayer came before individual prayer. But as the Greco-Roman world replaced the Jewish world of the early Christians, so did the Jewish customs therein fade.
Asked why 'happy' had replaced 'blessed' in some modern translations of the Beatitudes, he spoke of the difficulty of providing modern translations, how words changed their meaning and about what happens when old words need new replacements.
Fr Christopher said that next time we were at a meal when Grace was said, or when someone asks for or is given a blessing, we will have a better understanding in our hearts of why this word 'Grace' should never be thought of as something perfunctory.
Report by Chris Martin.