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The 'Saginaw Blessing'

Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson, Bishop of Saginaw

THE NAMING OF GOD

#40 – Since our knowledge of God is limited, our language about him is equally so. We can name God only by taking creatures as our starting point, and in accordance with our limited human ways of knowing and thinking.

#42 – God transcends all creatures. We must therefore continually purify our language of everything in it that is limited, image-bound or imperfect, if we are not to confuse our image of God…with our human representations. Our human words always fall short of the mystery of God.

#238 – In Israel, God is called "Father" inasmuch as he is Creator of the world. Even more, God is Father because of the covenant and the gift of the law to Israel, "his first-born son."

#239 – By calling God "Father," the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God's parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God's immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinctions between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father.

#240 – Jesus revealed that God is Father in an unheard of sense: he is father not only in being Creator, he is eternally Father by his relationship to his only Son who reciprocally, is Son only in relation to his Father: "No one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." [Mt. 11:27].

#2663 – In the living tradition of prayer, each Church proposes to its faithful, according to its historic, social, and cultural context, a language for prayer: words, melodies, gestures, iconography. The Magisterium of the Church [DV 10] has the task of discerning the fidelity of these ways of praying to the tradition of apostolic faith; it is for pastors and catechists to explain their meaning always in relation to Jesus Christ.

#2664 – There is no other way of Christian prayer than Christ. Whether our prayer is communal or personal, vocal or interior, it has access to the Father only if we pray "in the name" of Jesus. The sacred humanity of Jesus is therefore the way by which the Holy Spirit teaches us to pray to God our Father.

- [from the Catechism of the Catholic Church]

THE 'SAGINAW BLESSING'

As we seek to pray within the living tradition of the Church, it can happen from time to time that individuals or groups might propose particular forms of prayer (words, melodies, gestures, images) which seem suitable to express publicly our relationship with God. The teaching Church has the important task of discerning the fidelity of these ways of praying to the tradition of the faith which has been handed down to us from the apostles. To say it another way, the language of prayer, for the followers of Jesus Christ, always has been to be seen in relation to Jesus Christ himself.

Although we readily acknowledge that our language cannot ever fully describe the mystery of God and that we must continually purify our language about God so that our image of God is not confused with our human representations, it is important that we look to Jesus and to the tradition of the Church to help us in the purification process.

Jesus reveals the identity of God as a mystery of relationship. He relates to God as his dear Father (Abba) and invites us into that relationship. The Christian tradition has therefore followed the lead of Jesus in praying to "our Father."

Following the prayer of our Jewish ancestors, as well as the prayer of Jesus, the Christian tradition has named God with pronouns such as "he, him," etc., in distinction from other religions of various ages which acknowledge different gods and which have been named as female deities. Though the Christian tradition acknowledges that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes and known expressions for a particular parental tenderness in God which use the image of motherhood, for example, there is no other language which assures our fidelity to the God revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures and revealed by Jesus than that in which Jesus reveals God as his Father and to whom the tradition consistently refers with the use of masculine terminology.

The sung blessing currently in use in the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw employs in its first verse a paraphrase of the beautiful and traditional text from the Book of Numbers [*See Solemn Blessings #10, Ordinary Time I]. I encourage the use of this profound scriptural prayer. However, the second verse of the blessing as commonly sung does not maintain the necessary clarity regarding the naming of God which is part of our Jewish and Christian heritage and can therefore unintentionally bring about confusion or misdirection in our prayer. Therfore, the use of this second verse should be discontinued.

- Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson, Bishop of Saginaw

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