I gave birth to my second daughter a little over three weeks ago. So Sunday, as part of the celebration of the Feast of the Transfiguration, our priest also wanted to include the Churching of Women.
The Churching of Women liturgy is found after the Holy Matrimony section in the Prayer Book. It is headed “The Thanksgiving of Women after Child-birth, Commonly called the Churching of Women.” It consists primarily of the woman reciting Psalm 116 with the priest, along with a thanksgiving on behalf of the woman and a prayer that the new baby may grow in the love and service of God.
One main reason my husband and I decided to become Anglicans is the arrangement of Scripture and prayers flowing out of Scripture in the Book of Common Prayer. Here, we have living words for practical church use that can hold all of life – that are strong and rich enough to encompass both the joy and the sorrow of the human condition.
So, I love that this short liturgy exists and gives form and substance to the emotions that take place after bearing a child. With my first daughter, I labored very long, through three nights and days. She was finally born on a Sunday morning, at around the same moments my church recited the Great Litany and remembered me when they prayed, “that it may please thee to preserve… all women in child-birth… We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.”
When later, our priest came to our home and we went through the Churching of Women in our living room, I wept as my emotions found articulation in the Psalm: “I found trouble and heaviness; then called I upon the Name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul. Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.”
This time, as I recited the Psalm before my whole church, it was joyful to participate before them, welcoming them into my own thanksgiving. It was a way of declaring, “my whole life is here; it is before God and with you. Nothing that I do – even in the most personal moments – is isolated from Christ and His body.”
By going through the Churching of Women, we acknowledge that child-birth is not just something to breeze past in the joy of a new baby. This ceremony recognizes the painful passage that a woman undergoes in child-birth and dignifies the woman before the whole church. And, in a way, like the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2, it highlights the act of child-birth as a paradigm of Christlikeness, the act of dying to oneself for the sake of another.
As modern culture does away with all forms of ceremony, I think we individuals feel increasingly isolated and cut off from anything beyond ourselves. But when an individual woman takes part in the Churching of Women, she finds herself kneeling in the same position as the many mothers who have gone before her. She finds herself taking the same posture as Mary herself, who could declare, “I am the Lord’s handmaiden, may it be to me as you have said.” When she may not know what to say – overwhelmed with post-partum hormones, sleep deprivation, joy, and often frustration – she is given living and fitting words that can bring shape to her soul.
“My delight is in the Lord; because he hath heard the voice of my prayer.
Because he hath inclined his ear unto me; therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.
I found trouble and heaviness; then called I upon the Name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul.
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.
What reward shall I give unto the Lord for all the benefits that he hath done unto me?
I will receive the cup of salvation, and call upon the Name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows now in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the Lord’s house; even in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord.”