Churching, officially Benedictio mulieris post partum (The blessing of women after giving birth), is an old Catholic tradition to purify a mother after childbirth. Countless generations of women participated in it as ritual to be accepted back into the pew for Sunday mass.Share
But far from being a rite to diminish women, Churching is a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of a new life, a celebration of femininity, and a blessing for mother and child. Let me explain. The tradition of Churching emerged in the early centuries of the Church. Pope Gregory the Great mentions it already in the 6th century. It was meant for the mother to return to church after a time of lying-in, for about 4 to 6 weeks, which matches the 40 days of the Levitical law for purification. For centuries, newborns were baptized within hours or days of their births, which meant their mothers could generally not attend the baptism. Churching was an occasion of thanksgiving for the lives of the mother and the child in a time when maternal and infantile mortality were high.
The time of lying-in before churching was a time of rest for the new mother, since the first few weeks after delivery are critical to the health of the mother for a complete recovery. A network and support system of midwives, neighbors, and family members helped the young mother with the care of her household. Churching then marked the return of the mother to her social life. She resumed her duties to their full extent. The celebration was often followed by a meal (in French, the word for churching, “relevailles,” is also the word for the feast that follows). (Read more.)