From the Pastor: Real Blessing or Counterfeit?
The other day I had a couple in my office asking for a blessing. The wife was pregnant, so what better time to bless her and their newly conceived child? Ah, what a glorious thing to do. I remember that a few years back the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops made a big deal out of creating a “new” rite for blessing the unborn baby within the womb. This was a “big deal” because, supposedly, the Church had never had such a blessing for the child in utero before now. I am skeptical about most liturgical things that come out of the USCCB and I certainly find consternation in their “Book of Blessings” which mostly fail to actually bless anything. Yet, since it was supposedly the only one of its kind, I was about to grab it when common sense took hold of me. I instead went and got the old, traditional Roman Ritual book containing blessings and found, lo and behold, a “Blessing of an Expectant Mother”. I gave the blessing and the happy (three-persons!) couple went merrily on their way.
Sharp readers might have discovered a small but significant discrepancy between what the USCCB spent countless hours and dollars pulling out of thin air and what the old ritual already had. The new rite (yes, they developed a “rite” rather than just a “prayer” so that they can sell you a bilingual English/Spanish book for $6.95) is called the "Rite for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb". The old prayer is a blessing for the mother carrying the child. Slight difference but pretty big at the same time. At least it is if they both limit the blessing to only one particular person, mother or baby. But do they? Let us see.
The new Rite is five (English only) pages long for the version within Mass and 11 (English only) pages long for the version outside of Mass. It contains three prayers which it calls blessings, and which are preceded by this rubric: “If appropriate, the mother is invited to come forward, along with the father and other family members. With hands extended, the celebrant blesses the child in the womb and all those present, in these words:” That says that everyone there is being blessed, not just the preborn baby. The first prayer asks God to bless the unborn child and bring comfort to the mother (comfort, but no blessing). The second (optional) prayer says it is for the father but only asks that he be granted courage and be made an example of justice and truth. No blessing. Blech. The third (also optional) prayer, is for the family but is even more troublesome to me. “Lord, endow this family with sincere and enduring love as they prepare to welcome this child into their midst.” Why is it troubling? First, there is no blessing asked for them. Second, if welcoming the child in their midst is still a thing in the future, what is the reason they are there present for the blessing in the first place? Is it not because they have already acknowledged him to be in their midst? Have they not already welcomed him and now desire God’s blessing upon him who is already a new family member? Yet this prayer excludes the unborn baby from the family by not including him in those who will be filled with love. Why not, if he is a family member and this is a family blessing, ask that he, too, be filled with love? These prayers are nice enough until and unless you think too much about what they actually say and don’t say, do and don’t do. And, of course, there is no sign of the cross made over anyone by the priest.
So now let’s see what the old ritual says and does. It, too, is bilingual, with three pages in English and 3 in Latin. Two preliminary prayers ask for the mother to have a solid faith and constant protection from all adversity, that she be guarded and defended from the unfeeling enemy, that her baby be born and baptized and come to eternal life. Those are pretty powerful prayers of preparation for the actual blessing, if you ask me! The actual prayer of blessing drives away “all snares of the enemy” and calls upon the holy angels to preside. The blessing is not bestowed (with the priest making the sign of the cross) only until the baby is born, but it is to be ever present. It then asks that they (mother and child) be saved and given everlasting light. It concludes with a Trinitarian blessing (and another sign of the cross) upon both mother and child.
Why does any of this matter? Because I am constantly asked, “Why do you celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass?” This, though not the Mass itself, is one very obvious reason. Through the TLM I have discovered a treasure trove of discarded and forgotten liturgical gifts, of which the rest of the Church only has pitifully woeful imitations.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka