Churching of women

From a reader:

I thought you might enjoy the attached photos from a baptism which took place in our parish today.

I love how Holy Mother Church provides what we need.  As a woman, I am especially moved by the Churching of Women. When all of the women present are invited to follow the new mother as she is led to the altar, somehow my dignity as a woman is affirmed.

 

WDTPRS continues to be a balm for this reader.  I appreciate all of your efforts.  You are in my prayers.

I think this is a custom which should be brought back, and soon and everywhere.

I usually do this at the time of a baptism, but the the really traditional way is to wait for 40 days after childbirth.

Here is the Catholic Encyclopedia article, which is helpful:

A blessing given by the Church to mothers after recovery from childbirth. Only a Catholic woman who has given birth to a child in legitimate wedlock, provided she has not allowed the child to be baptized outside the Catholic Church, is entitled to it. It is not a precept, but a pious and praiseworthy custom (Rituale Romanum), dating from the early Christian ages, for a mother to present herself in the Church as soon as she is able to leave her house (St. Charles Borromeo, First Council of Milan), to render thanks to God for her happy delivery, and to obtain by means of the priestly blessing the graces necessary to bring up her child in a Christian manner. The prayers indicate that this blessing is intended solely for the benefit of the mother, and hence it is not necessary that she should bring the child with her; nevertheless, in many places the pious and edifying custom prevails of specially dedicating the child to God. For, as the Mother of Christ carried her Child to the Temple to offer Him to the Eternal Father, so a Christian mother is anxious to present her offspring to God and obtain for it the blessing of the Church. This blessing, in the ordinary form, without change or omission, is to be given to the mother, even if her child was stillborn, or has died without baptism (Cong. Sac. Rit., 19 May, 1896).

The churching of women is not a strictly parochial function, yet the Congregation of Sacred Rites (21 November, 1893) decided that a parish priest, if asked to give it, must do so, and if another priest is asked to perform the rite, he may do so in any church or public oratory, provided the superior of said church or oratory be notified. It must be imparted in a church or in a place in which Mass is celebrated, as the very name "churching" is intended to suggest a pilgrimage of thanksgiving to the church, and as the rubrics indicate in the expressions: "desires to come to the church", "he conducts her into the church", she kneels before the altar", etc. Hence the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore (No. 246) prohibits the practice of churching in places in which Mass is not celebrated.

The mother, kneeling in the vestibule, or within the church, and carrying a lighted candle, awaits the priest, who, vested in surplice and white stole, sprinkles her with holy water in the form of a cross. Having recited Psalm 23, "The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof", he offers her the left extremity of the stole and leads her into the church, saying: "Enter thou into the temple of God, adore the Son of the Blessed Virgin Mary who has given thee fruitfulness of offspring." She advances to one of the altars and kneels before it, whilst the priest, turned towards her, recites a prayer which expresses the object of the blessing, and then, having sprinkled her again with holy water in the form of the cross, dismisses her, saying: "The peace and blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, descend upon thee, and remain forever. Amen."

Here is a prayer form the Rituale for "Churching"

Let us pray.

Almighty everlasting God, who by means of the blessed Virgin Mary’s childbearing has given every Christian mother joy, even in her pains of bringing forth her child; look kindly on this servant of yours who has come in gladness to your holy dwelling to offer her thanks. And grant that after this life, through the merits and prayers of that same blessed Mary, she and her child may be deemed worthy of attaining the happiness of everlasting life; through Christ our Lord.
All: Amen.

The "Collectio Rituum," both for Germany and the U. S. A., provide the following blessing for the child:
Let us pray.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, begotten before time was, yet willing to be an infant within time; who love childhood innocence; who deigned to tenderly embrace and to bless the little ones when they were brought to you; be ready with your dearest blessings for this child as he (she) journeys through life, and let no evil ways corrupt his (her) understanding. May he (she) advance in wisdom and grace with the years, and be enabled ever to please you, who are God, living and reigning with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, forever and ever.
All: Amen.

There is another prayer in the case of a still born child.

There is also a fine prayer for an expectant mother.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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26 Responses to Churching of women

  1. liebemama says:

    Father, is there also a ritual for a mother who has adopted a child to be churched? I wish I would have known about churching during my childbearing years. Now I feel like I have missed out on another beautiful treasure of the church.

  2. I have witnessed the monthly blessing given to expectant mothers at the altar rail (in Latin, of course), but have not seen this yet.

    I love it! I sent it on to my pastor (LOL)

  3. pelerin says:

    Like liebemama I wish I too had known about this ceremony after the births of my own children. Of course I thanked God from my heart for the safe arrival of my sons and particularly after serious complications had arisen before the birth of my second son which could have proved fatal for both of us. I had so much to be thankful for but had no idea that the Church had a ceremony of thanksgiving after childbirth as Fr Z describes.

  4. shoofoolatte says:

    This blessing was given to me at the Baptism of my child, who was adopted (1984). We had been trying to have a child for more than 11 years. The blessing was very special to me. I knew that, in the eyes of God, I was the real mother of the child.

  5. Gabriella says:

    I too didn’t know about this ceremony.
    How beautiful!
    It makes me think: how many ceremonies have we lost since the Council???

  6. thereseb says:

    As a baby, I was apparently dedicated to Our Lady, at the chapel of the convent school which my (much older) sisters attended. Nuns were FCJ. Is this a variation; something totally different, or did my informant get it wrong?

  7. What a beautiful, dignified custom! It’s a shame so many women have missed out on it. :(

  8. a catechist says:

    I just had a baby on Wed.–great timing, Father! We’ll have to make some inquiries about this. The baptism will be NO (neither the grandparents nor godparents at home with Latin), but we attended the EF all summer & perhaps our priest would be willing. Our EF has very few young families, so it may not have come up much.

  9. Agnes says:

    That is probably one of the beautiful sacramentals I’ve seen. Look, Father, look! I want that!

  10. MargaretMN says:

    Interesting. I had heard of this tradition but the explanation was all reversed as the woman being “unclean” as a by-product of the child birth and unable to return to church until given the OK by this blessing ritual. To the extent that mothers weren’t even welcome at the Baptism of the child if it took place within the 40 days. This explanation was used to justify the rejection of this tradition. I always thought that even if there were an element of truth in that explanation, traditions are never that clear and narrow in purpose and meaning–we don’t worry about the old meaning of a handshake for instance (I carry no weapon) and invest it with only positive connotations in the modern usage.

  11. I’m curious – when did this custom fade? Was it after Vatican II or prior?

  12. Re: MargaretMN

    I’d heard that too. It always struck me as an L.I.E., and now that I read the actual prayer, I can see that it clearly is all about celebrating the gift of life and motherhood.

    Crimony! Did anybody in the radical days ever, ever stop to examine anything except their own preconceptions? Nothing but takers, I swear!

  13. Genevieve says:

    I feel so fortunate to be a young adult coming into some of the depth of my faith during this exciting time when so many old things are new again.

  14. JosephMary says:

    I never heard of such a thing! Had I only known it when I had my children, I would have desired it too. Thanks for posting this!

    We have lost SO much over these past decades. Sigh. But it is good to be reclaiming our lost heritage once more, brick by brick.

  15. gloriainexcelsis says:

    The first of my nine children was born in 1954. I always had the babies baptized within two weeks of birth. For the baptism of the first three there was no “Churching.” I had never heard of it. When my fourth child was baptized, our young assistant pastor, who officiated that day, asked me to kneel at the altar rail with my baby for the Churching of Women. From that time on, all of the baptisms were accompanied by Churching. It is beautiful, and just another way that Mother Church proves her care.

  16. rwprof says:

    We still do this, as father says, forty days after the birth (the child is churched and baptized after the mother is churched, or she wouldn’t be able to attend her child’s baptism). Our deacon’s wife was churched last week, and their son will be baptized 3 October.

    Male children are churched at the altar, female children, in front of the icon of the Theotokos on the iconostasis.

  17. Margaret says:

    Fr. Z– would you be kind enough to post the prayer for an expectant woman when you have the chance? I’m expecting another baby, and am frankly a bit of a wreck because my last two pregnancies ended in miscarriage. I could print it out and bring it to my priest. (And prayers would be so much appreciated for the little one if anyone is so inclined…)

  18. Rose in NE says:

    Prayers coming your way, Margaret. I suffered several miscarriages, too. Pray to St. Gerard Majella who is the patron saint of expectant mothers.

    I also wish I had known about the Churching of Women when my children were born.

  19. Sid says:

    Thanks so much for this article!

    In seminary I was taught — by a laywoman teaching the course on “Catholic Education” — that this practice was no longer done and was in itself pejorative.

    I was taught wrong.

  20. Rachel says:

    I’m praying for you, Margaret!

    This reminds me of a section of Cardinal Newman’s novel Loss and Gain, in which a young and very Anglo-Catholic priest named Bateman tries to bring all the old customs and trappings of Catholicism to his parish of respectable Victorians. He delights in medieval traditions but neglects the Catholic doctrines from which they grew, and Newman pokes gentle fun at him for it.

    “…Here he was interrupted by his clerk, who told him that John Tims had taken his oath that his wife should not be churched before the congregation, and was half-minded to take his infant to the Methodists for baptism; and his thoughts took a different direction.”

  21. introibo says:

    But does this mean the woman doesn’t come to church/Mass for 40 days? And if she wants the baptism ASAP, then she can’t attend it? Or would she not have to wait 40 days…

  22. Peter says:

    Any answer on whether there is a prayer for adoptive mothers. I was really sad that I was unable to have the churching prayers following the adoption of our son. Adoptive mothers need graces too! Can I be classed as an expectant mother since we have been approved and are awaiting our second adoption?

    Intoibo, I suspect the 40 days was because it used to be common for women to stay home and recover from childbirth. She wouldn’t have been going anywhere during this time. St Therese’s mother was not present at her baptism. This is why the Godmother traditionally holds the baby. It was more important that the child was baptised than that the mother was present, especially in times when infant mortality was high.

    Andrea

  23. introibo says:

    Hi Andrea,

    I can see baptizing the baby as soon as possible, naturally. It’s just that I’ve never had the need to recuperate for 40 days, and I’ve had several children, including one c-section. Granted, I don’t have to walk miles to church or be bumped around in a horse and cart….

  24. ssoldie says:

    This blessing was given to me 40 day’s after I had my first born back in 1958, Fr. J Dolsina, that was when I learned about this beautiful Tradition, I don’t know when it ceased being done, but did not recieve it for any other of my children.

  25. nemo says:

    Was that Fr. Brancich, FSSP?

  26. Rose in NE says:

    @nemo

    Yes, that is Fr. Brancich.