Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Blessing the Child in the Womb

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Anyone (which is practically everyone) who’s ever been close to a pregnant woman knows her paramount concern is for the child in her womb.

Many years ago I lived with pregnant unmarried teens and saw this firsthand. Residents came from all different backgrounds. A few came from troubled homes, some even from institutions from which they had been assigned by the courts for pretty untoward behavior. These institutions, which are not always serene, didn’t want responsibility for teenagers when they were pregnant lest the unborn child be injured while in the institution’s care. Hence, they were sent to the house where I lived.

If I hadn’t known otherwise, I never would have guessed that these young women had criminal backgrounds. They were gentle and easy to live with because care for their unborn child was their chief concern. Violence was no longer part of their lives.

Exposure to this megadose of maternal love may be why I find the Blessing for the Child in the Womb one of the most pastoral initiatives the Church in the United States has ever undertaken. It’s a simple ceremony which can be performed by a priest or deacon in private or at a Mass.

Norma Montenegro Flynn, a media officer at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, invited people from our office to the chapel for a blessing of her child in the womb. As she and her husband John stood before the altar, the priest prayed “God, author of all life, bless, we pray, this unborn child; give constant protection and grant a healthy birth that is the sign of our rebirth one day into the eternal rejoicing of heaven.”

He prayed that Norma be granted “comfort in all anxiety and make her determined to lead her child along the ways of salvation.” He prayed that John would “know the grace and pride of fatherhood” and find “courage in this new responsibility” so he might be “an example of justice and truth for this child.”

Norma and John had lost their first child toward the end of her second trimester, so those of us who knew of the second pregnancy prayed extra hard. Then when Norma was in a car accident, our whole staff, men and women, felt panicky. Grateful that she was not seriously hurt, we prayed still harder.

At the blessing, a sense of peace enveloped us and remained. Some weeks later, Norma went into premature labor and gave birth to little Angelo Gabriel, who weighed in at 3.6 pounds. Now almost five months old, he was baptized just before Christmas and is a blessing beyond the womb.


Note: USCCB President Archbishop Joseph Kurtz and USCCB Associate General Secretary Monsignor J. Brian Bransfield co-authored a booklet on the blessing for Our Sunday Visitor. You can purchase it here.

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