What does the Church teach?

As a Catholic, you may be wondering what the Catholic Church has to say regarding miscarriage, the unbaptized, and salvation. Using Church documents, we hope this page will bring you peace and understanding.

 

Life Begins at Conception

To start, we have to operate under the knowledge that the Church holds every person’s life to be sacred, and that life starts at conception.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jer 1:5)

“Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2319)

“From the moment of conception, the life of every human being is to be respected in an absolute way […]; his whole being bears the image of the Creator.” (Donum Vitae, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Introduction no. 5)

 

Salvation Without Baptism

Let’s read exactly what is stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1261:

As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,’ allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism.

To add to that, there is also an understanding of “baptism by desire” (cf. Catechism, no. 1259-60) in which it is taught that people who die while unbaptized are supposed to have been baptized by their “explicit desire” to receive this sacrament. This may also apply to children whose parents intended to baptize their child after birth.

If you are still worried that baptism was absolutely necessary, you may also want to see no. 1257 in the Catechism, which ends with this line: “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.” It is put another way here:

“Baptism is necessary for salvation for all those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.” (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 261)

God is all powerful and also merciful. The Church is compassionate and very hopeful regarding your child(ren)’s salvation. You can rightly look forward to meeting them again in Heaven.

For more reading on the subject of unbaptized infants, please see the International Theological Commission’s The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised.

 

Funerals and Masses

If you intended to have your child baptized, your local ordinary may allow a funeral:

“The local ordinary can permit children whom the parents intended to baptize but who died before baptism to be given ecclesiastical funerals.” (Code of Canon Law, Canon 1183.2)

It is not required that you have a funeral, but the option is open to you. The Funeral Rite for Infants is able to be used for any child, regardless of age. You can request a funeral and/or burial service through your parish priest or pastoral associate if you have your child’s body; if not, or if the death occurred some time ago, you are still welcome to ask for a memorial service. This can often take place in your own home, if you prefer. Support in these ways can help you, as well as others you include, acknowledge and contemplate the meaning your child’s life and death. For further practical questions regarding funerals and blessings, see our Practical Q&A.

While a funeral and a burial may be an option, none of this is required, but it can be very healing and allow you to process your grief in a more spiritual and tangible way. Regardless of what you choose to do, remember that every single child is sacred and loved by God.