2 February 2017


No, I don't have any problem about renaming the "Purification of the BVM" the "Presentation of the Lord"; because that is what it is. But I do feel a little uneasy ... without having any cut-and-dried solutions to offer ... about some of the cultural trends behind the change in name.

To talk of "Purification", whether of our Lady or of Women after Childbed ("Churching"), would, undeniably, carry with it in our culture a sense that either the person or the process was Dirty. And most certainly neither is. So there is no doubt that the old language would impose upon us the burden of difficult explanations to a world instinctively disinclined to listen to explanations about anything from Christians. So perhaps we are best without such language. But ...

I take it that what lies behind such traditional language, and also behind the provisions of the Torah about menstrual women, is, deep down, a wholesome human instinct for rhythm, for one time not being identical with another time, which has existed in most human cultures. The woman "purifying" herself from her period, or from childbirth, is not submitting to cultic rituals implying that she is sinful or dirty or unfit for decent society. She is ritually emerging from a period of seclusion. I have heard Orthodox Jewish women referring to menstrual seclusion as safeguarding and enhancing the respect in which they are held as women.

In our society you are likely to switch on your television and see an advert for a product which, if you are a woman, will enable you to go into the circus and do acrobatics on the high trapeze any and every day of the month. Well ... I know that we have all made fun of feminist dafties who are said to devise quaint and messy rituals to honour menstrual blood. But is it really wrong to institutionalise in a society any respect for the mysteries of life and for the role which Woman, the Sacerdos Vitae, enacts within those mysteries? There is an enormous logical disjunction when our culture strips woman, as far as it can, of the the physical distinctions resulting from her procreative role ... and men still want to sleep with her.

Only Religions retain a sense of rhythm; of Fast and Feast; of recurrent cycles. And even Latin and Protestant Christianity have more or less dumped all that by giving up the notion of fasting. I think many clergy (who do to some degree live the liturgical calendar by saying the Office) would be fairly staggered if they found out how little their laypeople - even the more regular members of their congregations - were aware of the passing of the Church's seasons. If we imagine they really say to themselves "Aha! White vestments! Goodie!! I wonder what festival we are so joyfully keeping today?", we are living in a fools' paradise. And, Fathers, what are your memories of negotiating with a couple who want to book their wedding for Holy Saturday?

In the world, you can eat out-of-season food any day of the year ... I know because, I shamefully admit, the other day I had some rather good Moroccan raspberries. That culture has invaded the Church. So, of course, there can be no such thing as an out-of-season woman. Raspberries ... sex ... modern Western Man (and Woman) cries: "I want it now!".

A little later, my opinions on Cardinal Mueller's Interview.


Fr. Michael LaRue said...

The most useful analogy I have heard the that of comparing the purification of women after childbirth to the purification of the calice at the end of mass. There is something sacred about both, and holy things are dangerous, so purification both honors the holiness and also keeps it as something sacred, i.e., safely set apart.

Banshee said...

I think most lay Catholics are very interested in the Church year. But we are not taught about their implications.

A lot of people "know" that music should not be too fancy during Lent, and some priests even teach that children should not be baptized during Lent. (!)

But folks have no idea that Lent is not historically a time for weddings, so how are they supposed to know that the day after Good Friday is not a day for nuptials?

The only reason I knew that weddings don't happen in Lent is that it came up in a Victorian collection of Irish songs. I went to Catholic school and had a good Catholic education for my generation, but that means a terrible one for other generations.

Banshee said...

That said, I think a lot of younger Catholics do have a vague idea that Advent and Lent are not wedding times. But without knowing it for sure, they find it hard to resist bright ideas like a "winter wedding with Christmas trees" or a "pre-Easter wedding" being floated by bride magazines.

Ttony said...

May I just say how good this is!

Josh Hood said...

It's very hard to avoid the "dirty" implications when using "purification" language. But I would prefer to maintain it, generally speaking, even if it has the potential of being misunderstood. As you rightly say, Father, people increasingly do not care for Christians to explain anything, so I am not sure of the benefit or wisdom of changing our language to accommodate such attitudes. In the particular case of this feast, the change of title does not bother me overmuch, as it does not fundamentally change what the day is about.

As you said, these purifications are not about cleansing dirty humans, but rather they are ritually washing off mortality in order to enable communion with the transcendent immortality of God. Women are ritually cleansed after childbirth and menstruation for the same reason that men are ritually cleansed after nocturnal emissions, or those with lesions or wounds are cleansed after they heal: they are washing away the "stuff" of mortal, earthly life to return people to the life of angels.

Holy Baptism, of course, is the purification par excellence for Christians; the Western Christian's use of holy water when entering a Church and the Eastern Christian's drinking of holy water before morning prayers are other manifestations of the same impulse.

Unknown said...

I think of the purification of the altar vessels after Mass. Surely the Lord's Body and Blood did not make them impure?

Also, of Saint Joseph and his sublime understanding of Our Lady's holiness, and her espousal to the Holy Spirit, and his chaste reverence for her and for the Mystery.

In this unholy age such realities seem beyond explaining.

Anne said...

The Queen Mother....very essential reality of the Old Religion. She petitions the King on behalf of the people and the King will not refuse her. "But Son they have no wine.....go and do whatever he tells you." One of those discarded "images" of the New Religion.

John Nolan said...

The Novus Ordo is antipathetic to any sort of 'layering'. This applies to feasts like the Circumcision and the Purification. It also applies to the Mass, which even when celebrated in Latin, must be strictly linear - there is nothing so silly as watching priest, deacon and subdeacon standing at the altar doing nothing while the choir sings the Sanctus and Benedictus.