Have you ever encountered the viral image circulating online saying the Catholic Church does not baptize or hold a funeral for stillborn babies because they never took a breath? So is this true? Does the Catholic Church really not allow stillborn babies to receive the sacrament of baptism or even a funeral mass? Let’s answer all these questions here.
The Catholic Church doesn’t baptize stillborn babies, but it does offer other rites that apply to them. This is because the sacraments are only meant to be given to the living. Not to mention that baptism grants individuals access to a community of believers who can put their faith into action.
Continue reading to learn more about the teachings of the Catholic Church on the sacrament of baptism, particularly on stillborn babies below. But before that, you should first understand what stillborn babies are and how the Church treats or sees them.
What is a Stillborn Baby?
There’s nothing more painful than losing a baby due to stillbirth. It’s a sad reality that still happens to many families. But what exactly does it mean?
Well, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a stillbirth is the death or loss of a baby before or during delivery. A stillbirth is different from a miscarriage depending on when the loss happened. In the United States, a stillbirth is the loss of a baby during or after the 20th week of pregnancy, while a miscarriage happens before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
In a study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the following are the possible causes of stillbirth:
- Pregnancy and labor complications
- Problems with the placenta
- Fetal genetic problems and birth defects
- Problems with the umbilical cord
- High blood pressure disorders
- Medical problems in the pregnant person
- Black women are also found to be twice as prone to stillbirth than white women and Hispanic women
How Does the Catholic Church Treat Stillborn Babies?
While there is no clear and direct statement that says baptizing stillborn babies is not permitted, its inappropriateness is implied in several documents and statements given by the Catholic Church.
First, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1261)says: “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.”
The Church also discusses infants who die without being baptized through the International Theological Commission, stating: “There are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness, even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in Revelation.
However, none of the considerations proposed in this text to motivate a new approach to the question may be used to negate the necessity of baptism, nor to delay the conferral of the sacrament. Rather, there are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible to do for them that what would have been desirable – to baptize them in the faith of the Church and incorporate them visibly into the Body of Christ.”
The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs), specifically in Directive 17, also states: “Except in cases of emergency (i.e., danger of death), any request for Baptism made by adults or for infants should be referred to the chaplain of the institution. Newly born infants in danger of death, including those miscarried, should be baptized if this is possible.”
Can a Stillborn Baby Be Baptized in the Catholic Faith?
As Catholics, the Church teaches us that baptism is absolutely necessary. This can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1257), which states: “The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them.”
Now, the Sacraments are only meant for those who are alive. They mirror and mark the most important moments of one’s spiritual life, so they cannot be given to stillborn babies as they have already died in the uterus.
Just as a deceased person cannot receive the Holy Eucharist, the Church cannot also baptize a stillborn baby. This is because these two sacraments are intended to help strengthen one’s faith and help one to get closer to God. Furthermore, they are necessary for becoming a member of a community of Christian faithful, who are all called upon to live the Gospel, and act on and defend one’s faith.
Now, not getting baptized does not mean that these babies are bound to damnation. In fact, the Church tells us otherwise, encouraging us to entrust their salvation to the mercy of God through the funeral rites that are made available to them. That said, while the Church does not permit stillborn babies to be baptized, it does offer other rites.
For instance, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has a list of “Blessings of parents after a miscarriage or stillbirth”. There’s also the “Order of Christian Funerals”, which contains prayers for the deceased, including children. Additionally, the “Order for Blessing of Parents After a Miscarriage” can be found in the Church’s “Book of Blessings”.
That said, in times of loss and grief, Catholics turn to God for comfort and strength. This is particularly true whenever a child dies. So while the Church may not give in to the requests of grieving parents to have their child baptized, it does offer prayers, masses, and blessings to help assure them that their child is now with God.