Demeaning to Women?
When I went to a Novus Ordo Mass on Candlemas Day, the feast was announced as that of the Presentation of Our Lord. Father was at pains to point out that until “the Reforms of the Second Vatican Council” it had been known as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (To us Trads, of course, it still is.) He thought the change was a Very Good Thing, mainly because it placed the emphasis on Our Lord rather than Our Lady. That is a dubious point, as one does not dishonour Our Lord by honouring Our Lady.
Father asserted that the Purification was based on the idea, shared by Jews and Moslems as well, that bloodshed—inevitably an accompaniment to childbirth—was somehow unclean. That, he said, was why Catholic mothers used to go through the ceremony of churching, six weeks after the birth, a practice which he clearly regarded as demeaning to the female sex. There was in fact a very sound reason for the ceremony, which Father didn’t mention: in addition to giving thanks for a safe delivery, it meant that pregnancies would not occur too dangerously close together, as marital relations should not be resumed until churching had taken place.
The priest linked the ceremony of churching with other Old Testament practices. For instance, he thought that the ban on eating pork was imposed because in those days there were no fridges and so meat went off comparatively quickly, particularly in hot weather. Then why just pork? There is no evidence that pigmeat decomposes any sooner than beef or mutton. He didn’t mention the incident in Acts 10 and 11 where St Peter, as a result of a dream, declares that from now on all meats are to be regarded as ceremonially pure, and links the lifting of this ban with the admission of Gentiles to the Church.
Father didn’t describe the ceremony. It was rather beautiful, and I wish we still had it:
The mother kneels in the vestibule, or within the church, carrying a lighted candle. The priest, 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 the appropriate 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.’
And here is one of the prayers that may be said during the ceremony:
Almighty, everlasting God, who through the delivery of the Blessed Virgin Mary hast changed the pains of childbirth into joy, look mercifully on this Thy handmaid, who comes in gladness to Thy temple to offer thanksgiving; and grant that, after this life, through the merits and intercession of the same Blessed Mary, she may be found worthy to attain, together with her offspring, to the joys of everlasting happiness. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Nothing about bloodshed or uncleanness there. And nothing demeaning to women.