God Bless You!

God bless you!, or Bless you!, is a common polite English response we offer when someone near us sneezes. Sometimes we hear someone say, Gesundheit, which means to your health, the German equivalent used by many people, some of whom may not even know the German language. Why do we have a polite predictable response when someone sneezes? We don’t make a polite comment when someone belches, coughs, hiccups, wheezes, and makes other sounds. Calling attention to those sounds usually brings further embarrassment.

The origin of this polite blessing, God bless you, is not known and there are several legends. One legend suggests that it was originated by Pope Gregory I in 590 AD during an outbreak of bubonic plague. At that time, sneezing was thought to be an early symptom of the plague, and offering a blessing, “God bless you!”, became a effort to halt the disease. The act of sneezing was once considered sacred.  The Romans considered the sneeze to be a sign of good health. Since it arose from the lungs, an organ they considered divine, Romans often greeted the sneeze with the phrase “Live long.”

What does it mean to you when you sneeze and someone says, God bless you!? I am always grateful because it covers an awkward moment in a conversation that I interrupted with a sneeze. I tend to sneeze three times, and when I do, it is understood that the sneezing is over because I have been blessed three times, a trinity of sorts. It usually means that I am coming down with a cold or am allergic to someone’s perfume. In the Seinfeld episode “The Good Samaritan,” Jerry pokes fun at the “God bless you” reflex, and recommends that the compliment, You are so good looking!, would be a more meaningful to the sneezer.

I came across a recent study that revealed the correlation between sneezing and intercessory prayer. I had never before thought that saying or hearing, God bless you, is a form of intercessory prayer. Studies have shown that intercessory prayer offered by others, or for one’s self, provides a positive preoperative attitude that aids in recovery. Saying, God bless you, or other caring words when someone sneezes or appears ill or upset or worried, apparently makes them feel better knowing that you and God care about their well-being.  Saying, God bless you, is your prayer for their lives and their health. We can pray for ourselves, too. So if you sneeze and are alone, say, God bless me!, and your day, or your life, may improve. Amen

Peace, Carol

This entry was posted in The Rev. Dr. Carol M. Flett and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to God Bless You!

  1. Anton Vanterpool II says:

    I recall how to respond when a child sneezed three times. First sneeze, “God Bless You”, second sneeze, “God save you”, and after the third sneeze, “God help you to be a good boy or girl.” I believe it’s correlates the interjection of the Trinity for good health.

  2. Terry says:

    A student in California was punished by a teacher for saying God Bless You to someone in class who sneezed. He claimed because sneezing meant expelling bad spirits why they’d say that after doesn’t apply no more. The teachers should keep his religious opinions to himself. If he has a problem with that he should go back and read the constitution, particularly the first Amendment and why they put this in place to prevent dictatorship. If the student was disrespectful that different and he had clear rules preventing him to single out someone. I’ll be watching my grandiose teachers after this.

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