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"Do Women Have Souls?"

Have you heard about the sixth-century Church council where bishops took a vote on whether women have souls? No, that didn't actually happen, but it has been a popular anecdote for decades -- handy for anyone who wants to paint the Catholic Church (or religion in general) as anti-women and isn't too picky about their facts.The September 11 "Laity Issue" of Commonweal has a feature article by Kathleen Sprows Cummings on how the myth of the Council of Mcon figured prominently in American discourse in the early twentieth century, and what that reveals of the historical roots of the divide between Catholics and feminists that persists to this day. (The article -- "Do Women Have Souls? Catholicism, Feminism & the Council of Mcon" -- is available online only to subscribers, which may be the excuse you've been looking for to subscribe now.)Looking at how easily bad information spread one hundred years ago makes me wish I could say we've come a long way. The Internet makes fact-checking easier than ever -- but it takes skill to use it to find the truth, and far less skill to use it to spread or validate bad information. Here's hoping this post will stop someone, somewhere, from telling the story of the Council of Mcon as if it were true. For more background on how the Mcon story got started in the first place, check out "The Myth of Soulless Women", an article by Michael Nolan from the April 1997 First Things. And if it's the American history angle that interests you, check out Professor Cummings's recently published book, New Women of the Old Faith.In related news: in July, Notre Dame's Web site featured a response from Professor Cummings to the news of the "visitation" of American women religious. It seems quite careful and rather mild to my eyes, but it drew the ire of the Cardinal Newman Society, who called it "a radical feminist commentary that is disrespectful of the Vatican." You'll have to decide for yourself.

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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Nice article by Kathleen Cummings but I don't believe her conclusion for a moment. But I'll let Peggy Steinfels relate to that which she may pass on since she knows the intractability of it. As far as the word myth is concerned it is a word which changes its meaning adding to confusion. Saying that Genesis or or other bible stories are myth is different than saying that the Council of Macon stating women had no souls is false. Talking about false impressions Mollie's post conjures up a lot of notions. The Newman Society was started by the Paulists to foster ecumenism and were roundly condemned for Americanism. As with other groups like the Franciscans the church took them over and destroyed them. Thomas clearly states that women are inferior right from conception doesn't he? And talking about myth how did the mother of Constantine ever become a saint? Because she found the true cross? You know what Mark Twain wrote about the true cross.....Of course women did exact their revenge in ages past by becoming nuns in a society in which wives were pretty much property. Now that sex is considered desirable and women are moving strongly upward the refuge to relgious life is not that attractive. At any rate I do find it troubling that at Notre Dame Professor Cummings encounters rebuke when she trumpets women's causes. There are a lot myths or falsities to overcome depending on how you want to view those terms.

"American clergy and hierarchy are less successful in selling religious life today because most Catholic women today are less willing to dedicate their entire lives to subsidizing the Churchs infrastructure."Selling? Subsidizing? God forbid we use the dirty s-words, "service" or "sacrifice." Does Cummings even realize she is insulting the nuns by implying they are stupid enough to have bought the bill of goods the clergy was "selling" them?If this is what passes for a careful and mild statement, I can only imagine what a contentious and partisan statement would look like!

Mark, you miss the essential words: "subsidizing the Churchs infrastructure. You quote it but do not seem to get it. Although the nuns managed to rise above the slave structure, the hierarchy reveled in the cheap labor. Sadly, the religious and clergy life was always a big sell which was shattered once the candidate actually entered. At which time the obedience thing took over, along with obfuscation and denial.

Bill: what is it that you "don't believe"? Mark: I certainly wouldn't describe your interpretation as careful or mild.

Mollie, This statement of Cummings: "Both Catholics and feminists will have to let go of their preconceived antipathies-if the gap is ever to be bridged."I understand that there are some unreasonable feminists. But I believe that Cummings is being too politic in giving the "Catholics" equal standing. As I see it there is not a level playing field with the patriarchs still recalcitrant.

Mark, why not interpret the statement as saying 1) they do want to serve, and sacrifice; but 2) not within the framework of the institutional church.

A more interesting question that is perhaps not yet settled is encapsulated in the title of the first chapter of John Rist's book What Is Truth? He poses it this way: "The human race, or how could women be created in the image and likeness of God?"

"1) they do want to serve, and sacrifice; but 2) not within the framework of the institutional church."But don't their sacred vows or promises situate them within the framework of the institutional church? (I'm not being argumentative - I'd really like to know).

Being within the framework of the instituional Church is a very broad area and one in which the role of women will continue (as it has down the centuries) to evolve. Emphasizing "sacred vows" gets us back to the long arguments we had about meaning of obedience and also the question of male dominace and clericalism.I think the article was disappointing (as I'v esaid) because it jumps from the 6th century to the present without toiching on much antifeminism in between (e.g. Innocent VIII.)Gradually, women were officailly accepted as somewhat equal, but it took a long time.But not that equal -no role for women's orders and now the "visitation."I think the views of religious women to this discussion would add a lot, but obviously the Romanists don't want to hear that!

I think that discomfort with the current structures of the institutional church is one reason many people don't take those vows in the first place. So people will find other ways to serve that don't require a tight connection. They remain baptized Catholics in good standing, but find ways to serve that don't require, say, obedience to a superior.

You seem to have two threads here - do women have souls? and the opinion piece from Notre Dame's professor.You may question the objectivity, etc. but you would gain a huge historical insight to the issue of catholic nuns/sisters in the United States and their relationship to the church's authority via:Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church's Betrayal of American Nuns by Kenneth Briggs (Author) From Publishers WeeklyBriggs, a former New York Times religion editor, spent eight years researching and writing this report on the disappearance of Catholic nuns from the American church scene. During that time, some 25,000 sisters died and the number of American nuns fell to under 70,000, compared with 185,000 in 1965. In setting out to learn what happened to cause this marked decline, Briggs interviewed legions of nuns who lived through the cataclysmic Second Vatican Council of 19621965, which brought major reforms to the church and religious life. Although nuns were largely excluded from the council, Briggs suggests that it gave sisters a mandate to renew their communities and the freedom to determine how. But when bishops, priests and eventually the Vatican stood in their way, the sisters were "double-crossed." Briggs believes that had the sisters been allowed to interpret Vatican II as they understood it, their decline might not have been so sharp. However, he also points to cultural shifts and church politics as factors that affected the sisterhood's vitality. Moreover, he observes that the sisters may have contributed to their own demise by remaining loyal to church authority. Readers sympathetic to the cause of sisters who sought greater reform than was achieved will most appreciate Briggs's work on this important topic. OR - Sisters: Catholic Nuns and the Making of America by John Fialka Opening Chapter: "Nuns were the Catholic serfs" by Jay P Dolan in his book, The American Catholic Experience. "Obviously, not all bishops acted this way; but those that did were so numerous that this aspect of American Catholic history would constitute a book in itself."

You're right, Bill D., and I didn't really mean to start a discussion about the issues that the "visitation" raises. (We'll have more opportunities for that soon, I think.) But the fact that the CNS reacted that way to Cummings's remarks seems pertinent to the point of her article -- that Catholics and feminists still regard each other with mutual (and often unfounded) suspicion. I'd say, if the Cardinal Newman Society folks really think that's a "radical feminist commentary," they're not getting out enough.

"Mark, why not interpret the statement as saying 1) they do want to serve, and sacrifice; but 2) not within the framework of the institutional church."Cathleen, Simple. That's not how the statement was written, and that's not how the statement was meant."Mark: I certainly wouldnt describe your interpretation as careful or mild."Molly, I must say that I'm quite disappointed you have not yet recognized my post as the comment of the day. What's the hold up? Obviously, you are not as on the ball as Grant Gallicho.

Ok, thx, Cathleen, I misunderstood your previous comment - I thought you were referring to women who had already made promises of religious life, and were now seeking to live out those promises outside the institutional church.Yes, I agree that the prospect of serving the institutional church can be off-putting, particularly the prospect of lifelong celibacy and lifelong attachment to a community. What we have today, istm, is a large cadre of baptized women who are serving the church - the institutional church - in a professional capacity, but without the promises, order and trappings of religious life. Teachers, pastoral ministers, nurses etc. - in fact, the roles that at one time in the US were largely filled by religious sisters. But they're missing the organizing principle - the "ordering" - of the religious communities.

Tangentially related to the women and souls topic:I seem to recall from the dear dim days of grad school that St. Augustine of Canterbury wrote a somewhat whiny letter to Pope Gregory asking whether it was OK for menstruating women to receive communion.Apparently this had been hammered out well before St. A's day, and Pope G wrote back somewhat testily to remind him that the story of the woman cured of the hemorrhage had long ago been used to overthrow of the notion that menstruating women were somehow unclean or unfit to receive the Lord.The notion that women were at times unclean, which I think crept in from Judaism, persisted, however. Vestiges of it can be seen as late as the nineteenth century in the Anglican Communion, when it was the custom for women to be "churched," i.e., return to church, only after a certain number of days were passed after childbirth, 30 days for a boy and 45 for a girl.Given that there have been these ideas floating around about women, it's sort of hard for me not to see the proscription against the ordination of women deacons and priests as as a holdover of that notion of women's uncleanliness rather than something God intended us to view as sacred tradition forever and ever, amen.

JeanI have heard that churching was also a practice, though not required, of RC women right back there in the mid-20th century. It is all too easy to confuse folkish superstitions with the Word of the Lord.

"if the Cardinal Newman Society folks really think thats a radical feminist commentary, theyre not getting out enough."Not getting out enough. Not reading. Dogmatic. On the other hand there are plenty of moderates who have never heard of Mary Daly.

For some further insight on the supposed feminist/church antagonism check out this site Or just Google Mary Ward (nun).

Bill: Who's Mary Daly? might also want to read this latest article by Sandra Schnieders: (keeping in mind that Mollie did not intend this thread to focus on this topic)

Jean Every blog should have a good medievalist aboard. Well done.I guess St. Philip Neri parish in the Bronx was behind the times, as churching was certainly practiced there in the late forties, when I was growing up. The 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia has a description of the rite that seemed a bit more colorful than the rather furtive side-altar affair I recall asking my mother about. As she explained it, reluctantly, and with distaste, it certainly sounded like some weird purification ceremony with a strong eeeuw factor. The Catholic Encyclopedia ceremony involved the mothers having to kneel at first in the vestibule of the church, holding a candle. and be led in holding one end of the priests stole, and then be subject to many blessings and sprinklings and prayers, but finally being allowed to kneel inside the church. Of course, if the child happened to be illegitimate, the ceremony was denied. Not the churchs greatest idea, the whole thing. And no matter how they tried to revise it into a mild blessing/thanksgiving rite, the dramatic form of the ceremony continued to convey all too well what was really being projected: some strange dread, or fear, or horror of the woman who had given birth and itherby incurred some sort of impurity.

Joe and Susan are right - I clearlty remember in the 50's "churchings" being announced as happenin gafter Sunday Mass -must have been common.For awhile I was afraid that this thread might degenerate in some quarters into women knowing their placef or the sake of"good order,"Today's NCR has still another reflection on the wonderful compassionate and independent religious women.I'd extend that to many who are not vowed religious women.My question remains how much does Holy Mother appreciate the gifts of women; and, do we beleive the traidtion that since Christ and the twelve were male, women should be exluded from orders, nearness to the altar? positions of any authority?

Also from the old, online Catholic Encyclopedia:

For the studious woman as for others who earn a livelihood the academic calling is only a temporary position. The sexes can never be on an equality as regards studies pursued at a university. . . .In Christianized society also man was to act as the lawful representative of authority, and the lawful defender of rights, in the family, just as in the civil, national, and religious community. Therefore, the social position of woman remains in Christianity that of subordination to man, wherever the two sexes by necessity find themselves obliged to supplement each other in common activity. The woman develops her authority, founded in human dignity, in connection with, and subordinate to, the man in domestic society as the mistress of the home. . . .Therefore the political activity of man is and remains different from that of woman, as has been shown above. It is difficult to unite the direct participation of woman in the political and parliamentary life of the present time with her predominate duty as a mother. If it should be desired to exclude married women or to grant women only the actual vote, the equality sought for would not be attained. On the other hand, the indirect influence of women, which in a well-ordered state makes for the stability of the moral order, would suffer severe injury by political equality. . . .

Mollie - to your point about the CNS reaction as a symbol of catholic vs. feminist - is this still germane?Here is an interesting article about church leadership highlighting the need for dialogue, forgiveness, and the centrality on relationships: Connection in Chaotic Times - wonder if sister's points do not apply to this thread and to the continuing divide between some catholics and some feminists.Points: "Maintaining the status quo in the exercise of leadership leads inexorably to disastrous failure""Leadership today is all about having the conviction to connect across differences (male/female?); division, discord, fear (misogynistic rules - remember my German grandmother complaining about the need for purification; she had 8 children and was a staunch, active catholic woman).Wonder if it is not time for the church to seek forgiveness for some of its historical practices in terms of women.

David N, it's good to see you contributing again!

If we are going to criticize the practice of "churching", what do people think of the modern practice of "working"? I know a lot of places where women are not allowed to work until ninety days after they give birth. I do not know much about ritual ceremonies to commemorate the return to work, but I am sure that they could be quite ghastly.

My favorite is from the NEW Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) sv Doctors of the Church. The author addresses the possibility of a woman be named as a Doctor, and concludes that it would never happen since teaching is associated with ordination.Two years later, in 1969, Paul VI named Ss Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila as Doctors of the Church. JP2 recognized St Therese of Lisieux as one of the Church's greatest teachers some years late.

Bob, here is just one url on her. also taught at Boston College. She was really a special person.

Jim McK said: If we are going to criticize the practice of churching, what do people think of the modern practice of working? I know a lot of places where women are not allowed to work until ninety days after they give birth. I do not know much about ritual ceremonies to commemorate the return to work, but I am sure that they could be quite ghastly.Jean asks: Comparing a church service that seems designed to "purify" a woman who's given birth with a work policy that requires women to take 90 days for maternity leave for a whole different reason--to ensure she has adequate time to recover and get to know her baby--strikes me as kind of odd.In any case, perhaps churching has taken on different connotations in the last 50 years or so. I've never seen it done, either as an Anglican or a Catholic. Not criticizing it; just saying it seems to have its roots in the notion that women are unclean after delivery. Am I wrong? Please correct me.And 90 days?? Most employers want you back in your seat in six weeks (eight weeks for a C-section). In many places, it's expected women will work at home during maternity leave. In any case, if anybody knows of an employer who actually BARS women from coming in for 90 days after a birth, please let me know, because I want to work there.

I believe the prayer for the mother that's part of the current baptismal rite ("God the Father, through his Son, the Virgin Marys child, has brought joy to all Christian mothers...") is the vestigial remains of the rite for "the churching of women." If that's right, the old custom has evolved into something quite lovely (and there's a matching prayer for the dad). Nevertheless, I think you're right, Jean, that the custom grew out of the old-law notions of purity and ritual impurity. I found when I was researching the altar-girl stuff that the old notion that women shouldn't be allowed into the sanctuary of the Church also lingered longer than you might expect, in official as well as unofficial ways.

This is a tangent to what you are addressing but it comes from the National Conference of Bishops of India - very interesting in terms of addressing the role and rights of women in the church (Gender Equality): appears to be the type of document that the USCCB was unable to finalize in the late 1980's because of both Rome and internal differences.Highlights:"Sources in the Catholic Church, one of the most rigid patriarchal structures around, said the equal representation policy was historic. It would be the first time in the history of the Catholic Church across the world that such an attempt is being made, said a source.Women, no matter whether they are nuns or ordinary laity, have never got their due. Ours is an attempt to redeem this century-long injustice, said Sister Lilly Francis, executive secretary of the CBCI Commission on gender policy.The crack at the Church glass ceiling followed an all-India survey initiated by Sister Lillys team. Some of the bodies where women stand to get equal representation are CBCI commissions, which take decisions regarding all aspects of Catholic life; seminaries; parish and diocesan pastoral councils, which take administrative decisions; finance committees that decide diocese budgets; marriage tribunals and social service societies.Women can also become pastoral assistants in all parishes and take part in a common decision-making process, says the policy, which includes a plan to ensure violence-free homes and workplaces.The gender policy would be a landmark, Sister Lilly said. It is the first time in the history of the Catholic Church that this kind of an initiative is being taken. Even fellow sisters from the so-called liberated western countries could not believe that the Catholic Church in India is going to have an egalitarian system this soon.The CBCI Commission, however, steered clear of the controversial topic of considering women for priesthood, which would allow them to conduct Mass.The Catholic Church has been consistently opposing priesthood for women, though the Anglican Church has allowed women to be ordained since the 80s.As part of its plan to bridge the divide, the CBCI Commission has suggested gender sensitivity courses and feminist theology as main subjects in seminaries, where priests and nuns train, and also called for Biblical interpretations from womens perspective.According to the policy, each parish should have a womens cell and a vigilance cell against violence. It has recommended gender sensitisation workshops for bishops, priests and other office-bearers. The CBCI has been told to condemn domestic violence and sexual abuse through church documents and homilies.The Commission has asked the CBCI to stress on education of girls in Catholic schools and organise programmes at villages, parishes and dioceses to boost self-confidence among women.Another suggestion is emphasis on equal partnership while conducting marriage preparation courses. Educate men on the art of sharing power, the Commission says.The policy also includes suggestions to ensure equal pay for equal work for women employed in Church-run institutions, and land and property rights for women."

"I believe the prayer for the mother thats part of the current baptismal rite (God the Father, through his Son, the Virgin Marys child, has brought joy to all Christian mothers) is the vestigial remains of the rite for the churching of women. If thats right, the old custom has evolved into something quite lovely (and theres a matching prayer for the dad)."Mollie, do you have a source for that? I suspect it's a nice idea but not correct. Bugnini's account of the reform doesn't mention it, for instance; I've read a lot about the reform of baptism and don't remember ever seeing this. ISTM, the root of the blessing at the end of baptism is more likely found in the general practice of formal blessings, such as the nuptial blessing at weddings, and what is really new is that the new infant baptism rite pays attention to the parents at all. I have three reasons for not seeing churching in that blessing: one is that the practice of churching is credited with being the origin of the prohibition against parents attending the baptism of their infants. Infants had to be baptized sooner than the mother were allowed to go to church. Second, the ritual of churching began at the door. Whatever the words say, the ritual was one of admittance. Third, I can't imagine if the origin was the churching of women how in the world they ever persuaded anyone to do it for men. But I could be wrong.

No source, just hearsay! So you're much more reliable. Was there a blessing of the mother in the earlier baptismal rite?

The origin of "churching" is probably Luke 2, which looks back to both the ritual purity code in Leviticus and the consecration of Samuel by his mother in 1 Sam. So its origin is in the NT fulfillment of the law, rather than in the perpetuation of it, no matter how much the rite seems to reflect the impurity of women.So it is probably better to see this as a consecration rather than a purification, an elevation to heaven rather than an elevation from the dirt. It is a woman's rite, as the story of Hannah and Samuel shows: she is the moving force behind the consecration of Samuel, not the temple or the prophet.Is "churching" really that different from "working"? In pre-modern cultures, absence from church probably meant absence from other public venues like markets, so a mandated absence probably meant some relief from at least some everyday burdens. While misogyny may be responsible for the text of the rite, it would have survived only as a woman's rite, something that women found valuable enough to participate in during the busy time after the birth of a child.

The LORD said to Moses, "Tell the Israelites: When a woman has conceived and gives birth to a boy, she shall be unclean for seven days, with the same uncleanness as at her menstrual period. On the eighth day, the flesh of the boy's foreskin shall be circumcised, and then she shall spend thirty-three days more in becoming purified of her blood; she shall not touch anything sacred nor enter the sanctuary till the days of her purification are fulfilled."

Are we to believe that things like this -- rules and commandments uttered in the voice of God himself in Leviticus and elsewhere -- were actually communicated in some way to human beings, and it was God's will that people (at least at that time) should obey ritual cleanliness laws? Or are we to believe that the cleanliness code has naturalistic origins? Did God really want his people, up until the time of St. Paul, to be circumcised? (Surely St. Paul thought so.) And if we don't today believe things like the cleanliness code came from God, how do we figure out what else God says in quotation marks in Leviticus didn't come from him either?This is an old question in a somewhat different form, but I would still like to know the answer. If we are insulted by the idea that menstruating women are unclean, surely we don't believe that uncleanliness was something God revealed to the Jews. But what else do we toss out?

I don't know how to go about answering any of David's questions (and hey, come to think of it, I don't know how we ended up on the topic of "churching" anyway). But I would like to add that my feelings about this whole topic are complicated further by the knowledge that lots of observant Jews still abide by the restrictions and guidelines for menstruating women (and for everyone else). I'm not inclined to criticize that. I think what rankles me is how, in Christian cultures, attitudes about women's purity/impurity tend to outlast the rest of the code -- and removed from the context in which they originally made sense, they look more like sexism for its own sake.

I've never heard of "churching" before. I wonder if it was cultural as much as religious, i.e. associated with certain peoples or ethnic groups. David N. suggests that the Law on this topic may reflect a wider practice and belief amoung ancient peoples. Perhaps "churching" represents the same phenomenon.

A few years ago, HBO presented a documentary entitled "Purity". To quote from a promo: "Israeli filmmaker Anat Zuria examines the Tharat Hamishpaha (family purity), the ancient laws and rituals shaping womens lives and sexuality within Jewish Orthodoxy. Giving new insight into a guarded religious community, Zuria presents her own experiences adhering to Orthodox practices, as well as those of her friends Natalie, Katie and Shira. At the heart of their stories is the "nidda - a ten to twelve day period restricting women from touching or engaging in sexual intimacy with their husbands, which culminates with a trip to the mikve (cleansing baths)." See for more details.What the connection is between this, Professor Cummings and the Cardinal Newman Society, I'm not sure, but I remember being fascinated by the film (not available on Netflix, by the way)

JimDon't forget that the church itself is, among other things, a human organization and no human organization is without its connections with particular cultural beliefs and practices. Consider. Why are bread and wine our symbols of food and drink? Why do we make use of olive oil and beeswax candles? These are not universals. As for churching, it surely has its roots in human ideas about ritual impurity, but the church at one time made these ideas and practices associated with them its own and now it has abandoned them. This should be insructive.Just now I remember that my mother once told me--I was very young and very curious-- that she was not present at my baptism because mothers did not take part in that ceremony. I remember thinking it very odd.

Sorry for prolonging the "churching" discussion. I no longer have easy access to an extensive library of liturgical books, for instance the 1954 US Latin/English Roman Ritual. (This interestingly was the first sanctioning of some use of the vernacular in the Church's rites. It was part of Pius XII's very important pre-Vatican II liturgical reforms.) I would like to be able to see the wording of the "churching" prayers. The practice was not uncommon at least up until the late 1950s. I don't think it was in any sense mandatory. It was a "laudable" practice for those who wished to present themselves for the rite. I recall that now and then as an altar server in a suburban Washington parish I would be asked by the priest to go with him after Mass to the altar rail (certainly not the Church door) because a new mother had requested the prayers. It was very low-key. The origins of the rite were no doubt regrettable, but I think in time that many women saw the practice as a blessing on their new motherhood.I am the second of eleven, and I don't recall my very observant Mother presenting herself for the rite. Perhaps a priest friend of the family did it in our house. (The family's closest priest friend, a friend now of sixty years, is still actively serving in a parish at ninety. He is for my siblings and me the last link to the previous generation.)What was strange was going off to the baptisms of my brothers (my two sisters, the tenth and eleventh, weren't born till after I left home and was not permitted in the grim rules of those days to go home for a mere baptism) while our Mother stayed at home as though some kind of invalid. And what was she doing? Preparing for the family party when we all returned from church! She, of course, got to see the photos when they were "developed" a week later.Again, excuse the loquacity, and on a tangential point.

Well, it's an interesting topic! Here's a little more info from the past, which jibes with John Page's recollections. I have a prayer book -- A Manual of Prayers for the Use of the Catholic Laity -- that belonged to my grandmother, and I remembered that "churching" is in it, so I've just looked it up. Now, the book itself dates to 1888, but this edition is copyright 1930. It has a section headed "Blessing of Women After Childbirth commonly called The Churching of Women." Beneath that, it says:

If, according to a pious and praiseworthy custom, a woman, after childbirth, wishes to come to the church to give thanks to God for her safe delivery, and to ask the Priest's blessing, he, vested in surplice and white stole, and attended by an acolyte carrying the holy-water sprinkler, will proceed to the door of the church. While the woman kneels there, holding a lighted candle in her hand, the priest sprinkles her with holy water...

There follows a brief service of antiphons and psalms.

Then, reaching the left end of the stole into the woman's hand, the Priest introduces her into the church, saying: "Enter thou into the temple of God, adore the Son of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who hath given thee fruitfulness of offspring."

The woman kneels before the altar, and there are more prayers and responses. The final blessing does seem to be the source of the blessing in the modern rite, as I'd heard:

Almighty, everlasting God, who, through the Delivery of the Blessed Virgin Mary, hast turned the pains of the faithful at childbirth into joy: look mercifully on this Thy handmaid, who cometh in gladness to Thy temple to offer up her thanks: and grant that after this life, through the intercession of the same Blessed Mary, she may be found worthy to attain, together with her offspring, unto the joys of everlasting happiness. Through Christ our Lord.

Here's the modern blessing:

God the Father, through his Son, the Virgin Mary's child, has brought joy to all Christian mothers, as they see the hope of eternal life shine on their children. May he bless the mother of this child. She now thanks God for the gift of her child. May she be one with her son/daughter in thanking God for ever in heaven, in Christ Jesus our lord.

Churchng was still common when I was first ordained (class of 1964), and I may myself have performed the rite. If I can find my old ritual book among my boxes of books, I'll look it up.The question of ritual purity is a complicated one, and by no means a phenomenon confined to Judaism or Christianity. I visited a sacred spring in Bali where a sign asked menstruating women not to approach the sacred spot. I don't think that the issue is sex-specific. I would like to learn more about it. Has anyone read Mary Douglas's books on Numbers and Leviticus? She must discuss them there. It's not clear that the reason why the loss of bodily fluids, whether blood or semen, was considered to disqualify one from sacred actions. I have seen one explanation that it is not because sexual activity or menstruation are "dirty," but because they involve the sacred that the rules were evolved--no mixings of the sacred, as it were. If one notices the language, some unexpected things appear. Thus when the priest moved from his service in the Temple in ancient Judaism, he had to "purify" himself before he could return to ordinary life. And the vessels that have held the Body and Blood of Christ, we say, need to be "purified" at the end of Mass. So "purification" seems to have something to with passage from one realm to the other.Anyway, it's a fascinating anthropological phenomenon.

Isn't "churching" a ritual affirmation that women have souls? If the rite goes back to the time of Christ, it would be a reason why the Council of Macon could never have happened.I was looking at prayers from an Eastern church yesterday, and saw that one long one had two endings, one for a mother and child and the other, shorter one for a mother whose child did not survive. What do we do now to acknowledge the stillborn or miscarriages? To express our acceptance of and concern for these mothers?

Mollie, I guess I'm the guilty party for bringing up churching, but the discussion has been the highlight of a bad week for me, so thanks for allowing it to continue.Many thanks to Jim McK for this: The origin of churching is probably Luke 2, which looks back to both the ritual purity code in Leviticus and the consecration of Samuel by his mother in 1 Sam. So its origin is in the NT fulfillment of the law, rather than in the perpetuation of it, no matter how much the rite seems to reflect the impurity of women.Also thanks to Mollie for providing bits of the prayers. All the historic and personal anecdotes seem to point to a ritual that has evolved over time--and probably reflects changing attitudes about women. All of the Catholic mothes in our neighborhood attended the baptism of their babies as far as I can remember (early sixties on). As for what the church does to express acceptance and concern for mothers after miscarriage, that question has been hashed over a lot here. I find All Soul's Day observances personally meaningful as a day of remembrance, and I suspect many women who have miscarried do, too.Still births seem to be treated somewhat differently; I've attended two or three funerals for stillborn babies in Catholic churches.

Our parish just finished and blessed a garden in the alcove around the bell tower and in front of the church entrance that is for memories and recognition of lost babies via miscarriage, sickness, disease, etc.

In The Order of Christian Funerals (1988), there is a section entitled "Rite of Final Commendation For An Infant." The first sentence of the introductory rubric or directive says that the "the rite may be used in the case of a stillbirth or a newborn infant who dies shortly after birth, or may be adapted for use with parents who have suffered a miscarriage." (A prayer to be used after a miscarriage is provided.)The Latin text, the Ordo Exsequiarum (1969), did not provide for instances such as these as well as many other frequently recurring pastoral situations. For this reason, the International Commission on English the Liturgy (ICEL), as part of its process, begun in 1980, of revising the first generation of English liturgical books (issued in the late 1960s/early 1970s), provided new rites and newly-composed prayers to meet the pastoral situations not addressed in the Latin book for the funeral rite.In 2001 the Holy See issued new regulations for the translation of the liturgical books into the vernacular languages. All of the existing books must be revised in light of these very restrictive directives. While originally-composed texts are still allowed, it is a very grudging concession. As a consequence, in the coming Missal, now expected in late 2011, there will be very few, if any, texts composed in English (as there are in the 1973 Missal now in use and in the revision of the Missal completed by the former ICEL in 1998 but denied by the Holy See in 2002). Eventually the Order of Christian Funerals will also be revised in light of the 2001 Instruction Liturgiam Authenticam, and the texts mentioned above will very likely be dropped from the funeral rite. And so we go forward?!

Strange to me is how the discussion on whether women have sould deveolved into a discussion of how the Church treats a new mother or one who miscarried.In the meantime, I note 9for Mollie's intest) that Bishop Morlino, up in Wisconsin (who banned a parish leader woman who supports woman's ordination) has imported Spanish priests wh owill not allow altar girls and have lots of Latin Masses.(NCR had a wonderful article on those VII priests.) I can see the furture running more from the JPII style like Morlino who want strict "orthodoxy" and women to know their place. Be good moms and submissive to your husbands....?

Bill D. - what a wonderful idea for your parish!John Page - as it happens, I'm involved in a ministry that provides burial for infants who are abandoned (usually, left unclaimed with the medical examiner; or, on occasion, a victim of crime). We use those prayers from the Order of Christian Funerals all the time. They are very beautiful. It would be a TRAVESTY if they were omitted from future editions of the rite.

Dr. Page - it is truly a sad and tragic affair that your efforts (& ICEL - e.g. Denis Hurley) will probably be undone, deleted, and ignored. In the single focus to re-latinize, the curial minority obviously show that they have overlooked valuable encultaration and true evolution of the need for national conferences to translate and add rites and prayers to meet the pastoral needs of their people.I apologize for the hurt and pain caused by unthinking and self-righteous clerics without even the thanks and acknowledgement that you so deserved.I saw and used some of your proposed last translations and they were very poetic, scriptural, addressed needs such as stillbirth, miscarriages, suicide deaths, etc.

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