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Breastfeeding in Church | Catholic Life

Breastfeeding in Church

Disclaimer: This is an abstract examination of the great gift offered by mothers who not only breastfeed their children, but also publicly witness to the love of Christ through their continued presence in sacred assemblies. This is not an assertion that all women should be mothers, that all mothers should breastfeed, or that all breastfeeding mothers should do so in Church. In reality I would probably fall far from this ideal if I were a mother. But, regardless of how far we are from the ideal, Good remains Good. Breastfeeding is good, and breastfeeding in Church is good.

1494 Botticelli

Yesterday at the National Shrine the lector read of Jerusalem’s abundant breasts and God’s great love for us. The congregation’s eyes glazed over with a lack of understanding rivaled only by their obliviousness about passages which compare humans to sheep. In one of the side chapels a mother hid herself away to breastfeed where no one could see her. It was certainly well within her right to seek privacy, but the paradox was a sad reminder of the pathetic state of the American Catholic Church related to the theology of breastfeeding.

Mothers who breastfeed offer a great gift not only to their children, but also to the Church as a whole through their witness to love. This witness is particularly compelling when they breastfeed in a sacred setting.

Breastfeeding is a sign of God’s great love for us.

Thus says the LORD:
Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her,
all you who love her;
exult, exult with her,
all you who were mourning over her!
Oh, that you may suck fully
of the milk of her comfort,
that you may nurse with delight
at her abundant breasts!
For thus says the LORD:
Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river,
and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent.
As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms,
and fondled in her lap;
as a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort.

When you see this, your heart shall rejoice
and your bodies flourish like the grass;
the LORD’s power shall be known to his servants,
but to his enemies, his wrath

Isaiah 66:10-14

1395 Bartolo

Breastfeeding is a symbol of the Virgin Mary’s truly human motherhood of the Son of God, and thus of the humanity of our Savior.

Glory to that Voice Which became Body,
and to the Word of the High One Which became Flesh!
Hear Him also, O ears, and see Him, O eyes,
and feel Him, O hands, and eat Him, O mouth!

You members and senses give praise unto Him,
that came and quickened the whole body!
Mary bare the silent Babe,
while in Him were hidden all tongues!
Joseph bare Him,
and in Him was hidden a nature more ancient than anything that is old!

The High One became as a little child,
and in Him was hidden a treasure of wisdom sufficing for all!
Though Most High, yet He sucked the milk of Mary,
and of His goodness all creatures suck!

He is the Breast of Life, and the Breath of Life;
the dead suck from His life and revive.
Without the breath of the air no man lives,
without the Might of the Son no man subsists.
On His living breath that quickens all,
depend the spirits that are above and that are beneath.

When He sucked the milk of Mary,
He was suckling all with Life.
While He was lying on His Mother’s bosom,
in His bosom were all creatures lying.
He was silent as a Babe,
and yet He was making His creatures execute all His commands.
For without the First-born no man can approach unto the Essence,
to which He is equal.

From Nativity Hymn 3 By Saint Ephraim

Breastfeeding is a reminder of the truth of the goodness of the body, and the fact that female sexuality exists for the great good of motherhood, not merely for man’s pleasure. For centuries the Church urged women to breastfeed their own children, and elite men resisted in order to retain greater access to their wives for both pleasure and increased progeny. Despite the wishes of ruling men, the Church insisted that the goodness of a mother nursing her child was of greater importance than the desires of their husbands. Even as the Virgin Mother offered herself to her child, so all mothers should love their children. And their husbands should follow the example of Saint Joseph and patiently support breastfeeding, even when it required personal sacrifice.

1383 Bertram

So human and natural is this bond that the Psalms use the image of the infant at its mother’s breast as a picture of God’s care for humans (cf. Ps 22:9). So vital is this interaction between mother and child that my predecessor Pope Pius XII urged Catholic mothers, if at all possible, to nourish their children themselves. From various perspectives therefore the theme is of interest to the Church, called as she is to concern herself with the sanctity of life and of the family.

John Paul II

Cranach the Elder

The Church is not foolish enough to imagine that She should urge mothers to breastfeed while simultaneously holding that it is immodest and inappropriate to do so in public. In fact some bishops will go as far as to suggest that they wish that more mothers would breastfeed their toddlers in Church as it reduces crying.

The idea that women should not breastfeed in Church is a part of a larger misunderstanding of women’s bodies and association of women’s breasts purely with male lust. When such anti-Catholic ideas are allowed to continue without refutation an entire segment of Catholic mystical tradition is lost to perversion. Suddenly the Lactatio of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux is a disgusting example of Catholic sexual deviancy, rather than a glorious sign of God’s love transmitted to humans through the beautiful act of breastfeeding. And I cannot even imagine what those who view breastfeeding as “immodest” think of the Saints who fed at Jesus’ breast!

Machuca

The solution to the great divide between Catholic Tradition and American Catholic practice is not to ignore or “clean up” tradition, but to rethink our views and bring our lives into conformity with the way that the Church has always understood breastfeeding.

A mother who breastfeeds her child gives a great good to her child through the physical reality of her act. She also offers those who see her a vivid reminder of the goodness of the human body and of God’s astounding love for us.

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14 Responses to “Breastfeeding in Church”

  1. Faith 05. Jul, 2010 at 11:38 am #

    Lovely. Sweet. Although I never breastfed in Church, I can agree with some bishops, that the crying level would be reduced. This reminds me of the legend that says that Indian papooses never cried. That’s probably because the babies were carried so close to their mothers to make access to breast feeding, easier and faster. Also, when hiding in the bushes from enemies, breast feeding did keep the infant from crying.
    Beautiful. Thank you. You’ve brought back some precious memories.

    • Rae 06. Jul, 2010 at 3:51 pm #

      I’m glad that this brought back good memories. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    • Marie 19. Aug, 2013 at 7:32 am #

      greetings yesterday Sunday, an african woman had 3 small children with her, one of them a babe, and the baby started to cry which made me look over my shoulder to see why, then she took out her breast to breastfeed one could clearly see everything, when I said something to her she then took out the other breast openly. to me it is not right one can bring a bottle if it is for feeding in mass. it distracts and even toddlers and small children running around church take no real benefit from mass in my opinion and they just irritate those trying to concentrate. I dont eat during mass nor do mothers change babies’ diapers in the church during mass either in front of the entire congregation. doesnt make sense. she could have easily gone outside to the garden as it was a perfect sunny day as she had a companion with her. my own dad only brought me to attend mass from age 4

  2. Trena 05. Jul, 2010 at 12:38 pm #

    Aw, such a fitting time for you to write this after going through the weaning process this week. I completely agree with your post and thank you so much for sharing it. I think of all places, the Church is the one place that a woman should feel confident nursing. But for some reason, that seems to be the one place that women don’t feel comfortable nursing.

    I’ll never forget my first time nursing at church. It was when Mary Rene was four weeks old and we were celebrating Oktoberfest. Mass was held outside of church in the beauitful garden area right next to the church. During Mass, Mary Rene got really fussy and loud so I snuck into the church and nursed her. It was so quiet and peaceful and I could still hear Mass through the loud speakers. I remember feeling such peace in the empty church as I nursed Mary Rene to the Word of God. And it just hit me, what I was doing was not shameful at all. I was doing for Mary Rene what Mother Mary did for Baby Jesus. I know at that moment the Church would support me and I continued to nurse her during Mass when she needed it. Thanks for bring back such fond memories.

    • Rae 06. Jul, 2010 at 3:51 pm #

      Such a beautiful story!

  3. alison 06. Jul, 2010 at 11:08 am #

    i would love to breastfeed my children in church. thanks for these links.

    • Rae 06. Jul, 2010 at 3:52 pm #

      Glad to be of use.

  4. That Married Couple 07. Jul, 2010 at 7:24 am #

    Oh how interesting. I never knew that the Church promoted breastfeeding. Awesome! And good food for thought about doing it during Mass.

  5. Sarah 20. Jul, 2010 at 1:37 pm #

    I love everything that you wrote here, but I will still probably *never* breastfeed my children during Mass (maybe in the cry room or back of the Church). It’s not that I think it’s bad or anything, I just…couldn’t. What can I say, I’m an uptight american. 😉

    • Rae 20. Jul, 2010 at 1:53 pm #

      From where I am now (no child in sight!) I would hope to breastfeed during mass, were I in a position to do so. But reality changes things, and I would most likely choose not to based on my own comfort rather than some idealistic belief in the glories of motherhood! Which is simply to say, do whatever turns out to be best for you once you actually have the baby in your arms and know that you have my support from afar. :-)

  6. MyFeminineMind 21. Mar, 2011 at 8:05 am #

    Thank you for this really beautiful post.

  7. Erin 20. Sep, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    At a preparation session before my first son’s baptism, one of the presenters made a point to tell us that it was entirely acceptable and appropriate to breastfeed at church. I’ve breastfed my kids in church many times, just as I do anywhere else when they’re hungry and/or fussy.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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