The Rite of the Blessing of the Sword from the Roman Pontifical

In the Catholic tradition the sword holds great lyrical symbolism in the Christian imagination.  Chesterton says of soldiers: "A real soldier does not fight because he has something that he hates in front of him.  He fights because he has something that he loves behind his back."   St. Paul himself writes in Ephesians 6 of Christian warfare and the armor of God in an epistle written towards the close of his first imprisonment in Rome around the year 63 AD.  Paul wrote eloquently of the sword, a symbol of both protection and the Word of God.

"Put on the armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the Principalities and the Powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness on high.  Therefore take up the armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and stand in all things perfect.  Stand, therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of justice, and having your feet shod with the readiness of the gospel of peace, in all things taking up the shield of faith, with which you may be able to quench all the fiery darts of the most wicked one.  And take unto you the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit , that is, the word of God" (Ephesians 6:10-17).

The ceremonial dubbing with the sword has long been evoked by the Catholic imagination, not as a symbol of violence but of service and protection, evidenced by the words of the rite itself and the tradition of military orders in the Church.  Dr. John Senior comments on the noble tradition of military service in the Catholic world and the constant battle between good and evil which is actually a metaphysical reality, "Christianity is not an idea, a theory, or a special privilege.  It is a fact.  And the fact remains that the history of Christian nations has long been continuously military.  Christian pacifists have got to deny the universal actual practice of two thousand years of Christianity, and beyond history to eternity with the wars of Thrones and Dominations, Principalities and Powers."  Indeed, who is against the sword?  The only conspicuous Christian pacifist among the Fathers of the Church was Tertullian, a heretic.  

The ethics of the sword cannot be grasped without experience in the world.  Obviously in the Catholic tradition the sword has great spiritual as well as temporal significance.  This is clearly at odds with the new au courant 'woke' culture of postmodern society that downplays the sword as a symbol for violence.  For liberals change is a virtue, all things for the sake of the new while the positive symbolism of the sword has all too often lost its justification in contemporary secular ideology.  In a time of mass hysteria, politicalization, emotionalization and irrationalization, certain forces long at work have sought to eliminate the sword from Catholic rites and rituals without any effort to understand it.  "The important thing about history," Marx said, "is not to understand it but to change it."  

On another note, the sword is a work of art, as Aristotle describes art as a "story" that presupposes intelligent selection according to a form conceived in the mind of the designer or creator of the object.  Above is the artisanal ceremonial sword of the uniform of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, made in Italy.  It is available from the famed papal tailor Gammarelli in Rome.  

There is also a link between the modernist attack on tradition and art, a deliberate assault to first rid us of our thought and next our emotion, to create an artifice known as "unconsciousness" that Orwell speaks of so eloquently.  It seeks to put history on trial and to sever modern man from his historical roots.  In fact, the response is to the total opposite -- to consciously work to preserve our historical patrimony and all that is good and noble in the manner of our ancestors. 

On the spiritual side, knights carry the sword; they are symbolic of the "aristocracy" of the soul, of a religious elite who elevate others by their life of service, professional accomplishments and example.  In other words, they epitomize certain ideals.  The deeds of knights inflame us.  The bravery of the knight emboldens us.  The human heart is commonly reached, not through reason, but through the imagination, by means of direct impressions and the testimony of virtues, bravery and greatness.  A child gets moral notions and lessons from the fairy-tales and stories he delights in, as do adults from tale and verse.  

The symbolism of the sword is a key component to understanding the role of brave knights.  In the words of C.S. Lewis, "Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.  Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker."  Meanwhile, knights always form an elite, not because they stand above or apart from others, but because they are capable of attracting and influencing others.  Knights and Dames should be specially gifted, willing and able.  They must be men and women of sound virtue, humble, docile to the will of the Church and who live the Christian life in a more perfect degree.  These are the opposite of zealots who but possess no real virtue and little instruction.  

Alternately, a distinction is made between knights and dames: dames are not knights, although they have the privilege of being full fledged members of some papal orders of knighthood, reorganized as female members in their own category (recognized in 1888 in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, by order of Pope Leo XIII).  Thus the ancient ritual used for the dubbing of knighthood is enshrined in a code and is only used for men (knights), while the profession of faith is used for both knights and dames.  The ceremony of dubbing salvages knightly values and ideals from the past, with chivalry foremost, more than just literary romance, it is one of the great graces of human dignity. To paraphrase Chesterton, exactly what the sword does is this: it accustoms Christians for a series of clear pictures to the idea that limitless terrors have a limit, that "shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, [and] that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear."         

Here is what St. Thomas Aquinas says of the sword and its necessity for defending:

"As the care of the commonwealth is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the commonwealth of the city, kingdom, or province subject to them.  And just as it is lawful for them to have recourse to the sword in defending that commonwealth against internal disturbances, when they punish evildoers, according to the words of the Apostle (Romans 13:4), 'He beareth not the sword in vain for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.'; so too, it is their business to have recourse to the sword of war in defending the commonwealth against external enemies.  Hence it is said to those who are in authority (Psalm 81:4): 'Rescue the poor and deliver the needy out of the hand of the sinner'." (The Death of Christian Culture by John Senior, p.  121-122). 

The blessing of the sword follows below, taken from the Roman Pontifical (translation by a professional Latinist, Sean Pilcher):

The Blessing of a Sword


The Bishop who will bless the sword stands without his mitre. The man to whom the sword is to be given kneels before him. A minister holds the sword before him as he says:


V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.

R. Who made heaven and earth.

V. The Lord be with you.

R. And with your spirit.


Let us pray.


Deign to bless +, we pray, O Lord, this sword: and this Thy servant, receive him by Thy inspiration, that Thou mayest guard him with Thy gracious care and keep him unharmed. Through Our Lord.


Then he sprinkles the sword with holy water. Sitting down, the Bishop puts on the mitre. The knight kneels before him as he says:


Take this sword, in the name of the + Father and of the + Son, and of the + Holy Spirit. Use it for thine own defense and for the defense of Holy Mother Church, and to the confounding of the enemies of the Cross of Christ and the Christian faith, and inasmuch as our human frailty permits, may you never unjustly strike any man. May Our Lord deign to grant you this, who lives with the Father and the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen.

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