"And I will make them a blessing round about my hill: and I will send down the rain in its season, there shall be showers of blessings." Ezechiel, 34:26.
One of the most impressive and picturesque pageants of the South is the Blessing of the Shrimp Fleet, held each year at the beginning of the shrimp-seining season. The ceremony is held in late July or early August. Hundreds of shrimpers and oystermen who live and labor along the beautiful bayous and bays of Louisiana bring their ships to some central point for the blessing of Mother Church.
The quaint custom goes back to the banks of old Brittany where the women and children would gather on the shore to pray for their men-folk as they launched out to sea on their hazardous tasks. The dangers in Louisiana are less than those of Brittany, but the custom remains.
On the morning of the big day, as I recall it, the flagship "Jitterbug" was transformed into an altar of God. On the decks of their own boats clustered around, hundreds of fishermen and their families knelt devoutly during the entire Mass celebrated by Father Ambrose Kroger, a Franciscan priest, superior at the time of the many missions of the Franciscan Fathers along the levee from New Orleans to the gulf. From the deck of the "Jitterbug" Father gave his blessing to all the ships, between 200 and 300 of them. This same custom is carried out in many other fishing communities of the French South.
The blessing of ships is just one of many blessings of things provided by Mother Church. We might tell you something about this particular ceremony which is a rather elaborate and lengthy one. The Ritual has a blessing for a ship of any kind and then a special blessing for a fishing-boat. After reciting Psalm 8, the priest says this prayer:
"Graciously hearken to our prayers, O Lord, and with Thy holy hand bless this boat and all who sail hereon, as Thou didst deign to bless Noah's ark in its course during the deluge. Stretch forth to them, O Lord, Thy right hand, as Thou didst reach out to Peter when he walked upon the sea. Send Thy holy angel from heaven to guard this boat and ever keep it safe from every peril, together with all on board. And when threatened dangers have been removed, comfort Thy servants with a calm voyage and the desired harbor. And having successfully transacted their business, recall them again when the time comes to the happiness of country and home. Thou who livest and reignest forevermore. Amen."
The priest then reads a lengthy excerpt from the Gospel according to St. John, Chapter 21, verses 1 to 24. The ceremony concludes with another short appropriate prayer.
This solemn blessing of a fishing-boat will give you some idea of the pointed beauty of the Church's blessing of things, of irrational things, if you will, but the things which God has created, the material things which we are to use in working out our salvation.
There is a blessing for animals in general, and two blessings for sick animals; a blessing for bees, for silkworms, and another for the salt and the oats for animals. Mother Church even calls down God's favor upon the stable, reminding us that the Son of God was born in a stable.
Are you interested in the sick? We have a blessing for the linens they use, for a stretcher, an ambulance, a wheelchair, another for wine that the sick may need, and still another for medicine.
Are you concerned about the gifts of the table? Mother Church blesses bread and cakes; she blesses beer and ale; she blesses cheese and butter and lard. She blesses grapes and meat.
Are you a farmer? You will recall that we spoke about the Sacramentals of Agriculture. The Ritual calls down a benediction upon seed, upon fire, upon young crops and vineyards, upon fields and pastures, upon the granary and the harvest, upon the mill, the well and the fountain.
You may be interested in industrial things. The Church provides a prayer for a bell that is not destined for the church or sanctuary, for a bridge, for a lime-kiln and a blast-furnace, for a railway and even a special blessing for railway cars.
We have a beautiful blessing for an airplane, for an automobile, for a fire-engine and for a dynamo. Mother Church goes into the library and blesses it; she goes into the print shop and blesses the presses, the typewriters, and the tools we use. The blessing for telegraph instruments is a lengthy one.
And then, lest she may have overlooked something which her children use, some object that is unimportant to some, but valuable and necessary in the eyes of her sons and daughters, Mother Church provides a blessing for all things, a blessing which may be used by any priest for the blessing of anything which has no special prayer in the Ritual. That blessing of all things is as follows:
"Our help is in the name of the Lord."
"Who made heaven and earth."
"The Lord be with you."
"And with thy spirit."
"Let us pray--
O God, by whose word all things are made holy, pour out Thy blessing on this creature. And grant that whoever uses it in accordance with Thy will and Thy law, and with a spirit of thanksgiving, may experience by Thy power health of body and protection of soul, as he invokes Thy most holy name. Through Christ our Lord. Amen."
The priest makes the sign of the cross during this prayer, as he does in the blessings of the Church, and then sprinkles the article or articles with holy water.
What thoughtfulness on the part of Mother Church to set aside these unthinking things, these irrational things, for the sole service of God! Learn to appreciate and to use intelligently and lovingly these bountiful blessings of the Church. Amen.
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