Thanksgiving of Women after Child-birth, commonly call'd the CHVRCHING OF WOMEN.
THe Woman when she comes to give her thanks, shall kneel near to the place where the holy Table stands: but in the Church of Rome, she was to kneel at the Church door.
The Woman may come to give her thanks, whensoever she shall be able, Decretal. l. 3. Tit. 4. But if she be likely to live, she is required by the Civil Law, according to the Tradition of the Church, to forbear the coming to partake of the holy Mystery forty days after the Birth. Not for any unholiness in the Woman, or incapacity of receiving the holy Mysteries at that time; (for if there be fear of death, she may receive them, as soon as she please after the birth;) but for some secret reasons in the Law, which are set down, Constit. Leon. 7.
The Woman that is to be Churched, is to have a Veil; and good reason; For if as S. Paul 1 Cor. 11. sayes, Every woman, when she prayes in publick, ought to have a veil or covering on her head, in token of her modesty and subjection: then much more, when she is to sit in a more eminent place of the Church, near to the holy Table, apart from the rest of her Sex, in the publick view, ought she to have such a Veil or covering. Nor can it be deemed unreasonable for her at that time to have a Veil or habit distinct from others; that so it may be known, for whom thanks is then particularly given.
The Preface following. Forasmuch, &c. is left arbitrary to the Priest, but the prayers are all prescribed.
Then shall the Priest say the 121. Psal. I have lifted up mine eyes unto the Hills, &c.. The Church appointing this Psalm at this time, does not intend to perswade us by this, that this Psalm was pen'd for such a particular occasion as this; or that the promises of Gods protection and assistence there expressed, were directly and primarily made to persons in that danger of child-birth: but because the Psalm at the very beginning tells us all, that our help comes from God, it is thought seasonable at this time to be used, to mind the woman from whom she hath received that mercy of deliverance, and to whom she is to return the honour due for such a mercy, even to him from whom comes all our help, the Lord that made heaven and earth. And this were enough to justifie the Churches choice of this Psalm at this time; in that, part of it is so fit for this business in hand, though it were not penn'd upon this very occasion "for so we find Hezekiah commended, for appointing of the Psalms of David and Asaph, to set forth the praises of God in the publick services, 2 Chr. 29. 30: although neither had Hezekiah and the Church then, the very same occasions to use them, which David and Asaph had, nor did every particle of those songs, so directly and properly belong to Hezekias and the Church then, as they did to David and Asaph." But not only the beginning of this Psalm, but even the whole body of it is fit and suitable to this service, and those promises of divine assistence therein exprest, though they were primarily and in their first intention made to the Church of the Jews: yet in their proportion they do belong to the person coming to give thanks, and to every one that shall lift up their eyes to the Hills, and trust in God. For not Israel at large, but Israel lifting up her eyes to God, and trusting in God, is the formal and true object of this promise; which therefore belongs to every such person as shall be so qualified, so depending upon God. This rule S. Paul hath taught us, Heb. 13. 5. applying there the promise made particularly to Ioshuah Chap. 1. 5. to every one of us that shall contentedly depend upon God, as Ioshuah was commanded to do in expectance of that promise. Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have; For he hath said, I will not leave thee nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, the Lord is my helper.
One verse of this Psalm may perhaps at the first sight seem not so well expressed, namely this, the Sun shall not burn thee by day, nor the Moon by night; for the Moon does not burn but cool. But it is easily cleared, by taking notice that to burn is not always taken in the strict and proper sence, but usually in a larger; whereby it is the same with, to grieve or hurt; a ordinary skill in language will enform us; so the meaning is, The Sun shall not hurt thee by day, nor the Moon by night, whose shine is held to be very hurtful.
After the Psalm follow the Kyrie or short Litany, and the Lords Prayer, so admirably good and useful, that there is scarce any publick service dispatcht without them: after these follow some Verses and Responds, of which and the reason of their use, together with the antiquity of it, hath been said already, and need not be here repeated. But there is one thing observable in these Responds or Answers which was not spoken of hitherto, nor was so observable in some of the former Verses and Responds as in these here; and that is this, that some of these Answers are not of themselves intire sentences or petitions, as the others were, but are parts or ends of the foregoing verses, the verse and Answer together making up one entire petition. For example,
O Lord save this Woman thy Servant,
R. Which putteth her trust in thee.
Be thou to her a strong Tower,
R. From the face of her Enemy.
This I observe, because it seems to be the remain of a very ancient custom. For Eus. in Hist. l. 2. c. 17. tells us, that the Primitive Christians in the singing of their hymns, had this use; that one began and sung in rhythm; the rest hearing with silence, only the last part, or akroteleutia, the ends of the Psalm or Hymn, all the rest joyned and sung together with him. Agreeable to this says Clem. Const. l. 2. c. 57. was the usage in his time and before. After the readings of the Old Testament, says he, Let another sing the Psalms of David, and let the people answer ta aposticia, the extreams or ends of the Verses. What the reason of this ancient custome was, I will not peremptorily determine; whether it were only for variety, which much pleases and delights, and is a great help against weariness; which those Primitive Christians, (who continued in sacred exercises from morning to night) had need of. For which cause says Euseb. in the place above cited, they used all decent and grave variety of rhythmes and Meeters in their Hymns and Psalms. Or whether it were to avoid the inconvenience of indecorum and confusion, which the people (usually not very observant of decency) were guilty of in their joynt singing: and yet to reserve them apart in these Offices; that it was so appointed, that they should only sing the extreams or ends of the Verses. Or what else was the cause, I leave it to others to judge.
The prayer following is clearly fitted to the occasion.
The woman that comes to give her thanks, must offer. Rubr. after the Thanksgiving. Although Offerings be always acceptable to God, yet some times there are, in which the Church hath held them more necessary, as hath been shewn formerly about offerings. First, when the Church is in want. Secondly, at the holy Communion. Thirdly, when we come to give thanks for some more than ordinary blessing received; Then not only in word, but in Deed also to thank God, by bringing a present to God. Psal. 76. 10, 11. That this is more than an ordinary blessing, a deliverance that deserves even perpetual thanks, David tells us, Psal. 71. 5. Thou art he that took me out of my mothers womb, my praise shall be always of thee. This service is to be done betwixt the first and second Service, as I have learnt by some Bishops enquiries at their Visitation; the Reason perhaps is, because by this means it is no interruption of either of these Offices.