ASK FATHER: Miscarried babies and heaven

From a reader…


Does a miscarriage baby go to heaven if not baptized?

One of God’s greatest attributes is His mercy. We read in the letter of James 2:13, that mercy triumphs over judgment. Mercy is a reflection of His being Almighty.

We know that, in justice, none of us deserves heaven. The sin of Adam and Eve broke our friendship with God. In justice, we stand condemned.

But God, in His mercy, sent His Son to suffer and die for us and to pay the price of Adam’s sin. Jesus Christ unlocked the gate to heaven and showed us the way to ascend to the destiny that our first parents lost. He told us that the way we follow Him, the narrow path set out for our salvation, includes baptism. In baptism we become members of His divine family and of His Body. Through baptism, we once again gain the opportunity to go to heaven.

We know with firm faith in what He has revealed that we know that baptism is necessary for salvation.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1257 states:

“The Lord himself affirms that baptism is necessary for salvation [John 3:5]. . . . Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament (Mark 16:16)”.

This is a normative necessity. It is not absolute in the sense that exceptions are not possible. We can’t place limitations on what God can do.

And so we also know, with the same firm faith in revelation, that God is also merciful.

What happens to those who are not baptized, including infants and all those who never even had a chance to be baptized? We don’t know. This fact can cause us some discomfort, especially in families grieving the loss of an unbaptized child. This discomfort also felt by converts who were the first in their family to hear and accept the love of Christ into their hearts. They think back to deceased loved ones who never had a chance to hear the Gospel.

But we know that God is merciful.

Can he bring to heaven someone who is unbaptized? YES, no question about that. On the Cross, Christ said to the unbaptized Good Thief, “this day you will be with Me in paradise.” Can he bring to heaven our beloved children – born and unborn – who are not baptized? Yes.

How does He do this without baptism? We don’t know, but He most certainly can.

He tells us clearly that baptism is essential. We should have no doubt of that fact. This knowledge should make us strive to bring all those we love to the grace of the baptismal font.

God is merciful.

Again, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states (cf. CCC 1260–1, 1283):

“Those who die for the faith, those who are catechumens, and all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill his will, are saved even if they have not been baptized.”

The salvation of unbaptized infants is also possible, in God’s great mercy.

Even as we thank God for all the gifts He gives us, give Him also your cares and questions, always gratefully and with tear-tinged joy asking for mercy and graces for all your loved ones. We look forward to our joyous reunion in the life to come.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. amicus says:

    I once had a discussion over this issue with a fellow catholic who insisted on the necessity of water baptism in order to be saved. When I pointed out that the good thief was not baptized, he countered that he was saved under the Old Covenant because Christ’s sacrifice at the point had not yet been consummated and therefore the New Covenant was not operative yet. I did not find his argument persuasive because the death of the Holy Innocents would also be hard to justify under the Old Covenant.

  2. Jean Marie says:

    Fr. Z, what about babies that die within the womb before birth. This happened to my sister in law twice. The first time everything was going well when suddenly in the 7th month the baby died inside of her. The second time it happened in the 5th month. If my sister in law was in the state of grace, perhaps these babies be saved through her?

  3. Any person who is saved is saved solely through Christ and His merits. God saves.

    For the rest, see the answer above.

  4. PA mom says:

    Ewtn has a very moving prayer for Miscarriage.

    It gave me much to ponder when I greatly needed it and, for me, it seemed to provide the answer to the most important question I had at the time.

    It is also a beautiful prayer.

  5. amicus says: I once had a discussion over this issue with a fellow catholic who insisted on the necessity of water baptism in order to be saved.

    Wasn’t that the (condemned) error of the Feeneyites?

  6. kylie says:

    My husband and I have lost three babies through miscarriage. Whenever I am aware that I am pregnant, I baptise my babies in my womb (probably not legitimate, but it is my prayer of giving my precious one entirely to God, through the Blessed Trinity).

    We get our born babies baptised within two weeks of birth, so we are comforted by knowing the mercy of God, knowing that He loves our baby more than we do, and knowing that God understands our strong desire to have all of our children know, love and serve God in this world and be happy with Him in the next.

  7. I just deleted a long comment about this question and response, and it dawned on me – the answer is ‘how could He not bring them home to heaven?’

  8. Then again, the following proposition was condemned:

    The doctrine which rejects as a Pelagian fable, that place of the lower regions (which the faithful generally designate by the name of the limbo of children) in which the souls of those departing with the sole guilt of original sin are punished with the punishment of the condemned, exclusive of the punishment of fire, just as it, by this very fact, that these who remove the punishment of fire introduced that middle place and state free of guilt and of punishment between the kingdom of God and eternal damnation, such as that about which the Pelagians idly talk,—false, rash, injurious to Catholic schools. [Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, trans. Roy J. Deferrari (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1954), 378]

    As a parent myself I know that the concept of limbo for the miscarried and the unbaptized can be difficult, but that shouldn’t stop us from confronting the truths of the economy of redemption.

    Obediential potency allows us to be raised to supernatural beatitude, but this is a grace, and is not fitting to our natural capacity. Natural beatitude is the most fitting (and theologically consistent) theory for the miscarried/aborted/unbaptized child; it is what justice requires.

  9. everett says:

    We’ve miscarried twice, one of which was far enough along for us to deliver, hold, and bury. There is an option in the funeral rite for the burial of those who were not baptized in which we essentially entrust them to the love and mercy of God. We’ve given both of them names, and pray for them at bedtime every night.

  10. Thank you Fr. Z for expressing this so well! We lost a baby to miscarriage in 2010.

  11. Wayward Lamb says:

    We have lost six children (that we know of) through miscarriage. I take much solace in knowing that they have no actual sin on their souls and that God’s mercy is great, particularly as to the most innocent among us. Perhaps my logic is flawed, but if the Patriarchs of the Old Testament could eventually make it to Heaven after Jesus died on the Cross and conquered death and hell, then the souls of our tiny babies who in God’s sublime wisdom were not permitted their first breath will mysteriously find their way to Heaven, too, through God’s immeasurable and ineffable grace.

  12. Mariana2 says:

    Thanks, Father, this is a great relief. I’ve been too dense to think of the Good Thief!

  13. ReginaMarie says:

    Losing a child before birth was one of the most difficult things we ever experienced. Trusting in the mercy & love of God was the only thing which brought us peace. While one cannot formally baptize a child in the womb through prayer, one can certainly pray for the child to be consecrated to Our Lord & the Blessed Mother. Among many faithful Catholics I have met, there remains a common misconception that children who die before birth/baptism become angels in heaven. We can hope that such children are received by Our Lord, but human beings (born & yet born) do not become angels, since angels (unlike humans who have both boy & soul) are pure spirits who are entirely different creatures in the order of creation. While it may not be theologically correct, thinking of your child as an angel is comforting, nonetheless. May God comfort all those who grieve the loss of a child!

  14. Andreas says:

    Whilst renovating the interior of our early 18th century village church, we came upon a wall of the 15th century church that stood on the same spot. It was next to this wall that we found the remains…a tiny skeleton…of a newborn baby lying in a fetal position. It is thought that the baby had died shortly after birth and was brought to the Gothic period (1414) church shortly thereafter. I was told that as the child was never baptized, burial was forbidden within the hallowed grounds of the small cemetery. Instead, the baby was buried directly next to the southwestern wall of the church, possibly cloaked in night’s hiding darkness. Villagers then believed that (being buried directly next to the church and under the overhanging roof) perhaps, during an Easter rain, some of the drops striking the walls and the roof of the holy edifice might find their way down and fall upon the small inconspicuous mound of clay, thus sanctifying the remains; if you will, baptizing the infant lying there in eternal rest. The baby was never re-buried in the church cemetery, but remains secure now, interred within the Baroque splendor of St. Ulrich’s.

  15. LarryW2LJ says:

    My wife and I have two lovely children. But we also had two children that we never got the chance to hold and love and do all the normal things that you do with your kids. I pray and hope we will meet in Heaven one day. It would be most awesome to get there, have someone I never really met tap me on the shoulder and hear them say the word “Dad!”

  16. Supertradmum says:

    The Pope Emeritus did step in and correct a group in England who were stating that aborted children were martyrs and saints. He directed this group to change a prayer. I know about this as I was going to pro-life retreats with the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants for a few years, and we had, at that time, a superb spiritual director and retreat master who instructed us on the need to be cautious in how we referred to babies who die without baptism.

    We actually had Masses said for these infants, which I suggest would be a good idea for parents. I, too, long ago, had a miscarriage, and was ill at the time, so the very small person did not get baptized. I gave this fetus to God for His care. That is all I can do. Jesus, I trust in you.

  17. SaintJude6 says:

    I did the same thing with my most recent pregnancy, which ended in miscarriage. Having experienced two other miscarriages (in addition to many living children) in the past, I asked God to please just let me baptize the baby now. After all, the baby was surrounded by water. I know it wasn’t correct technically, but it gave me a great deal of comfort that God knew my intentions when I found out a few weeks later that the baby’s heart had stopped.
    It was very difficult for me to have so many people telling me that my baby was now an angel in heaven. You’re pretty much just trying to hold it together for weeks afterwards, so engaging in a theological discussion about how angels are not dead babies is more than you can handle at the time.

  18. SaintJude6 says:

    Also, as this happened to me recently: If you know a mother who has had a miscarriage, please do not ask what was done with the body. Understand that most hospitals do not allow you to have the fetal remains unless they have reached a certain point of maturity. A biopsy may have to be performed. None of this is within the control of the mother, especially if she happens to miscarry at a non-Catholic hospital. Of course we want to be able to bury our child, but we are not able to. I had a family member who thought that somehow we were going against Church teaching on burial. I have since read that for mothers who have a miscarriage at home, there is no guidance as to what to do with the remains.

  19. acricketchirps says:

    As a baptised person I know I’m destined for either the perfection of the beatific vision or the lake of fire. I know with equal or even greater certainty that in justice I deserve neither. I think it is very comforting to imagine the unbaptized innocent in a limbo state of contentment without the vision of Christ’s perfect Face. I almost envy it.

    I’m also reasonable sure that I’ve just spouted something heretical.

  20. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Understand that most hospitals do not allow you to have the fetal remains unless they have reached a certain point of maturity. A biopsy may have to be performed.”

    For what reason? In non-suspicious circumstances, I would think that the hospital has no right of ownership of fetal remains. If one is a drug-addict, perhaps, there might be criminal issues, but a biopsy won’t, usually, resolve the reason for the sudden death, otherwise. One might sign away one’s rights, I suppose, but can a lawyer speak to this issue, because this sounds very heavy-handed of hospitals, if true.

    The Chicken

  21. ReginaMarie says:

    SaintJude6: I am very sorry for your loss & what occurred with the hospital. From what I understand (I may be incorrect), the hospital (Catholic or not) cannot deny your request to have the remains of your child, regardless of the gestational age. I often meet parents who are deeply troubled that, by no fault of their own, the remains of their child were treated as medical waste because they were not given the option to give the child a proper burial. Our miscarriage occurred at home & we asked a priest to offer prayers at a small graveside service at a local cemetery. A local funeral home even offered us a very small, casket-like burial container at no cost, which is not uncommon. They also offered to drive the small casket to the cemetery in the hearse, but we decided to do so ourselves. Most cemeteries have smaller, less expensive plots for such burials. Additionally, the place where we purchased a small gravestone offered us a very inexpensive stone. We were truly blessed by the compassion of those who assisted in our child’s burial.

  22. q7swallows says:

    I, too, had 3 natural miscarriages. And I do believe strongly in and pray for the mercy of God.

    In the case of each of my miscarried children, as soon as I found out that there was no heartbeat and in this intense pain, I solemnly prayed to Him Who knew our firm desire to baptize as the Church prescribes after birth. And then before God, I solemnly asked Him to recognize my desire to baptize the baby in my womb in the humility of circumstance with the waters He had already immersed the child in by His own design (cf. CCC #1278). So I pronounced the words of baptism aloud & traced a cross with water below my heart. When the baby finally miscarried, we named him/her and ourselves physically baptized the little one immediately. Two were too young to discern the sex so I named them according to a dream that I had had about each and the saint of the day we saw them for the first time. And then we buried them in tiny wooden boxes–one on convent grounds near the base of a statue of Mary with Mother Superior’s suggestion and permission, and the other two in a flower garden dedicated to Mary near the wall of a church (very much like Andreas describes above). Our family still prays for them and visits their (unmarked) graves. We were too poor to buy cemetery plots. They are engraved instead in our hearts and family memory.

    They also have a place in our family tree in our Bible. John Solomon, Francis Xavier, and Lily Antonia. And we do hope to meet them in eternity someday. It’s a sobering and even comforting thought for youngsters to grow up knowing that they have a sibling (somewhere) already in eternity. We take comfort in knowing that we did our best to put them in the Hands of Almighty God Who can do all things. In our case, I take to heart the line Catechism of the Catholic Church #1257 in which says: “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.” And of great comfort too are CCC #s 1260, 1261, and 1283.

    PS ~ IF the story “Heaven is for Real” ultimately turns out to be true on the Last Day, God does honor parents’ choices in naming (and not naming!) even their miscarried children. I really, really enjoyed that film.

    But it is best to review the chapter on Baptism in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    God bless all of you who are enduring this kind of suffering. Naming and giving your baby/ies to God — no matter what happens — will give you great comfort and hope.

  23. DeGaulle says:

    I think that The Church is very wise to be circumspect about the souls of the unborn. Were they all deemed to be saints, the abortion industry would be advertising themselves as saint-makers and many would fall for it. It would have the effect of salving the conscience of many an abortionist. So we must rely on Hope.

  24. Supertradmum says:

    The Masked Chicken,

    I know that hospitals in my home area take away the remains, even up to six months in the womb. When these hospitals were Catholic (they were sold to secular interests in the early 1980s) the nuns had a small cemetery for stillborn and miscarried infants. No longer the case.

    I know of one woman who really had trouble with grief when her five month in the womb was taken away and disposed of….normal practice.

  25. chantgirl says:

    When I experienced my second miscarriage, I baptized the baby with holy water as soon as she was born, as I had no way of knowing how long the soul lingered in her body. There have been cases of people surviving without a heartbeat for an hour or so. I thought, when in doubt, assume the soul is still there. God knows if I made a mistake or not.

    On a related note, when I am pregnant, if I have to go to a hospital, I consciously choose a Catholic hospital. If anything unexpected happened and I ended up in a coma or something, I would have (slightly) more faith that a Catholic hospital would consider the life of the child as well as mine. A pro-life OB is also a must. I understand that sometimes people don’t have those options.

  26. raininnewark says:

    This has been a therapeutic thread. Me and my wife have had 3 miscarriages. We are hoping it is still possible to bring a child to term, but if not, I have hope, God willing (more for me) in the possibility of seeing them in eternity.

  27. Supertradmum says:

    Interesting…I am dong a study personally and on my blog on hell, purgatory and heaven and came across this is Garrigou-Lagrange, which may help things here. From his book Life Everlasting:

    “The dogma of hell shows us the immense depths of the human soul, absolute distinction between evil and good, against all the lies invented to suppress this distinction. It shows us also, by contrast, the joys of conversion and eternal beatitude.

    The Latin word, damnum, which we translate by “loss,” signifies damage. The pain of loss means the essential and principal suffering due to unrepented sin. This pain of loss is the privation of the possession of God, whereas that of sense is the effect of the afflictive action of God. The first corresponds to guilt as turning away from God, whereas the second corresponds to guilt as turning toward something created. [253]

    We note, in passing, that infants who die without baptism do not feel the absence of the beatific vision as a loss, because they do not know that they were supernaturally destined to the immediate possession of God. We speak here only of that pain of loss which is conscious, which is inflicted on adults condemned for personal sin, for mortal sin unrepented. Let us see in what it consists, and what is its rigor.”

    Therefore, there is a difference in that state-outside of baptism not being in the Beatific Vision, but not being in the pains of the loss of hell, either.

  28. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Please pray for a friend’s still-unbaptized baby who just died suddenly during the night after seeming healthy, and for his Catholic parents and family. O Jesus, please hear us! We trust in You!

  29. chantgirl says:

    Supertradmum- While I’m a fan of Garrigou-Lagrange, I’m not sure that this idea is helpful. I have immense difficulty with the idea that our Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, would leave souls in a state of Ignorance for Eternity. Yes, for reasons of His own, God did not reveal Himself in His fullness to every people throughout history, but after His death on the Cross, He went to the underworld and preached to the souls there. I also have immense difficulty with the idea that God gave all of the angels a chance to accept or deny Him, and that He gives all of us who live out our lives our chance to accept or deny Him, but that He would deny souls with no personal sin a chance to accept or deny Him. Since our free will response is so important to Him, my fervent hope is that God somehow gives these little ones a chance to accept Him. Especially for women who suffer multiple miscarriages, it might be better left to just say that we don’t really know what happens, and to trust in God’s mercy. St. Paul’s words to us that “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, what God had ready for those who love Him” are extremely comforting to me. We can acknowledge that Baptism is the ordinary means of salvation without abandoning hope for our little ones.

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