Blessings were an integral and vital element of medieval Christian life and worship. Benedictions for homes and workplaces, the knight and the pilgrim, the city under siege, and the fetus in the womb, are but a small sample of the multitudinous and fascinating extra-sacramental blessings that fill the leaves of the liturgical books of the medieval Latin Church. While commonly acknowledged as a crucial element in the life of medieval people, the meaning and importance of these blessings for their authors and audiences have been frequently overlooked by liturgical and historical scholarship, which has focused instead on the textual transmission and long-term changes in the blessings and the rituals surrounding them. This present work corrects this omission by examining these blessings with modern eyes, and a new methodology.
In Blessing the World, Derek A. Rivard studies liturgical blessing and its role in the religious life of Christians during the central and later Middle Ages, with a particular focus on the blessings of the Franco-Roman liturgical tradition from the tenth to late thirteenth centuries. Through a careful and extensive study of more than ninety such blessings, many of them translated for the first time and accessible to a readership beyond specialists in medieval liturgy, the author argues that medieval blessings were composed as a direct response to the needs, anxieties, beliefs, and fears of the laity, and therefore these texts represent a rich and largely untapped source for the study of lay piety and of ritual in medieval Europe.
Effectively drawing upon anthropology, ritual studies, the phenomenology of religion, and traditional textual study, Rivard exploresthe rich themes of medieval piety that flow throughout the blessings in order to produce a new understanding of the blessing as an attempt to tap the power of the sacred for use in daily life. Benedictions for spaces, places, persons, items, and events are each studied in turn to produce this new understanding of these blessings, and in the process these petitions and rituals reveal much about larger issues of medieval people's cosmology, their perceived role in their cosmos, their conceptions of God, and their connections to the divine and to the spiritual powers of God's creation.