Excessive blessings?

Question: I bless myself with holy water when I enter and leave the Church. Several people said I should not bless myself more than once a day, since I am already blessed. Is there a rule about this?

Name withheld, Sarasota, Florida

Answer: No there is no rule in this regard. It is a matter of personal piety, and you are free to follow the practice you describe.

Generally speaking, there were some efforts when the ordinary form of the Mass was introduced in the 1970s to downplay or eliminate extra signs of the cross that had come into the Mass by custom. For example, there was the tendency to make the sign of the cross after the Confiteor, and many priests began and ended the sermon with the Sign of the Cross, etc. There was a conscious effort by some liturgists to emphasize that the Mass began and ended with the Sign of the Cross, and that other merely customary introductions should be eliminated to give emphasis to those prescribed moments of blessing.

Further, some liturgists thought that other pious customs such as the priest giving a blessing to the servers or others in the sacristy after Mass should cease. After all, they reasoned, had he not just blessed them at the end of the Mass? Did this request for a blessing in the sacristy suggest that the blessing at Mass was inadequate?

It was also this premise that made some think that while blessing oneself with holy water on entering was a proper and even necessary sanctifying action, to do so on leaving gave the impression that the blessings in Mass were not adequate or that people had actually lost sanctity during the Mass.

While such concerns are not without some merit, as you can see there is also the possibility that we think a little too much about some things and can end up getting fussy or even pharisaical.

A gentle teaching is good that seeks to elevate the understanding that the blessings at Mass are real and powerful blessings, not mere ritual actions. This may, in a constructive way, lessen the felt need for extra blessings after Mass. However, to assume that people are denying the efficacy of the Mass by the pious customs described here is a stretch. You remain free to bless yourself any number of times a day so long as superstitious notions are avoided.

Age-old question

Question: If we teach that life begins at conception, why do we account our age from the day of our birth?

Victor Bunton, Elkhorn, Wisconsin

Answer: We should recall that our modern understandings of fetal development have come a long way. So has our capacity to account for time in a more accurate way.

Yet even with our more developed understanding of conception and fetal development, and our more accurate calendars and timepieces, it is not always easy to fix the exact day of our conception (and it might be a little rude to ask a lot of questions to do so).

I was born July 10, 1961, but all I can say is that I was conceived sometime in early October 1960. Birth however is a pretty clear demarcation. It is the day when everyone could see me, and refer to an agreed upon calendar on the wall.

Thus, while not denying that life begins at conception, fixing our age by the day of our birth is currently more practical and certain.

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 msgrpope@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.