The Bible talks about blessings in a variety of situations, most frequently by an individual giving praise and glory to God.
The Catholic Encyclopedia explains this general definition of blessing, “It has taken in a sense that is synonymous with praise; thus the Psalmist, ‘I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall be always in my mouth.'”
Thus blessing is, as the Catechism describes it, a movement of prayer:
Blessing expresses the basic movement of Christian prayer: it is an encounter between God and man. In blessing, God’s gift and man’s acceptance of it are united in dialogue with each other. The prayer of blessing is man’s response to God’s gifts: because God blesses, the human heart can in return bless the One who is the source of every blessing. (2626)
Another aspect of “blessing” is to pray that the graces of God may be given to another individual.
[Blessing] is used to express a wish or desire that all good fortune, especially of a spiritual or supernatural kind, may go with the person or thing, as when David says: “Blessed art thou, and it shall be well with thee” (Ps. cxxvii, 2).
The Church blesses
The Church has followed in these biblical footsteps in a variety of ways, imparting blessings in many different circumstances.
One thing to keep in mind, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, is that, “Blessings are not sacraments … They are sacramentals.”
In fact, the Catechism explains that a blessing is primary among the sacramentals:
1671 Among sacramentals blessings (of persons, meals, objects, and places) come first. Every blessing praises God and prays for his gifts. In Christ, Christians are blessed by God the Father “with every spiritual blessing.” This is why the Church imparts blessings by invoking the name of Jesus, usually while making the holy sign of the cross of Christ.
1672 Certain blessings have a lasting importance because they consecrate persons to God, or reserve objects and places for liturgical use. Among those blessings which are intended for persons – not to be confused with sacramental ordination – are the blessing of the abbot or abbess of a monastery, the consecration of virgins and widows, the rite of religious profession and the blessing of certain ministries of the Church (readers, acolytes, catechists, etc.). The dedication or blessing of a church or an altar, the blessing of holy oils, vessels, and vestments, bells, etc., can be mentioned as examples of blessings that concern objects.
A blessing is often given along with the sprinkling of holy water. A common time for the faithful to receive a blessing is at the very end of Mass, when the priest makes the Sign of the Cross over the faithful.