That is the question I have for Monday.
For the liturgical snobs out there, I know that it is Lent and we aren’t encouraged by Michno to bless in Lent, but to recite a “prayer over the people,” as was the most ancient custom of what would become the blessing much later. It is a little bit semantic, but an interesting difference nonetheless.
As I’ve been rereading my Hatchett and Mitchell commentaries on the Book of Common Prayer (and the aforementioned Michno classic A Priest’s Handbook), I am coming to the fundamental question: should we do a blessing at the dismissal on ordinary Sunday mornings? And if not, might there be a seasonal time to include them?
The history of the way we conclude the service is pretty mixed, having nothing after the Eucharist before the 4th Century, and concluding with a postcommunion prayer or prayer over the people as the norm for many centuries after that. The custom was actually an intentionally stark contrast to the pomp of the procession, having the bishop or priest conclude with a prayer and then departing. The effect of this was to highlight the imperitive to go out and do ministry in the world, rather than cloud it with the pomp of the beginning.
All of that excitement at the beginning is, of course to boost us up for worship, preparing ourselves for the sharing of the Word and Sacraments, and the conclusion was intended to contrast it; as if to say “OK, we got you ready; now go! Don’t wait for me to tell you what to do!”
Naturally, the pomp developed at the end, as well, swelling up, first with a short musical prayer, then replaced with a full hymn, and the postcommunion prayer, a blessing, and a formal dismissal. Liturgically, the rubrics for Rite I require a postcommunion prayer and a blessing, while making the dismissal optional. The rubrics for Rite II, on the other hand, require a postcommunion prayer and dismissal, but make the hymn and blessing optional.
Marion Hatchett points out that the blessing as we know it really only dates back to the 16th Century. Its most important role in the Prayer Book comes in two of the ordination rites, as the new priest is asked to offer a first blessing of her ordained ministry just minutes after it has happened, and the new bishop is given an elaborate blessing to sing or say at her ordination. Hatchett suggests that the rubric making it optional is a great opportunity to use different blessings, while Leonel Mitchell reminds us that the blessing is in fact optional.
So here it is: should we bless every Sunday? If so, isn’t it redundant and diminishing the potency of the worship? If not, when might we?
My own gut is leading me toward the first millennial customs, rather than the medieval or post-medieval ones (my own operating bias, anyway). I am intrigued by the sparse vision of concluding the Eucharist with a simple postcommunion prayer and dismissal, with the people scattering.
I am also wondering if there might be a time in which the blessing could be highlighted or given real prominence if used at specific times such as Holy Days. Or perhaps in the seasons of Advent (anticipation and hope) and Easter (joy and rebirth) when a blessing might take on a more profound meaning. I’d love some feedback, here and on Facebook and G+.