by Sheila Myers
Special to The Leaven
OVERLAND PARK — Holy Spirit parishioner Courtney Weber is thrilled to be expecting her first child, but if delivery is anything like it was for her mother, she’s worried.
When she was born, Weber broke her mother’s tailbone.
“[My mother] said she hopes delivery is payback,” Weber said with a laugh.
To be on the safe side, Weber attended Holy Spirit on April 20 to participate in the archdiocese’s inaugural celebration of the Rite for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb, administered by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.
“I just thought it was a unique opportunity to have the baby blessed before it’s here with us in the physical world and to continue to have the pregnancy and delivery go well,” said Weber.
The Catholic Church’s unwavering position on the sanctity and beauty of life at its earliest stages is well known. So it’s surprising that it lacked a blessing for children in the womb.
“I think it was a lacuna in our liturgy,” said Archbishop Naumann. “It really reflects what we believe — that these children are part of our community from the very first moments of their life in the womb.”
In his homily, Archbishop Naumann noted that scriptural accounts of some of the most important biblical figures begin with conception.
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I dedicated you. A prophet to the nations, I appointed you” (Jer 1:5).
“Truly, you form my inmost being. You knit me in my mother’s womb” (Ps 139:13).
And in the New Testament, when a pregnant Mary visits her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, the unborn John the Baptist leaps in the womb to be the first to recognize the unborn Jesus.
Although the Bible is not a science text, these biblical accounts correspond to scientific knowledge.
“It’s one of the great ironies of our times that the lives of unborn children should be at such risk when, through science and technology, we know more today than we knew at any other time,” said the archbishop. “We can actually observe the development of new human life within the mother’s womb.”
The church urges married couples to welcome new human life, but in today’s self-indulgent society, it is not easy to be parents, he said.
“[Parenthood] requires a willingness of Christian mothers and fathers to lose their own lives in many ways as they strive not only to give life to their children, but to provide homes and a family life that provides for the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of their children,” said the archbishop.
The Christian home and family life are extraordinarily important because it is within the family that children come to appreciate their dignity and worth, he continued, and to experience the closest approximation of the unconditional love of God.
By establishing a blessing for a child in the womb, the Catholic Church is providing an opportunity for the community to recognize and pray for its youngest members as they grow and develop in their mothers’ wombs, said the archbishop, and to pray for Christian parents, especially Christian mothers, during pregnancy.
After the homily, Holy Spirit pastor Father Rick Storey invited the 20 or so expectant mothers in the congregation and their husbands and children to approach the sanctuary. Archbishop Naumann recited the blessing and, afterwards, the congregation applauded.
The blessing was a tremendous consolation for expectant parents Frank and Jennifer Governal of St. Joseph Church in Shawnee. The couple’s first child, Ellie May, was stillborn last year. Their second child is due May 16.
“The blessing gives you peace of mind that this child has been blessed [even] before she has a chance to come into the world,” Jennifer Governal said.
She worried that the pregnancy would be stressful after what happened, but it has been very smooth. She attributes that to faith and to a special connection in heaven.
“I feel that Ellie has helped us a lot,” Jennifer said. “She’s a little angel rooting for us.”
Archbishop Naumann said he’d like priests to offer the blessing within their parishes on a regular basis, but he will also offer it annually in the archdiocese.
Blessing of a Child in the Womb
God, author of all life, bless, we pray, these unborn children; give them constant protection, and grant them a healthy birth that is a sign of our rebirth one day into the eternal rejoicing of heaven. Lord, who have brought to these women the wondrous joy of motherhood, grant them comfort in all anxiety and make them determined to lead their children along the ways of salvation. Lord, you have put into the hearts of all men and women of good will a great awe and wonder at the gift of new life; fill this community with faithfulness to the teachings of the Gospel and new resolve to share in the spiritual formation of these children in Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.