Benedictus es

In the mass there are a few prayers the priest says quietly while something else is going on. One of those prayers is the Benedictus es, or “Blessed are You”. It is said during the offertory. After the gifts of bread and wine are brought up, while the cantor and congregation are singing the offertory hymn, the priest will lift up each of the gifts and pronounce a blessing. In daily masses, he will say the prayer aloud with those attending responding, “Blessed be God forever.” But on Sundays, because the offertory is being sung, he will simply say it quietly. “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.”

This very ancient prayer predates Christianity by hundreds if not thousands of years. It was an ancient Jewish practice to thank God continually throughout the day using a formula known as the Berakah or Blessing. It was expected that devout Jews utter 100 blessings each day. The Berakah typically began “Blessed are You Lord God, King of the universe.” The second phrase of the Berakah then adds what it is that you are thanking God for. For example, before a meal one would commonly add: “Who brings for bread from the earth.” After a meal, “who feeds all.”

At the feeding of the 5,000, the Scripture tells us that Jesus took the bread and said a blessing. This would be the blessing Jesus spoke before the miracle. Similarly, the priest invokes the same blessing before the miracle of the Eucharist. “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.

The priest then lifts up the chalice of wine. To the ancient Hebrews, as well as modern Jews, this cup was known as the Kiddush. The Rabbi would intone, “Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.” Then, it continues to say, “Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has chosen us from among all nations, raised us above all tongues, and sanctified us by His commandments. And You, God, have given us lovingly.” Again, the priest utters a similar blessing. “Blessed are you. Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink.”

These ancient prayers link our mass with the prayer life of Jesus and his disciples. It reminds us of how ancient our tradition is, being built upon the Jewish roots of the first Christians.

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