The Churching of Women: A Blessing for Mothers after the Birth of Their Child
Save the Date: On Sunday, 15 October at 10a, Father Smith will give a special blessing to women who have had a child in the past year who want to give thanks to God for the life of their child. Please join us!
The Old Covenant: According to Leviticus 12, a woman who bears a child was considered ritually impure (one week for a son and two weeks for a daughter) because of the emission of blood, seen as the life force in Semitic cultures. The mother would then have to take a ritual bath in water. At the end of this time of purification, she would then come to the temple to offer a year-old lamb as a burnt offering and a turtledove as a sin offering. The priest offered up the animals as a sacrifice of atonement and thanksgiving.
Christian Tradition: The Levitical laws of the Old Covenant found their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. After the Redemption, women were no longer ritually impure after birth; they were to be recognized as participating in God’s gift of creation. For most of Christian history, however, many mothers spent a significant amount of time in recovery in bed after birth. Because of the high infant mortality rate and the desire to see children baptized as soon as possible after birth, many mothers were never present at the baptisms of their children, who were often brought to the font by their fathers and godparents. Today, most mothers are able to recover very quickly and be present at their child’s baptism. But for centuries, when a mother was well enough to come back to Mass, she would first ask the priest for a blessing in thanksgiving for her child, in imitation of how the Blessed Virgin went to the temple to receive the blessing of the priest after the birth of Jesus. Because it was the first time the mother was able to come back to church, this blessing was called “churching” in English-speaking countries. A purification ritual of the Old Law was transformed into a blessing of thanksgiving.
The Restoration of Churching at Prince of Peace: Nowadays, most mothers are present at the baptism of their children, and receive a short blessing at the end of that rite. Requests for the old rite of churching gradually disappeared. But as many young people seek to reconnect with the traditions of their religion, more mothers are asking for the rite of churching nowadays. At Prince of Peace, mothers are always welcome to ask the priest for the rite of churching after a baptism or at some other convenient time, either privately or with their families and friends. For some time in our parish, we have celebrated on the Rose Sundays of Lent and Advent the blessing from the Roman Ritual of expectant mothers. But we have not as a faith community marked the blessing after birth.
We would like to invite all mothers who have given birth in the past year who would like to give thanks publicly for the birth of their child in church to join us on Sunday, 15 October, when the Catholic Church in America observes Respect Life Month, at the 10a Solemn Mass.