And Preparing for the Baptism of the Child
Archbishop Kurtz explains how "The Blessing of the Child in the Womb,” approved on 8 December 2011 by the Congregation for Divine Worship for use in the United States of America, can be a pastoral moment of first evangelization of the child and of new evangelization of the family.
"The Blessing of the Child in the Womb” was approved on 8 December 2011 by the Congregation for Divine Worship for use in the United States of America. This blessing is a pastoral moment of first evangelization of the child and new evangelization of the family. Warmly extending the love of Christ to families as they prepare for the birth of their child, this sacred gesture is both a positive and hope-filled way to announce to society the great gift of human life as well as a gracious invitation for the parents to begin steps for the baptism of their child, once born.
The “Introduction to the Blessing” eloquently describes the benefits of the rite in:
- Expressing the joy and expectancy for this child, a gift from God.
- Offering grace and compassion in a time of concern.
- Uniting the parish in prayer for the unborn child and in support for the mother, father, and other members of the family.
- Fostering respect for human life within society.
This new pastoral action responds to the call in the Instrumentum Laboris that was prepared for the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith, to revivify pastoral activity and reach out in invitation as the Church renews her baptismal practices.[i] This action of blessing and invitation calls to mind Elizabeth’s reception of the greeting of Mary as “…the baby leapt in her womb” (Luke 1:41), and as she “cried out in a loud voice: ‘Blest are you among women and blest is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:42)
Pastorally Reaching Out
Indeed, this blessing is a true invitation of Christ to draw near to the parish community and serves as a first step for baptismal preparation. The conception and birth of a child is a call to a new responsibility of the parents. Thus, in addition to touching the hearts of the mother and father and becoming a new evangelization for the parents and family, this blessing is an encouragement for mother and father to embrace their new vocation in the “formation and transmission of the Christian faith from the very beginning of life.”[ii]
The contemporary pattern on the part of the parents to delay the baptism of the child calls for such outreach. Rightly the Instrumentum Laboris laments “…the choice by some baptized parents to postpone the baptism of their child for various reasons, the most frequent of which concerns the free choice of the child once he reaches adulthood.”[iii] Equally likely is a non-decision; a delay that stems from fear or embarrassment because of being away from the practice of faith or simply a lack of priority within the busy life of a young family. Thus, there is a need for pastoral outreach by the Church.
There is reason to believe that the faithful will respond positively. Recent surveys show that close to 80% who identify as being Catholic are “proud to be Catholic,” even though, sadly, their presence at Sunday Eucharist falls well short of that percentage.[iv]
I have taken the occasion to seek the insights of the faithful within the Archdiocese of Louisville regarding this blessing and there has been overwhelming support for it. Many have suggested that extended family members, friends, and neighbors would find it attractive to invite an expectant mother and the father and family to come for a blessing. The faithful commented that these parents wish to do the best for their child; it is a time for hope and excitement as well as natural concern and anxieties, providing rich opportunities for support and prayers.
The Vocation of the Parish
The Instrumentum Laboris calls for the “vocation of the parish as a point of reference and coordination for a wide range of Church realities and pastoral initiatives,” and this blessing is certainly a moment of evangelization within the life and rhythm of a parish community.[v] In addition to individual blessings requested, the moment of new evangelization is enhanced by celebrations of the blessing during the Holy Eucharist. In the United States of America, such regular invitations might be extended most appropriately during October (Respect Life Month), during December around the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, during March around the time of the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, or during May, on or around Mother’s Day. Its potential as a way to reach out warmly to a mother and her family would serve as a fruitful time to invite baptismal preparation.
I pray that this “Blessing of the Child in the Womb” and the invitation to begin preparation for infant baptism will be a true occasion in which the Lord Jesus will open for families the “door of faith.” (Acts 14:27)
1 Synod of Bishops, XIII Ordinary General Assembly, The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith, Instrumentum Laboris, (Vatican City: 2012), 131.
[ii] Ibid, 111.
[iii] Ibid, 132.
[iv] Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice Among U.S. Catholics (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University) April 2008, 96.
[v] Synod of Bishops, XIII Ordinary General Assembly, Instrumentum Laboris, 105.
This article is originally found on pages 9-10 of the printed edition.