On the vigil of Gaudete Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, as the Church is called to “rejoice” (Gaudete!), the Cathedral’s 5:30 p.m. Mass will be the apt occasion for the annual “Blessing of the Child in the Womb.”
In the past, parents and family members have gathered in surprisingly good numbers for this blessing, drawn by their desire to rejoice at the coming birth of their child and to pray in the midst of the swirling emotions that accompany every birth.
When we first began this annual tradition, I wondered whether any would show up, but it has become quite popular, and I invite you to reach out to expectant mothers and invite them and their families to the blessing.
The official “Rite for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb” was approved by the Vatican just nine years ago on the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, March 25, 2012. How fitting on the day in which we as a Church celebrate the very moment of conception of our Savior Jesus in the womb of His blessed mother Mary, and we recall her generous and faith-filled “yes” to her vocation.
The blessing has a special meaning to me. In 2008, I received a phone call from Father Frank Brett, a retired priest of the Diocese of Knoxville, who claimed that he had searched to no avail for an official blessing for the child in the womb as he worked with many young couples who were having their first child. To my surprise, I scoured the official Catholic “Book of Blessings” approved by the Vatican and, while I was able to find a blessing for expectant mothers and a blessing for a child once born, there was no blessing to be found for the child in the womb.
I happened to be on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities at the time, and so I raised the question about such a blessing at a meeting. This discussion eventually resulted in the “Rite for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb,” prepared by the USCCB Office of Divine Worship and approved that November by the U.S. bishops for inclusion in the official “Book of Blessings.” In 2012, the Holy See approved both the English and Spanish text for a blessing of a child in the womb.
There are many good reasons to promote the blessing of the child in the womb in our day. First, we as a culture need to rejoice at the gift of new life, and the blessing is a perfect way to do so. I wrote a small pamphlet with Msgr. Brian Bransfield entitled “Gift of Joy: The Blessing of the Child in the Womb” in 2013 to capture the significance of the blessing.
In emphasizing the joy in the hearts of mothers and fathers, Msgr. Bransfield and I stressed that in the same act, God creates a child and transforms a man and a woman into a mother and a father. That joy ought to enliven the whole Christian community and our entire culture. (If you wish to learn more or give a copy to expectant parents, click here.)
A second important reason for promoting the blessing is highlighted every October during Respect Life Month. Every child conceived is a testimony to the great dignity of the human person. Forty years ago in the apostolic exhortation, “Familiaris Consortio,” St. John Paul announced that “… the future of the world and of the Church passes through the family” (n.75). The public blessing of the child is a call to our culture to safeguard and cherish the precious gift of human life.
As the Supreme Court deliberates on the weighty issue of constitutional protections for life, we pray that human life will be protected from the first moment of conception and we pray that we as a Church will “walk with mothers” who need help.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has promoted concrete ways in which to assist mothers and their children, both born and unborn. There are great programs run by Catholic Charities of Louisville, in organizations such as the Little Way Pregnancy Center, and through a variety of parish-based efforts. Next month’s annual “Opportunities for Life,” collection gives you and me the chance to provide financial support for these fine efforts.
Evangelization or announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who yearn to hear the saving message of Jesus is a third rationale for the blessing. In 2012, I was privileged to be a delegate at the Holy Father’s Synod on Evangelization. At synods, the delegates are invited to prepare “interventions” that serve as proposals for action through the synodal process. As my intervention, I highlighted the blessing of the child in the womb as a first step for the Church to reach out to expectant mothers and fathers. If some expectant parents have been distant from the Church, this is one way to reach out to them with the Church’s encouragement and welcome prior to baptismal preparation.
Yesterday, Dec. 8, was the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the grace-filled moment in which our Blessed Mother was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, and prepared for her special vocation to be the mother of Jesus, our Savior. Join me through the intercession of Mary, conceived without sin, to pray for children in the womb of their mothers. May this blessing touch all of our hearts!
This Tuesday, Dec. 14, will mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Thomas Cajetan Kelly, OP. Please join me in prayers for the repose of his soul and in gratitude for his blessed service to Christ and His people.