This Mother’s Day, Catholics in the U.S. will have a new Rite for Unborn Children. The announcement was made this week on March 26, the Feast of the Annunciation. According to the CNS News Brief,
The blessing was prepared to support parents awaiting the birth of their child, to encourage parish prayers for and recognition of the gift of the child in the womb, and to foster respect for human life within society. It can be offered within the context of Mass as well as outside of Mass, and for an individual mother, a couple or a group of expectant parents. “We wanted to make this announcement as soon as possible so that parishes might begin to look at how this blessing might be woven into the fabric of parish life,” said Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship. “Eventually the new blessing will be included in the Book of Blessings when that text is revised.”
This is all very nice, but leaves me puzzled. Why is blessing an unborn child considered a new rite? Was there no such rite before? Do we need an official rite?
I went to my old, tattered version of the Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers, published by the American bishops back in 1988. It includes several ‘Blessings before and after Birth’; for the Conception or Adoption of a Child: during Pregnancy, for both parents: during Pregnancy for the Mother: near the Time of Birth: Thanksgiving for a Newborn or Newly Adopted Child: Parents’ Thanksgiving: Bringing a Child into the Home: and even a Mother’s Blessing of a Child when Nursing or Feeding.
A newer version of Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers is now available. The Canadian Bishops have since published Blessings and Prayers for Home and Family, available on the CCCB web-site. We used the older book often when the children were younger. It was a handy reference for special prayers, and graces before a meal during liturgical seasons and feast days.
But, we didn’t actually need any special resources to bless the unborn children in our family. Each night, we gathered as a family and recited a list of prayers. We ended with a litany of names. God bless Mommy and Daddy. God bless Grandma and Grandpa. God bless Babcia and Dziadzio. God bless…and then began a list of all our children including cousins. For many years, the list ended with ‘AAAAAND the new baby’! It was a simple prayer of blessing, raised to the heavens by loving siblings and cousins asking for the safe arrival of the newest family member.
While it is nice that the American bishops feel the need for an official rite of blessing, I can’t help but think that attached to this official rite might be the desire to keep the act of blessing within “official” hands. It reminds me a bit of the pastors who invite non-Catholics into their communion line so they may receive a “priestly” blessing, rather than a watered down version from the lay Eucharistic minister.
We all need all the blessings we can get. And it is a wonderful idea for the parish community to have an opportunity to join in a prayer of blessing for expectant parents and their child. God bless the bishops for promoting this. The books of blessings for home and family encourage and invite us ALL to bless each other. For what is a blessing, but a shout out to God? When we bless someone, we are asking God to shower them with the courage, grace, faith, hope and love needed to live fully both the joys and sorrows of life. And, we don’t need an official Rite to do this.
(see also bless you!…can I?)