I remember when in doula course the conversation turned to baptism. To my remark that children were once baptized in the first days of life, one of the girls outraged: “But how? When the mother is still in postpartum?”

 
Well yes – the mother’s attendance was not needed during the baptism of the child. Godparents were the ones who carried the little pagan to the church and held him during the sacrament. The mother who was still in postpartum could rest peacefully at that time. A separate ceremony was provided for her: Benedictio mulieris post partum, colloquially referred to as a churching of women.
Nothing outside a person can defile

The blessing of a woman after childbirth is a reference to the Jewish ceremony of purification after childbirth. It is this circumstance that the Evangelist Luke mentions in the description of Jesus’ sacrifice in the temple (Luke 2: 22-40). Also this moment from the life of Mary is remembered by the Church on the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ. It is also called the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

 

In the Catholic Church, unlike in Judaism, childbirth is not a defiling circumstance, so a young mother does not need purification. St. Gregory the Great emphasized this in the 6th century correcting some clergy leaning to follow the example of the Jews by sticking to the term “purification” in the blessing of a young mother. However, this view was still present in the Church for many centuries, although nothing in the prayers provided for this circumstance speaks of impurity. But there is much about pain turned into joy. 

Baptize Immediately
Zacznijmy jednak od początku: rodzi się dziecko. A właściwie nie samo się rodzi, ale rodzi je matka. I to nią teraz się zajmiemy dużo bardzo niż noworodkiem. Kiedy rodząca zmienia się w położnicę, zaczyna się czas jej powolnego dochodzenia do pełni sił. Ludowe tradycje nakazywały jej pozostanie około 40 dni w domu, zazwyczaj pod opieką innych kobiet. Gdzieś tam unosiły się przesądy o demonach, które mogą ją dopaść i skrzywdzić, gdyby taka młoda matka oddaliła się od domostwa. Gdzie indziej rozumiano, że poród to wyczerpujące zadanie i kobieta jest po nim osłabiona, a osłabienie sprzyja infekcjom. Tak czy inaczej, pierwsze sześć tygodni było czasem spokojnego wchodzenia w nową rzeczywistość.
Tymczasem dziecko musiało zostać ochrzczone. Czasem działo się to jeszcze tego samego dnia, w którym się urodziło. Nakazy kościelne były pod tym względem bezlitosne: zwlekać więcej niż osiem dni to już grzech ciężki. Troska o zbawienie dusz zawsze była w Kościele najwyższym prawem i to właśnie dlatego przynaglano (i nadal przynagla, choć już nie precyzuje terminu), by chrzcić noworodki i tym samym otwierać im Niebo. Wszystko to jednak było zorganizowane z poszanowaniem słabości matki, bo, jak już wspomniałam, to nie ona trzymała dziecko do chrztu, ale rodzice chrzestni. 

fot. Lucyna Jaworska

Such a blessing on a woman
When 40 days passed, a mother went to church. The ritual permits that she could take the child with her, but she could also appear at the temple’s doorstep without him. And so I stood there, holding a freshly baptized Nicholas. In order to avoid organizational complications, my churching of woman took place immediately after baptism. It was not a perfect solution, but the best one that we managed to work out at the moment. The priest went forward to meet me and greeted me at the door of the church, just as the bishops, in a sign of respect, was going forward to meet kings and dignitaries who were to perform a solemn function in celebrations.
 

May the Lord be with you and reward you for all the hardships of motherhood  – I heard at the threshold of the temple. I got a lighted candle and there were other words of blessing:

May God enlighten you so that you may know your motherly responsibilities and may light your heart with love so that you may fulfill them with dignity.

And then we entered the church: the priest handed me the end of the stole and led me through the church. And I was cuddling a baptized child, a little redeemed one, who, together with a priest, welcomed me to the church after the hardships of pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum. When we reached the altar, we prayed Beneath Thy Protection, the Magnificat and the Lord’s Prayer. 

And then even more blessings:

Almighty, everlasting God, who, by the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ of the Blessed Virgin Mary, has transformed the sorrows of believing mothers into joy, look kindly upon this handmaiden of yours, who, full of joy, comes to your temple to give you thanks. After the life of this world, through the merit and intercession of this Mother of God, let her and her child achieve the joy of eternal happiness. Through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

There was a tear in the corner of the eye.

And it was a moment when I felt in the perfect place and time, exactly where I was supposed to be, such a motherly moment of plenitude. The moment when all the puzzles fit together.

fot. Lucyna Jaworska

 


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