Question: In the Nicene Creed, the phrase “rose again” appears related to Christ’s resurrection. Does this imply that there is more than one resurrection, or is this some quirk in the translation?
— Name withheld, Normal, Ill.
Answer: Yes, it is more of a quirk in the translation and of how we speak in English. There is only one resurrection.
The English word “resurrection” comes from the similar word in Latin, resurrexit which can be translated “he arose” but more literally means “he stood up again,” for re equals “again” and surrexit equals “he stood up.” The Greek text of the Creed also uses this construction: ἀναστάντα (anastanta) means “to stand up again,” ana means “again,” stanta means “to stand.”
Thus, when we render these concepts into English we use the word “again” to capture more the sense of the Latin and Greek texts, which speak of the resurrection in very physical terms. While in English we could simply say “he arose” or “he rose from the dead,” in a sense this is abstract and doesn’t quite capture the Latin and Greek, which emphasize the physical fact that Christ who was freely struck down in death is now standing up once again.
It is true that in English “again” can mean that some one has done something more than once, as in “he did it again,” implying that this is at least the second time he has done something. But “again” can also mean simply to return to a former state. In other words, Jesus who once stood among us fully alive, is now doing so again.
Question: Who can give blessings? There are laypeople in my parish giving blessings, and this does not seem right.
— Sister Mary Gemma Younger, Versailles, Ky.
Answer: Context and content are important in answering a question like this. In the liturgical setting only a priest (and sometimes the deacon) should be conferring blessings since they are present and available for such. Thus, the practice observed in some places of laypeople who are distributing Communion also giving blessings is inappropriate. The priest should be sought for this, apart from the communion line.
However, in other settings, laypeople can give certain blessings in certain ways. For example, a parent can bless a child, an elder can bless a youngster, etc. In doing this, however, they ought to avoid priestly gestures such as making the sign of the cross over others. Perhaps tracing the cross on the forehead is enough, or simply laying a hand on the head, or no gesture at all, are better.
In settings where laypeople are praying for one another, similar rules should be followed.
In the rare instances where laypeople lead formal liturgical gatherings, such as the Liturgy of the Hours, they must not only avoid gestures, but also follow prescribed texts that ask God’s blessing on the assembled believers, but do not imply they are bestowing such blessings.
Finally, there are certain specific prayers and blessings that can only be given by a priest. Most blessings of objects and sacramentals are reserved to clergy, and the laity ought to be content to offer simple prayers, asking blessings for one another only in appropriate contexts.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.