From a reader:
There will be two events of note in the coming week at Philadelphia.
This Sunday (Pentecost), before the 12 noon Missa Cantata, there will be a traditional Churching of Women with a recently delivered mother in the parish. This will be at St. Paul’s church, located at S. 10th and Christian Streets.
Next Saturday (May 29), a procession and Missa Cantata will be offered at St Mary Magdalene dei Pazzi, the first Italian-Catholic parish in the United States. A reception will follow. More information and location can be found for this particular event here.
N.B.: St Paul’s offers a Missa Cantata every Sunday at 12pm, said by Fr Gerald Carey of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. There are many Solemn High Masses through the year and other devotions and related events.
Some of you may not know about the tradition of "churching" women.
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.
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.
There is another prayer in the case of a still born child.
There is also a fine prayer for an expectant mother.
Y’know, I can’t help but think that this is one of God’s ways to supply actual grace to combat “post-partum depression”…
Actually, this isn’t a sacrament but a sacramental, right? Honestly, I’d probably pass if the woman were me. There are other far more appropriate ways to pray and get prayed for. It’s fair to add though that I don’t like little event-based ceremonies in general. I think they distract from more important things.
Anything to stand up and get a round of applause…no? OK, TLM, then a beneficent nod of traditional approval instead. Yeah, well, same program, different channel.
Churching of women was normally done in private and there wasn’t nothing to approve as it was normal, everyone did it.
The blessing is actually quite short and beautiful.
“Whether the child be living or dead, the Christian mother does not neglect, on making her first visit to Church, to beg the priest to church her [i.e. give her the blessing after childbirth, called “the churching of women”]. In either case she owes God thanks for protection and deliverance from greater danger; and she cannot offer thanksgiving more pleasing to God than that which the priest utters over her in the name of the Church.
If the child is living, there rests upon her the responsibility of providing for its temporal and eternal welfare; and for this the blessing of the Church is indispensable. Her first outing should be to the Church. The priest receives her at the entrance and sprinkles her with holy water as a sign of grace that the Church invokes upon her, and to strengthen her also to receive more efficacious blessings. She is afterwards presented with a lighted taper as a sign of the good example which a Christian and a Catholic, and still more a Christian mother, should give her child and her whole family. The priest’s stole is then laid on her hand, and she is led to the altar; because the treasures of salvation, which the Church holds for her and her child, are to be dispensed to her by the hand and the power of the priest. Having reached the altar, the priest offers prayers and thanksgivings for her and her child, and ends with reiterated prayers, blessings and sprinkling with holy water.Christian mother, esteem not as unimportant this touching ceremony instituted by the Church for you alone, and which every priest will, at your request, consider it his duty to perform. Much is contained in it, as well for you as for the child.” Rev. Pius Franciscus, O.M.Cap., 1926
“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.”
Is this ruling of the Congregation of Sacred Rites still in force?
This is essentially the same as the Churching of Women in the Eastern Church, it’s good to see it exists in “both lungs” as previously I thought it was only an Eastern thing.
In the Eastern Church the rite is a bit different but takes the same general form. It starts in the narthex with a prayer over the mother and then over the child. The priest is given the child and then the priest and mother walk into the church as the priest says, “The child (name) is churched in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The priest will then take the child (if male) into the altar through the Royal Doors (central doors in iconostasis) and carry the child around the altar. If the child is a female then the priest stops before the Royal Doors and gives the child back to the mother. All this is done while the choir or chanters sing St. Simeon’s Prayer (Nunc Dimittis).
This is all separate from the prayers said on the day after the birth and the naming service on the 8th day after birth.
I would love to read the last two prayers you mention, Father.
I was churched after the birth of my firstborn, according to the ’28 BCP.
The Thanksgiving of Women After Childbirth
commonly called the Churching of Women
¶ This Service, or the concluding prayer alone, as it stands among the
Occasional Prayers and Thanksgivings, may be used at the discretion of
¶ The Woman, at the usual time after her delivery, shall come into the
Church decently apparelled, and there shall kneel down in some convenient
place as hath been accustomed, or as the Ordinary shall direct.
¶ The Minister shall then say unto her,
¶ Then shall be said by both of them the following Hymn, the Woman
¶ Then shall the Minister say the Lord’s Prayer, with what followeth:
but the Lord’s Prayer may be omitted, if this be used with the Morning
or Evening Prayer.
At Mission San Juan Bautista in California, we typically have the Churching of a Woman right after the Baptism of her Child. We had in our Latin Mass Community this past Sunday a First Communion, a Baptism, and the Churching. Images of last Sunday at Mission San Juan Bautista can be found at
This looks to be a beautiful rite. I am not a mother but if I were, I’d seek out this sacramentary myself, to help obtain the graces needed to fulfill this vocation; one that is attacked (much like the priesthood) mercilessly in this culture. I wish my mother would have had access to this — it would have helped her so much to cope with motherhood and to know, as any mother would need to know, that God is with her. I hope that the Church brings back this practice in a big way. We need it.
FYI, St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi is the other church in the parish of St. Paul’s. It is a beautiful church well worth visiting and the fact that the first TLM in over 40 years will be celebrated there on Saturday makes the trip all the more worthwhile.
“The really traditional way is to wait until 40 days after childbirth.”
Which coincides just about exactly with 1) the 40-day “purification” period prescribed in the Old Testament after the birth of a son (it was 80 days for a girl, for reasons which would take all day to explain) and 2) the six-week recovery period prescribed in modern medical science. The blessing nowadays is usually just given at the child’s baptism but most couples usually wait about 6-8 weeks or longer to baptise their child anyway. (I only waited 3 weeks for my daughter, however, and my mom only waited 1 week when she had me! Neither one of us was sick or premature or anything like that, we just didn’t want to take any chances.)
I was surprised to read “the really traditional way is to wait until 40 days after childbirth” because what I’ve ever read about churching says that it is NOT to be thought of as the “Christian Purification,” or a substitute of the Jewish ceremony. I have been churched with all 6 children, and we do it immediately after the baby’s Baptism and consecration to Our Lady (always done in private ceremonies with family and godparents). I can use all the graces I can get, especially just after delivery! (I get to the church with the baby for baptism asap after delivery, normally by the first Saturday. Earliest has been 2 days after delivery).
This sounds so gorgeous I nearly wept. I wish I had known of this after my babies. But I pray to have another opportunity to experience it. To have this done at the ICKSP oratory I attend would be a tremendous privilege.
In the old days, when there was much justified fear of infection from outside and usually many relatives came ahead of time to live with new parents and help with the work, and where healing was slower without modern drugs, it was highly unusual for a mother to stir outside the house for at least six weeks after childbirth, if she could afford to stay home. That was her “maternity leave” from all the normal responsibilities and hard work that a woman had to deal with. All she had to do was focus on the baby and getting well.
Forty days was a nice round number, and the connection with associated Jewish stuff was probably just for nice. After all, it’s forty days in the desert, but it doesn’t mean we’ve been starving the baby. Hee!
Moving along… I agree that the Catholic ritual sounds incredibly beautiful. There was always a lot of feminist crup about this (and Jewish purification rites too). I always thought that was silly, because most cultures have post-childbirth rituals. But now, I can’t believe anybody ever thought this was taking the mother back like a dirty rag or a redheaded stepchild. Nobody who actually read the words could!
It’s like the priest is greeting a noble queen who’s gone on a great quest, faced death, and come back with a blessing and treasure for everyone. So he blesses her.
I agree that the blessing for the baby is also quite lovely. If the blessing for the stillborn is anywhere near that sweet, I’m sure it’s a great comfort to those who grieve.
It is a very wonderful experience. I cried like a baby throughout, but felt much better afterwards. (I think there’s something in the idea of churching as an antidote for the “baby blues”.)
“The old days” is relative. There was a period in the first half of the twentieth century in which women were thought of as invalids after childbirth. They had to lie flat for ten days in the 1920’s, which really made them weak! There were periods of time before that when they weren’t. I have no idea what “healing was slower without modern drugs” means. What drugs do you need to heal from childbirth? Good food and maybe vitamins; I really can’t think of a medication you would need to take.
The greatest source of infection in childbirth is the hands of the doctor! The great episodes of childbed fever occurred in lying in hospitals in the 18th century. But this is even true now. They used to say that the rate of infection soared 24 hours after membranes rupture, but it turns out it is 24 hours after the first vaginal exam! The greatest source of infection in childbirth now is the hands of a doctor in the very germ laden hospital environment. Once you are home, you aren’t particularly vulnerable to infection. And certainly not from casual contacts. Nor from going to church.
I think 40 days is a ceremonial time, not at all related to medical necessities. By 40 days most women are zipping around town with their babies. I took my second baby with me to pick a Christmas tree before she was 48 hours old!
All that being said, I love the idea of this blessing. I had only encountered the Book of Common Prayer version, and really didn’t know Catholics also had it. Although I should have known the writers of the BCP didn’t get it from nowhere. To get acceptance of it now you will have to make sure “purification” is de-emphasized and the “great quest” aspect of birth is emphasized. It really is a great passage for a woman. If she has been able to give birth consciously, it can be a triumph. If things have not gone as planned, emotional healing is often needed. This ritual could reflect both of these things.
I would not like to miss attending Mass for 40 days, as well as miss my baby’s baptisms!
Obviously, that should have been babies’ baptisms..
Feeling intense pain for hours is not particularly pleasant for your body. It activates all sorts of reactions in other parts of your body, shutting off less essential systems, changing what substances are produced, and so on. Having your entire body transform in a first pregnancy is stressful. Having your body transform back out of pregnancy mode after a pregnancy is stressful. Breastfeeding is good, sure, but it’s also bound to take a lot out of you early on.
So no, natural childbirth isn’t harmful, if that’s what you thought I was saying. But afterward, your body is going to take some time to go from “normal pregnant” to “normal not-pregnant”.
Of course, there are plenty of women who can get back on their feet and do stuff instantly. But a lot of women can’t, and a lot of women do have “baby blues”, and a lot of women just have some sort of logistics problem to deal with. That’s why the Church has pretty much always dispensed new mothers from attending Mass, for pretty much as long as they feel like it. There were plenty women who got churched and then went right back to not going to Mass on Sunday, even.
Forty days can be a long time after childbirth, an incredibly short time after childbirth, or just a convenient round Biblical number. But my point is that the whole churching business doesn’t sound oppressive, though that’s the way it’s usually argued against. It sounds empowering.
Now that I think about it, the idea might be that you’re imitating the pregnant Woman crowned with twelve stars of the Book of Revelation.
“She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.”
So you get your child Baptized, and he/she is safe, snatched up to God.
“The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God….”
In that one, it says that she was taken care of, for 1260 days; but 40 days is a pretty obvious desert reference. Then there’s a bunch of stuff at the end of the chapter about the dragon chasing the woman but she flies away on eagle’s wings and then hides under the earth.
So anyway… it does make me wonder about churching as a sort of reenactment of the Mary/persecuted Church symbolism of Revelation, or whether Revelation is supposed to be referring to customs that were already established in the early Church before John took pen in hand.
How beautiful and necessary for recovery after a seriously difficult birthing. I wish all the parishes did this. Infection is still a problem and a growing one in hospitals with MRSA,so I think the custom should be in all places, both TLM and NO.
“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 . . .
How exceedingly thoughtful and respectful this is! I wish I had known about this — not only for all my children that survived but also and even especially for my 3 miscarried children who did not live to see the light of an earthly day. On those occasions, there was always a social “black hole” that did not seem to want to acknowledge that there had been a death in the family. How respectful that the Churching prayer acknowledges the woman’s motherhood even when there is “no child to show for it.”
This blessing puts all the riotous thinking that can go on surrounding a birth in its right perspective — for everyone. Bring it back as soon as possible!
My mother had two sets of twins; three daughters survived, and the one son was stillborn.
I don’t know if she was ever ‘churched’ in the 1950s. I know that my twin sister and I were baptized conditionally after delivery [we were preemies]. Then part of the baptism was done at our house [it seems that we weren’t strong enough to be taken outside]. The rest of the sacrament was done in church.
Of course, I don’t remember any of it because I was just a wee one!
I did read in a biography of St. Damien of Molokai that his mother was ‘churched’ when he was baptized.
The Churching of Women is a beautiful ceremony that should be revived in every parish.
Father, I am not clear if the Churching of Women is done for women who have miscarried.
If not, the parish should reach out in some way to women who have had miscarriages. You mentioned stillborn babies and babies that died before baptism but does that include all who die before birth?
Losing a baby is a heartbreaking experience for the mother and father (and the lost child’s siblings and grandparents) and people who haven’t experienced it tend to act as is nothing has happened.
As q7swallows said “On those occasions, there was always a social “black hole” that did not seem to want to acknowledge that there had been a death in the family. How respectful that the Churching prayer acknowledges the woman’s motherhood even when there is “no child to show for it.”