Recently a couple called me with a request to bless their marriage. It was unusual for me since the couple planned to elope or marry privately, then have a public ceremony several months later, when I would "bless" their marriage.
In some ways the couple may have been more faithful to ancient tradition than those who undertake today's customary nuptials. For at least the first three centuries C.E., Christians married according to the same customs as everyone else, without any special religious significance attached to their wedding ceremony. For centuries after that, Christians could contract a valid marriage without intervention from the Church. [Witness the marriage of Romeo and Juliet.] Even now most Christian churches believe that their ministers and priests do not "join" a couple, but are there only witness and bless a ceremony in which the bride and groom are the main actors.
So what happens when someone blesses a newly married couple? Unfortunately the conferral of a blessing, whether at a wedding or on other occasions, has been clothed in the trappings of magic. In the Roman Catholic Church, to "bless" is primarily the exclusive power of the ordained priest. With special "faculties" or authority delegated by the bishop, an ordained priest possesses the power to bless specific objects such as medals, scapulars or water. The power to bless goes hand in hand with ones rank: the blessings of a bishop is better than the blessing of a priest while the blessing of the pope is the most precious of all.
The "magic" mentality is nowhere to be found in the Scriptures. For example, in Genesis, Jacob deceives his dying father Isaac, who unintentionally gives him the blessing he would have given his older son Esau. Once the blessing had been given, Isaac cannot take it back. This is so because of the belief that a word once spoken always retains its power and can never be unspoken. The power to bless is inherent in Isaac and his word, not the result of some special power handed on from someone else. Any parent could bless any child.
This belief continued into New Testament times. Herod felt obligated to behead John the Baptist because he had promised to give whatever was asked of him, even if it were half his kingdom. He could not take back his spoken word. In biblical terms, the power of a blessing is rooted in the power of the spoken word. In Latin, a blessing is benedictio: the speaking of a good word. A curse is maledictio: the speaking of an evil word.
The power to bless, because it is the power of a spoken word, is a power each and every one possesses. It is not dependent on ones rank, status or ecclesiastical office, nor is it the prerogative of a select few. It should not surprise us that our spoken word has power. We influence plants for good or ill simply by playing various types of music, by speaking to them or even just thinking about them. Various sounds have been found to be beneficial in alternative healing: one tonal vibration for the kidneys, another for the liver and so on.
When we couple our spoken words with the intention to formulate a prayer, we find we can help heal people from a distance. Prayer works, but its effectiveness is not dependent upon ones creed, church affiliation or ecclesiastical rank....
Truly we possess a remarkable power when we choose to bless. To take it seriously, we need to speak deliberately, with a clearly formed intention and prayerful spirit. For those having a wedding ministry, the blessing of bride and groom can take a special meaning. The couple can be taught that they too have the power to bless their children, their home and each other. There is no need to rely upon an approved book of ritual blessings or upon someone having a higher church ranking to confer blessings. We each possess the God-given power to bless judiciously and generously. We need to do this. We need to teach others to do this. Each day we can bless our loved ones and our enemies.