Monday, June 23, 2008

An old tradition returns

In the metro-Detroit area where I reside, an old Catholic tradition is making a slow return at a few nearby parishes: the churching of women. Recently Assumption parish in Windsor, Canada (just across the river) had one, and St. Josaphat in Detroit celebrated a churching yesterday. The churching of women is a blessing given to mothers six-weeks after childbirth (so long as the child was born in lawful wedlock and was baptized a Catholic, though it can still be given if the child has died without baptism or was stillborn).

In the rite, the woman gives thanks to God for a happy delivery and asks for the graces necessary to be a worthy Christian mother. Sometimes the child is offered to God, reminiscent of the offering of Christ in the Temple by Mary, though the blessings and prayers are specifically ordered towards the good of the woman.

In the rite, the woman kneels with a candle in the vestibule. Then the priest, vested in surplice and white stole, sprinkles her with holy water in the form of a cross. Having recited Psalm 24 (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."

In a time when even the greater devotionals like Eucharistic Adoration anf the rosary are neglected in many parishes, it is not surprising that this lovely custom should have all but vanished in the past forty years. It is good to see communities like St. Josaphat's in Detroit bringing it back, and I'm sure we'll here more accounts of this rite in the coming months.

I for one think this is a good, relatively "non-offensive" rite that a parish priest could offer if he is looking to introduce some traditional customs back into a primarily Novus Ordo parish without necessarily having to make the jump to a TLM if the people are hostile to it. While many might complain about the Traditional Mass, I can't see anyone fussing about blessing a mother who has just given birth.

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