December 15, 2017

The Evangelical Liturgy 22: The Benediction

beneWe’re nearing the end of this series. I’m very honored by all of you who have stayed along for the entire ride. I hope that someone has given consideration to the lost glory of the Protestant liturgical tradition and the many wonderful Biblical, Gospel and ecumenical connections that are possible in re-establishing some form of it in evangelicalism.

The Benediction is the “good word” that brings the worship service to a formal close. For many Christians, some form of a scriptural Benediction will form these closing words, such as the Aaronic blessing we have all heard many times.

May the Lord bless you and keep you; may He make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you; may He lift up His countenance on you and give you peace. —Numbers 6:22-27 (NIV)

There are many Biblical passages that were either intended as Benedictions or can be easily formed into benedictions.

The minister is speaking the blessing of God over God’s people. This is a special and powerful moment in worship. It shouldn’t be overlooked or understated. Here is the opportunity to send the people of God out with the peace of God and the Gospel over them.

In some traditions, the Benediction is combined with a “charge” to the congregation. Here the minister says “I charge you to…..” and he speaks some application or summary of the Gospel word for that day. Then the Benediction pronounces God’s blessing over all that has been said and assures God’s people of his presence as they go and live out the Gospel.

The Benediction suffered greatly in Protestantism when it was decided it was an opportune moment to call on a congregation member to pronounce a closing prayer. Many of these prayers are disconnected from the Word that has been spoken or are rote recitations of trivial pronouncements.

In my own practice, I enjoy making the sign of the cross and pronouncing the final Benediction as a Trinitarian blessings, pronouncing the blessing of the Trinitarian God over the congregation as they go into the world. (I also pronounce a Trinitarian blessing at the beginning or ending of the sermon.)

The discipline of using a liturgically substantial Benediction conveys a focus and a seriousness about what has happened in worship.

Some churches will be able to use a musical Benediction from time to time. The congregation can be taught musical responses from the Biblical Benedictions or a choir/vocal ensemble may sing the closing blessing.

In the Name of the Father, the Love of Jesus and the Power of the Holy Spirit, go forth into the world as people of hope and servants of the Gospel and all those who need it.

Comments

  1. When one gives a blessing, whether as a pastor, as a family member over the dinner table, as a parent over a child, as a father over a family, etc., one is behaving in the likeness of God, “who causes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” There is a reason why one of the doxologies that many churches sing says, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow . . .”

    In the Old Testament, blessings were constantly spoken, and not just by pastors. We need to return to the practice of giving blessings or praying blessings out loud.

    • Working as I’ve done with a lot of lay Roman Catholics, I’ve found that some of them are horrified by the idea of pronouncing any kind of blessing (other than grace before meals) or making the sign of the cross over anything except themselves. The usual reaction is “Don’t you have to be a priest to do that?”

      And of course you don’t — that certainly has _not_ been the case through most of Christian — or even most of Roman Catholic — tradition. Parents routinely blessed their children at bedtime for centuries, for instance.

      Thankfully, I think the idea of a deep, awe-inspiring gulf between “what priests can do” and “what any Christian can do” has diminished somewhat since Vatican II. But it’s still very present in some people’s minds.

      • We have not always done a good job explaining the difference between a blessing pronounced in the name of the Church, which ought to be done by a clergyperson, and a personal blessing in a home or informal setting. They are both blessings, but of different types.

        • True, especially since the wording of the prayer is generally the same (i.e. “May God bless you…”)

          Apparently the very notion that someone can give a personal blessing is news to some people. IMHO, the RCC has done a terrible job of educating its members, and worst of all, the education completely stops at about age 12 unless someone goes looking for it.

          I have long maintained that this is something many evangelical churches do much better: they assume that *everyone* goes to Sunday School, child or adult. The quality of the education provided may vary, of course, but at least they are promoting the idea that no one ever stops learning. 😉

  2. Like many of the posts in this series, I didn’t even know what this sort of thing was until several years after joining the Navy, when my traditional faith beliefs and practices were challenged and opened up. The church we now go to has a pastor that does this every Sunday. It’s interesting, if not refreshing. Ours is always scripture and I find myself feeling a sense of enjoyment when I hear the words.

    Someday, when I’m a full-time pastor, I plan on utilizing the benediction, at least in some form because of the message it gives the congregation. Thank you for these articles. I’ve learned a lot about my own faith that I didn’t know before!

  3. My pastor does a benediction after each service. I really like it.

  4. Imonk,

    I have a couple of questions.

    1. I know you supply at a Presbyterian church, do you do the Trinitarian formula with the sign of the cross at your school? Or when you go to other baptist churches? If so, what is the reaction.

    2. The baptist in me wants to reject the sign of the cross as gross and vulgar superstition 🙂 but I honestly have to say it is one of my favorite parts of the Anglican services I get to attend. How ancient is the practice? And did the reformers reject it outright or did they keep it?

    • Well, if you’re willing to trust a gross and vulgar superstitious Catholic on this… 😉

      Regarding your second question, as to how ancient is the practice – from the online old 1912 “Catholic Encyclopedia” on the custom:

      “Of all the above methods of venerating this life-giving symbol and adopting it as an emblem, the marking of a little cross seems to be the most ancient. We have positive evidence in the early Fathers that such a practice was familiar to Christians in the second century. “In all our travels and movements”, says Tertullian (De cor. Mil., iii), “in all our coming in and going out, in putting of our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupieth us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross”. On the other hand this must soon have passed into a gesture of benediction, as many quotations from the Fathers in the fourth century would show. Thus St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his “Catecheses” (xiii, 36) remarks: “let us then not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the cross our seal, made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in every thing; over the bread we eat and the cups we drink, in our comings and in goings; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are travelling, and when we are at rest”.

      • Martha,

        Thank you, and I don’t consider you gross or superstitous. That is my own theological baggage and hang up:)

        I’m sure the practice and habbit I’m about to describe violates all sorts of conventions, cannon laws, and customs of all sorts of folks but each night for the last several months when I check in on my 2 year old and 5 year old I make the sign of the cross on their forhead and say the Trinitarian formula.

        I’m not sure that it is right to do so, but as the old country song said, “How can something that feels so right be wrong?” 🙂

        Peace
        Austin

        • Oh, Austin, I’m plenty gross and vulgar (and proud of it! she said) and can be superstitious too 🙂

          You’re blessing your child and asking the love and protection of the Trinity. So long as you don’t invoke Mary or the Saints, I can’t see the Righteousness Police having anything to get you on 😉

          Hey, according to Wikipedia, even Lutherans and Methodists still do it – if it;’s good enough for Big Marty, it should be good enough for anyone! (I don’t imagine *anything* was good enough for John Knox or Jean Cauvin, but who knows?)

          • Of course, there have always been Protestants who rejected the idea as well — David Cressy has stories in one of his books on 16th-17th century England about parents *snatching* their infant back from the arms of the (Anglican) priest at baptism to prevent him making the sign of the cross on the infant’s brow 😉

    • http://scotkinnaman.com/2006/09/28/how-lutherans-worship-2-making-the-sign-of-the-cross/

      There is an article on the subject of the sign of the cross I recently came across.

      • Brigitte, I see in reading that article about making the sign of the cross that the Lutherans touch the right shoulder and then the left, as opposed to Catholics doing it left, then right. I think the Orthodox may do it right, then left, like the Lutherans. For those of you talking about “unity” we can’t even all do this simple sign the same way! It’s not a big deal to me, really. It kinds of makes me laugh, actually.

        • That is really bizarre Joanie! I wonder, now. It hardly matters exactly how it’s done, since doing or not doing is adiophra. I have seen, however, a documentary on orthodox immigrants to northern Alberta and how it was a big deal exactly how it is done, to the point of major division.

          Personally, I did not grow up with it. It was definitely too “Catholic”. I kind of like it in private but have not got myself to do it in public, generally. I appreciate decent teaching on it. It is very centering, in a way.

  5. In our little Hebrew Christian fellowship, we end with the Aaronic Benediction, sung in Hebrew and then recited in English. People really connect with it.

    • This, combined with Chris’ comment above about some Roman Catholics thinking that only a priest can pronounce a benediction, reminds me of an amusing experience with the Aaronic Blessing a few years ago:

      It was a fairly mixed (ecumenical) gathering in the basement of a Catholic parish church here in Vienna, Austria, at the invitation of one of the lay members of the parish but with the pastor present.

      The occasion was a visit to Vienna of Benjamin Berger, a Messianic Jewish leader from Jerusalem, as well as a German sister who lives in Israel.

      At the end of the meeting someone asked Benjamin to pronounce the benediction, which he did, chanting the Aaronic Blessing.

      A number of the Catholics present got very agitated at the notion of a non-ordained, non-Catholic presuming to bless the congregation when there was a perfectly good Catholic priest present.

      Needless to say the priest was rather unperturbed and didn’t think it strange or inappropriate at all.

  6. Our congregation is small, non-liturgical, participatory, and Elder-led. We have recently begun to use a benediction following the sermon and a closing hymn. The benediction gives a more formal closure to the worship time. Ours is always scripture and brings our focus back to the One we came to worship. (Sermons can be pretty distracting, at times). And the benediction sure beats, “Sunday school for all ages/You’re invited to stay for a cup of coffee”.

  7. Years ago, the LA Times had a comic strip with the caption, “Another way to tell that your pastor is an ex-cop”:
    It shows the pastor standing for the benediction, and pressing his palms outward to the congregation he declares firmly, “ALL FOLKS, LET’S MOVE ALONG, THERE’S NOTHING MORE TO SEE HERE.”

    • Funnily enough, the “Ite, missa est” dismissal after Mass meant pretty much the same thing as that cartoon: “Go” or “It is sent” – in other words, telling the congregation to get out! 😉

      For the new English translation of the Mass which is coming out sometime soon, there are three alternatives suggested (here in a news report from last year):

      “The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published an interview Oct. 17 with Cardinal Arinze, head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

      He said along with “Ite, missa est,” the Latin phrase now translated as “The Mass is ended, go in peace,” the new options are:

      •“Ite ad Evangelium Domini annuntiandum” (Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord).

      •“Ite in pace, glorificando vita vestra Dominum” (Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life).

      •“Ite in pace” (Go in peace).

      The idea for alternative words at the end of Mass was raised at the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. Many bishops wanted the final words to reflect a more explicit connection between Mass and the Church’s mission of evangelization in the world.

      Cardinal Arinze said the concern was that, for many Catholics, the present words of dismissal sounded like “The Mass is ended, go and rest.”

      • How about the Baptist form- “Were done, see yall at six tonight for Training Union, now go get in line at Ryan’s.”

        For the unintiated, Ryans is a low quality steak house with a buffet bar.

      • As far back as I can remember, the German translation of “Ite, missa est” used in Austria and Germany has been “Gehet hin in Frieden!” (Go forth in peace) to which the congregation responds “Dank sei Gott dem Herrn!” (Thanks be to God the Lord).

        The translation quarrels over the Roman liturgy so common in the US seem to be mostly an English-language problem; I do not recall all that much kerfuffle about this in the German-speaking world.

        I guess it helps that in German the words for “men” (male humans) and “men” (members of mankind, regardless of sex) are different, so that particular discussion which seems to be at the foundation or most of the “inclusive language” squabbles never took off like it did in English.

  8. Steve Newell says:

    In the Lutheran church that I have attended, that pastor would quote Phil 4:7 “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” After a hymn was sung, the Pastor would close with “Go in peace and serve the Lord” with the congregation replying “Thanks be to God”.

  9. Steve Newell says:

    For me, the Invocation and Benediction are the “book ends” to the Christian Worship. We gather together in the name of the Triune God and we are sent with the blessing of the Triune God.

  10. @SteveNewell, services at my church end similarly.

    Leader: “May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, and may the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among us, and remain with us always.”

    All: “Amen.”

    Then the closing hymn (during which candles are extinguished).

    Leader: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

    All: “Thanks be to God!”

    I’m too I-don’t-know-what to make gestures when pronouncing the blessing, but my pastor lifts his right hand during the “may the blessing…” part.

    • At our Anglican parish, this is the form that our priest uses. The benediction is from the BCP, the original one, and the latter part has been added in newer, liturgical revision. Our priest makes the sign of the cross over us when he pronounces the Triune name in the benediction.

  11. I wish our rock ‘n’ roll semi-megachurch even offered a benediction (well they’ll do it after a somewhat quieter communion service). The very last praise song is often the most raucous, and a formal benediction just wouldn’t fit. Thus we get “see you next week” or “that’s all; we’ll see you later” or “have a great week.” Oh so clueless! Mercy! (But it’s still a fine church!)

  12. Christiane says:

    Here’s a Franciscan Benediction. (not quite sure it’s appropriate for dismissal, but certainly appropriate for ‘sending forth to love and serve the Lord’:

    “May God bless you with discomfort, At easy answers, half-truths, And superficial relationships
    So that you may live deep within your heart.

    May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
    So that you may work for Justice, Freedom, and Peace.

    May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
    So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

    And may God bless you with enough foolishness
    To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
    So that you can do what others claim cannot be done
    To bring justice and kindness to all our children and to the poor”.

    Amen.

  13. I’m just now starting to read your blog and will have to go back over your series. I grew up Fundamental Missionary Baptist in southeastern Kentucky and eventually found myself in the Anglican communion, so I’ve seen all sorts of benedictions in my life!

  14. This post reminded me how deeply I really miss the benediction. It’s been years since I’ve been to a church that did this regularly. Current church is good in many ways, but “have a good week” said by the “worship leader” (musician) after the last song seems paltry to say the least. I’d love to hear the Aaronic benediction or any trinitarian benediction. I like the Franciscan benedictiion above, too.

  15. H.m.m.m. Interesting, friend Monk, that you reference the benediction from Numbers 6:22ff, but when you quote it you do what so many protestants/evangelicals do, you add the word “May” at the beginning. This may seem like splitting theological hairs, but the word from God was: “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: The Lord bless you…”
    It has always seemed to me that this good word when spoken as given by God becomes a clear statement of blessing from God himself, mediated through the Pastor speaking the words; but by adding the word “May,” the Benediction becomes a prayer. Think about it.
    Could this be a kind of false modesty–“who am I to speak for God”?

    • Grammatically, it means the same thing in English. Sort of a potential/subjunctive sort of thing.

    • The Hebrew text is not an imperative, so you “may” want to check your translation 🙂 God isn’t generally ordered around in the Bible.

    • “The Lord bless you” in English is definitely subjunctive, which is accurately rendered “May the Lord bless.” I don’t know Hebrew, so I can’t speak for the original.

      The same goes with the Lord’s prayer. “Thy kingdom come” = “May thy kingdom come,” not “Come, thy kingdom!”

  16. After hearing what a church in South America does, I have started cupping my hands to “receive” the benediction.

    Does anyone know whether it is proper to look up and receive the benediction or to bow the head. I know it doesn’t really matter, but I was interested in your thoughts.

    As for the sign of the cross, Martin Luther was very much for it. There are lots of quotes at this site: http://www.angelfire.com/ny4/djw/lutherantheology.signofthecross.html.