It is worn, too, on the vigils of fasts, Ember Days and days of intercession, on the Feast of Holy Innocents (if on a week-day), at litanies, penitential processions, and at other than solemn benedictions and consecrations.
Sacerdotal benedictions are not indeed sacraments - means of grace ordained by Christ himself, but sacramentals (sacramenta minora) ordained by the authority of the Church and exercised by the priests, as the plenipotentiaries of God, in virtue of the powers conferred on them at their ordination; "that whatever they bless may be blessed, and whatever they consecrate may be consecrated."
Though, however, the discomfiture of malignant spirits still plays an important part in the Catholic doctrine of benedictions, this has on the whole tended to become subordinated to other benefits.
According to Father Patrick Morrisroe, dean and professor of liturgy at Maynooth, the efficacy of benedictions is fourfold: (1) the excitation of pious emotions and affections of the heart, and by their means the remission of venial sins and of the temporal punishments due for these; (2) freedom from the power of evil spirits; (3) preservation and restoration of bodily health; (4) various other benefits, temporal and spiritual.
Benedictions, moreover, are twofold: (a) invocative, i.e.
Though the giving of blessings as a sacerdotal function is proper to the whole order of priests, particular benedictions have, by ecclesiastical authority, been reserved for the bishops, who may, however, delegate some of them; i.e.
The ceremonies prescribed for the various benedictions are set forth in the Rituale Romanum (tit.
In general it is laid down (cap. i.) that the priest, in benedictions outside the Mass, shall be vested in surplice and stole, and shall give the blessing standing and bare-headed.
In all benedictions the sign of the cross is made.
In the blessing of the holy water (cap. ii.), the essential instrument of all benedictions, the object is clearly to establish its potency against evil spirits.
In the formulae of blessings that follow, the special efficacy against devils is implied by the aspersion with holy water; the benedictions themselves are usually merely invocative of the divine protection or assistance, though, e.g., in the form for blessing sick animals the priest prays that "all diabolic power in them may be destroyed, and that they may be ill no longer."
It is to be remarked that the "laying on of hands," which in the Old and the New Testament alike is the usual "form" of blessing, is not used in liturgical benedictions, the priest being directed merely to extend his right hand towards the person to be blessed.
The tradition that the utterance of the name in the daily benedictions ceased with the death of Simeon the Just, two centuries or more before the Christian era, perhaps arose from a misunderstanding of Menalioth, 109b; in any case it cannot stand against the testimony of older and more authoritative texts.
It is worn in choir at the solemn offices; it is the official sacral dress of the lower clergy in their liturgical functions; it is worn by the priest when administering the sacraments, undertaking benedictions, and the like; the use of the alb being nowadays almost exclusively confined to the mass and functions connected with this.