I am sorry to report that the Church does not have an official doctrine on miscarriage and Salvation. Since it is never really mentioned in Revelation, the Church has no official position. If you want to understand how the Church interprets what is in Scripture I suggest reading the Vatican II constitution Dei Verbum. This can be deeply difficult for families who have lost children in miscarriage, especially in light of our understanding of Original Sin. What I aim to do in this post is share with you my own experiences in talking with priests and reading what little I could find that related to miscarriage. The resources are sparse, but there is hope.
When I had my second miscarriage, I immediately went to the priest and asked for him to pray with us. It was all I could do. Truth be told, our priest, who was a holy and godly man, had little experience with miscarriage. He knows a lot more today because I shared my experiences with him. You may have to be the one to enlighten your priest on this issue. We are called to be a Culture of Life that is open to God’s plan and children, but being open to life means that we are vulnerable to loss and the suffering that accompanies loss.
Being the Catholic that I am, I immediately thought of Baptism when I lost Caleb. We would have had him baptized within 6 weeks of his birth. My husband and I take Baptism very seriously. So in my grief and desperation during that miscarriage I tried to baptize what remained of him. After all, Baptism is the only Sacrament that we can administer when necessary. I later learned and realized that Baptism is for the living, and Caleb had died well before the bleeding began. My impulse was to do the right thing even though it was too late.
First trimester miscarriages make it nearly impossible to have a funeral. The miscarriage can come on so suddenly and the body is so tiny that it is difficult to have or find a body to bury. We have not been able to have a funeral for any of our losses. Second trimester or stillborn losses usually allow for a funeral, which you are entitled to. If you have a first trimester miscarriage, at least call your priest and get his blessing and prayers.
The Church does not have a position on where pre-born children go at death. The understanding of Limbo has always been vague and not an official doctrine of the Church. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote a letter on Limbo in which he leaves the unbaptized to the mercy of God. With everything we know about God, through Revelation, and most especially through Jesus Christ, we know that God loves children and we know that He is merciful. Our priest told me to trust in that and I have chosen to do so.
With my third miscarriage, our parish was in transition with priests, so I was comforted in Confession and chose to visit our former parish priest who had moved in order to discuss my most recent loss. This is a difficult issue. It is one that pastoral care within the Church is seriously lacking and quite frankly, we have to bring it to the attention of our priests and Bishops. In my view, if we are to be open to life, then the Church needs to work to care for and console those who lose children. There is no reason that a family should have to sit and suffer on their own while being a member of the Mystical Body of Christ.
There are a few things that I have found help me. First, name your child. It does not matter if you know for sure whether the child was a boy or a girl. I rely on my motherly intuition and discuss names with my husband according to my gut feeling. Once you have named the child, have them added to the Shrine of the Holy Innocents. They will then be committed to prayer and remembrance. The Shrine will send you a certificate with the name of your child on it, so you have something tangible to remember your child by.
Second, have a Mass said at least once, or even yearly for your child or children. This is especially important if you cannot have a funeral Mass said. It also would be beneficial to organize a Mass each year for families who have lost children. Discuss it with your priest. I promise it will bring healing and peace to many people. It may even help your priest if they have lost siblings or family members in miscarriage. November is a great month to have a Mass said for the dead. Make sure the Mass is advertised as for families who have suffered the loss of a child from pre-born onward.
Third, start a group or ministry at your church that serves families who have or are experiencing loss. I am in the planning stage of starting a small ministry that brings food, support, and the Eucharist to families who are experiencing loss, or just need someone to talk to who has been through it. Since I myself am still grieving, I am taking my time in figuring out how God wants to use me to serve others who have lost children.
Fourth, if you have a later term miscarriage at a hospital, request the remains back so that you can have a funeral. When I had my emergency D&E earlier this year, I was 8 weeks, which means that it was difficult for me to find a body and by the time I had surgery, the body had already passed. They did not find the baby in the post-operative study. So, it was not an option for me. Even if you have to fight with the hospital, do it. You have a right to a Christian burial for your child.
Unfortunately, books related to the Church and miscarriage are sparse. I found this book After Miscarriage and I have read through it a couple of times following my own losses. Our parish priest also told me to read the book Heaven is for Real which is about a 4 year old boy’s near death experience and what he saw in Heaven. It is compelling and it inspires great hope. There is a section that pertains directly to miscarriage in the book. Make sure you have some tissues when you read it. It is a book to read for hope, not theological understanding. The Rosary is a good place to start too. Rote prayer is very helpful during grief. It allows you not to think so much about the words, but more about healing and strength. I wrote about the Sorrowful Mysteries and this might be helpful in the early stages or on an anniversary. I also found this prayer by Mother Angelica that I have found very helpful:
“My Lord, the baby is dead! Why, my Lord—dare I ask why? It will not hear the whisper of the wind or see the beauty of its parents’ face—it will not see the beauty of Your creation or the flame of a sunrise. Why, my Lord? “Why, My child—do you ask ‘why’? Well, I will tell you why. You see, the child lives. Instead of the wind he hears the sound of angels singing before My throne. Instead of the beauty that passes he sees everlasting Beauty—he sees My face. He was created and lived a short time so the image of his parents imprinted on his face may stand before Me as their personal intercessor. He knows secrets of heaven unknown to men on earth. He laughs with a special joy that only the innocent possess. My ways are not the ways of man. I create for My Kingdom and each creature fills a place in that Kingdom that could not be filled by another. He was created for My joy and his parents’ merits. He has never seen pain or sin. He has never felt hunger or pain. I breathed a soul into a seed, made it grow and called it forth.” I am humbled before you, my Lord, for questioning Your wisdom, goodness, and love. I speak as a fool—forgive me. I acknowledge Your sovereign rights over life and death. I thank You for the life that began for so short a time to enjoy so long an Eternity.”
I wish that I had more answers for you, but I don’t. Trust in God’s mercy and love. Remember Christ said, “Let the little children come to me.” When I am at Mass I try to think about my children being gathered around the altar. After all, when we are at Mass we step into the Heavenly Liturgy. Scott Hahn’s The Lamb’s Supper is a great book to help you understand the connection between Heaven and earth in the Mass. It gives great hope that at the Mass our children are not far away and they too celebrate with us. The Eucharist supersedes time and is eternal. I hope this post gives you a starting point. Talk to your priest, even if it is difficult and they struggle in helping you. Maybe God is calling you to show them an area they need to minister to their flock. May God bless you always in your journey.
2 Replies to “Dealing with Miscarriage Part IV: The Church”
Constance: Thank you for this series. Though I have never suffered a miscarriage, my mother lost a child shortly after birth that neither she nor our family ever properly grieved for. And many of my friends have suffered through miscarriages feeling alone or misunderstood. You are so right that this loss is experienced by so many. Your honesty is powerful. I truly hope that your writing does help you heal. I am certain that your writing is helping others. My prayers are with you and your family.
Your are most welcome! I sincerely hope and pray that my own vulnerability and honesty helps to heal other women and families. Miscarriage is a deep wound that many people never get a chance to heal from or grieve. I have found that talking to other women who have been through it, takes away the loneliness and despair. It also allows me to grieve. I pray for your friends and your family constantly. I offer up many prayers for all women and families who suffer the loss of a child. God bless you and thank you for your prayers.