May 14, 2012 (HLIAmerica.org) - Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. In English, the ancient axiom is translated “The law of prayer is the law of belief,” or the way we pray effects what we believe. In the early Church, many doctrinal disputes were settled on the basis of texts used for prayers. Before any creeds were developed there were decades of liturgical tradition.
St. Prosper of Aquitane, a disciple of St. Augustine, also said, “Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi” which means, “The Church believes as she prays.” The prayers we use are a means of catechesis – of teaching various truths of our faith.
Thus, everyone who respects life should rejoice in the new “Rite for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb Within Mass,” just published in both English and Spanish by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The prayers were approved by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 2011. The U.S. Bishops decreed the prayers be published on the Solemnity of the Annunciation.
The timing is not coincidental. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said, “I can think of no better day to announce this news than on the feast of the Annunciation, when we remember Mary’s ‘yes’ to God and the incarnation of that child in her the womb that saved the world.”
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The Church, in choosing to promulgate these two great solemnities, offers both a blessing and a lesson in reinforcing the truth that life begins at conception. This, of course, is not just our belief, it’s a fact. Any embryology text that doesn’t have an ax to grind in the abortion debate will tell you that a unique, complete separate human being comes into existence at the moment of conception. Our faith simply reinforces this fact and reminds us of the incredible dignity of each and every human being, who from the very beginning is made in the image and likeness of God.
I have often blessed pregnant women and their unborn babies in my 21 years as a priest. Mostly, I would use spontaneous prayers or adapt other prayers of blessing. What a tremendous resource for priests to have at our disposal now!
In the opening of the prayer, the Rite of the Blessing of a Child in the Womb contains this beautiful passage:
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.
The new prayers offer praise for “the wondrous joy of motherhood” and “the grace and pride of fatherhood, reinforcing what we already believe, but sometimes forget. And as Providence would have it, the prayers were first proposed at the Fall General Assembly of the Bishops in 2008, just days after Barack Obama was elected as President.
In a world where too many believe that life is less than precious, and in a nation where one out every five pregnancies ends in the violence of abortion, the language we use in referring to pregnancy and unborn children is important. For example, abortion is often referred to as the “termination of pregnancy,” but abortion doesn’t just end a pregnancy. It kills a child. We say a pregnant woman “is going to have a baby” or that couples “are going to be parents” when the life of that child has already begun, and the mother and father became so at conception.
The U.S. bishops’ hope is that these prayers will help parents of children in the womb “by imparting grace and comfort in time of concern and need,” encouraging parishes to unite in prayer for the child, and fostering “respect for human life within society.”
Priests, especially, should be aware that rites for the blessing of a monument to the unborn, a blessing of parents before childbirth, and a blessing for pro-life pilgrims have already been promulgated by the USCCB.
The way we pray truly does effect what we believe, and orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy (right belief leads to right practice).
Amid all the signs of cultural decay and lack of respect for life in our society, the new pro-life prayers and the new, more faithful and reverent translation of the Mass are a sign of hope. What a gift that these prayers are available for priests to bless mothers and their children in the womb on Mother’s Day!