This week’s post comes from Elizabeth Ministry Founder, Jeannie Hannemann.
“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” Isaiah 40:1
Miscarriage has touched the lives of many people, yet, all too often this crisis remains unaddressed. Not only does this lack of response often lead to unresolved grief, it also denies our belief that life begins at conception. Our lack of recognition for miscarriage loss has contributed to the abortion mentality in this country. How can we convince the woman seeking an abortion that the child in her womb has dignity when we do not proclaim that same message when a miscarriage occurs? It is hypocritical to have all the concern for the unborn child who dies through induced abortion, and little care for the unborn child who dies through miscarriage, medically called a spontaneous abortion.
Public mourning of miscarriages will not only bring comfort to the grieving family, but also bring about an awareness of the sanctity of the unborn to our world. We must engage in activities that give witness to our belief in the personhood of the unborn. We would not think of ignoring a parish family experiencing the death of a ten-year-old child. Why then do we ignore the family who experiences the death of a ten-week-old child in the womb? When a child who lived outside the womb dies, the parents are showered with sympathy, ceremonies and rituals. When a child lives only in the womb and dies before birth, all too often, the parents suffer alone. This is an injustice that must be rectified.
For too many years, both society in general, and the faith community in particular, ignored the deep pain and grief families experience through miscarriage. It was believed that if no one talked about the baby and all evidence of his or her existence was removed, the parents would quickly forget. This mindset failed to honor the powerful life and death experience that had already left an impression in the parents’ hearts, never to be forgotten. Death ends the life, but not the relationship. Grief can be delayed, but it cannot be denied. A farewell ritual to recognize the life and death of a baby is not only appropriate, it is necessary at any gestational age.
We must honor the baby’s body. Many times the body is disposed of as hospital waste or flushed down a toilet. The baby deserves to be handled with the same dignity and respect given to an adult who has died. Donum vitae and the Code of Canon Law indicate that all who die before birth should receive a proper burial, and if the intent of a Catholic parent was to have the child baptized into the Body of Christ (“Christian faithful”), an ecclesiastical funeral (with or without a Mass) may be provided (can. 1183 § 2) with the permission of the diocesan bishop. The remains of the unborn who die in the womb must be respected just as the remains of other human beings are treated. Separate burial vessels for the remains of each human being are required. It is permissible to hold a common funeral or use a common grave of separately contained remains (e.g., several small burial vessels in one casket), as long as there is some way to memorialize the placement of each unborn baby.
Each miscarried baby is a child of God. The rituals of the Church can offer solace to grieving families. Mother Church instructs us to bury the dead as one of the Corporal Works of Mercy. Burial should be on the holy grounds of a Catholic cemetery.
“Bury the dead.” – Corporal Work of Mercy