Mass for Unbaptized Children Who Die

And More on the Papal Funeral

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ROME, APRIL 26, 2005 ( Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: In view of what is said in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nos. 1261 and 1283) is it correct and advisable to offer Mass for the salvation of a baby who died without being baptized? — H.D., Melbourne, Australia

A: The texts of the Catechism to which our correspondent refers to say the following:

«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. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.»

«1283: With respect to children who have died without Baptism, the liturgy of the Church invites us to trust in God’s mercy and to pray for their salvation.»

The question of the fate of children who die before baptism is one of the mysteries that have long perplexed bishops, theologians and, of course, parents.

The problem has received even greater urgency due to the millions of unborn children killed by abortion.

Up until relatively recently some theologians tried to solve the problem by proposing that such children went to limbo, a state of perfect human happiness but without the beatific vision.

This solution was never fully satisfactory, and is now practically abandoned, above all because it is difficult to conceive a genuine and full human happiness deprived of the divine vision for which God created man.

Recently the Holy Father has entrusted the International Theological Commission with the task of studying this problem in depth and clarify Catholic doctrine as far as possible.

With respect to the advisability of offering the Mass for the «salvation» of unbaptized infants, No. 1283 invites us to pray for their salvation.

Since the Mass is also an intercessory prayer, then it should be possible, in general terms, to offer the Mass for such an intention even though we may not yet be theologically sure of what the concept of salvation might be in this particular case.

Because of the mystery involved, the celebration of funeral rites for an unbaptized child usually requires the permission of the local bishop who considers the pastoral circumstances involved (see Canon 1183.2 of the Code of Canon Law).

These rites are usually done more for the sake of the living than for the dead. And this would be the principal factor to be considered in deciding to permit obsequies, especially when the parents clearly intended to baptize the child.

It is also a factor in deciding whether Mass or another simpler rite would be more appropriate.

It is also recommended that catechesis imparted on such occasions in no way confuse the faithful regarding the doctrine of the necessity of baptism.

The Mass formulas do not generally intercede for the salvation of the child but rather implore that God may comfort the grieving parents with the hope of his mercy, acceptance of his will and the consolation of knowing that he takes care of us.

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Follow-up: The Funeral and the Veil

In the wake of recent questions about the papal funeral (see April 12 and 19), a reader from Burbank, California, asked: «I was wondering why Pope John Paul II had the cloth/veil placed over his face prior to the closing of the coffin and the significance of this action.»

The short answer is «I don’t know.» This was the first time this rite was performed on a deceased Pope, and he had approved the new rite of burial for popes, so I can only surmise that the Holy Father wanted it that way.

Perhaps it is a Slav custom made as a sign of respect. It certainly evokes a strong sense of finality and of parting from this world. But there were no official explanations given as to the reasons behind the gesture.

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Readers may send questions to Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country.

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