The old Roman Ritual was (is) a magnificent collection of blessings and prayers. It had some of the most amazing little blessings of things it would never occur to you to find in such a collection. For example, among other more common blessings of statues, religious medals, and so forth are blessings, often elaborately laid out, for things like a seismograph, a typewriter, a printing press, a fishing boat, a fire engine, a stable, medicine, a well, a bridge, an archive, a lime kiln, a ship, an automobile, mountain-climbing equipment, and an electric dynamo.
Thankfully, the old ritual is still able to be used since, as many priests will attest, the current “Book of Blessings” issued back in the 1990s is all but useless. It is also improperly named, since there are really no blessings to be found in it. It is all rooted in a rather narrow notion of blessing that seeks to bless the user of (or someone walking nearby?) an object, but not the object itself.
It is an odd theology to say the least, especially for the Catholic faith, which is so incarnational and seeks to sanctify things as well as the people who use them. But I’ll let the theologians debate this. As a pastor, I (as well as most of my brother priests) know that people want their things blessed, and they are looking for that sign of the cross, that holy water, those words somewhere in the rite that actually ask God to bless the thing. The old Roman Ritual does this, and does it well. It also has good prayers that go beyond the mere act of blessing and seek to put the object in God’s wider plan of sanctity for us.
In the old ritual, there is a remarkable prayer for a telegraph—yes, a telegraph. It quite elaborately laid out psalms and antiphons, but I will only present here the prayer of gratitude at the end, just before blessing it with Holy Water.
To my mind, it is also perfect as a prayer, expression of gratitude, and blessing when using a computer or for the extended “cloud” of our computers, otherwise known as the Internet. The prayer is both thrilling and fitting. It is a minor masterpiece if you ask me. Though written sometime prior to 1945, and likely after 1830, its basic structure fits well what we do now with the Internet. There is probably one word that needs changing, and perhaps you can help by suggesting another word.
But without further drumrolls, here is the prayer, first in its Latin original, and then translated by Rev. Phillip Weller:
Deus qui ámbulas super pennas ventórum, et facis mirabília solus: concéde, ut per vim huic metállo índitam fulmíneo ictu celérius huc abséntia, et hinc álio praeséntia transmíttis; ita nos invéntis novis edócti, tua grátia opitulánte, prómptius et facílius ad te veníre valeámus. Per Christum Dóminum nostrum. Amen.
O God, who walkest upon the wings of the wind, and thou alone workest wonders! By the power inherent in this metal, thou dost bring hither distant things quicker than lightning, and transferest present things to distant places. Therefore grant that, instructed by new inventions, we may merit, by thy bounteous grace, to come with greater certainty and facility to thee. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Sign of the Cross + and sprinkling with Holy Water.
Magnificent. It almost paints a picture in the mind as the words go forth. Yes, such beauty and a picture of the swiftness of information going hither and yon, like lightning, or as on the wings of the wind! And may indeed this wondrous tool serve to draw us closer to God and not be corrupted by sinful curiosity, hostility, defamation, profanation, or pornographic and prurient temptations.
One word, “metal,” may need adjusting. What word would you suggest? Perhaps simply “computer” will work, but more is in mind: the whole Internet and “cloud” are part of what we are grateful for and ask blessings for. But of course we may not be in a position to bless the whole Internet, and our blessing or prayer of gratitude is only to be directed to our computer, our one portal to the vast communication network. Anyway, this is just a thought.
But I hope you enjoy this prayer as much as I do. Encourage your priest to get a copy of the older Roman Ritual. For many years now, it has been my custom to use it instead of the Book of Blessings.
This video of the history of the telegraph reminds us that the first telegraph message sent by Samuel Morse was “What hath God wrought?” This almost seems to have influenced the prayer in the ritual!