My baby’s not an angel. And I’m glad for it. Almost anyone who has ever lost a child has probably heard it or said it themselves. In the midst of condolences or their own processing of grief, they are told that their child is now an angel. We hear it often:
You’re now a mommy to an angel.
She just received her angel wings.
I have two angel babies in heaven.
Now he’s your very own guardian angel.
There is talk of an “angel day”, jewelry with angel wings representing their baby or loved one, sweet poems regarding our new angels in heaven, and even Catholic companies selling items bedecked with winged babies as a memorial for miscarriage or infant loss. “Angel baby” is a very common term in the miscarriage/infant loss world for a baby that has died.
It’s a tricky topic to bring up. Who wants to be the person to gently remind someone that that isn’t quite the case? That their child, or any loved one that has died, does not become a different creature in heaven? (And certainly, there are often times where it’s not appropriate, of course.) And anyway, does it even matter? Why not just let people believe whatever they want to in their grief, if it’s consoling to them? But the fact remains, and thank God for it, that our babies do not become angels when they die. Nor do any of us. We will never ever in all eternity become an angel.
And that, dear friends, is wonderful and important. Because we become something far more appropriate. We become saints.
See, angels are completely spirit. They are a completely separate form of creation than humans. They do not have and never will have a body (excepting the few cases where God allows an angel to take on physical form). It is impossible for us to fathom in our limited minds how different from angels we are.
Angels have no bodies…The angels are pure spirits without a body, and their intellectual operations of understanding and willing depend in no way at all upon material substance. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theo; 51:1
We as human beings are a union of spirit (soul) and body. You cannot be completely human without one or the other. That is one of the reasons death is so tragic. It separates, temporarily, our body from our soul. But as Christians we believe (as all Christians have since the early Church) in the Resurrection of the Body. Our bodies will rise again. We will have a physical body in heaven. Saint John Paul the Great declared that we are “worlds apart” from the angels and that man himself enjoys a “unique position in the sphere of creation.” (General Audience, July 9, 1986)
When we die, our bodies and souls separate but at the end of time, at the Resurrection of the Body, we will receive our real, glorified, new bodies. As saints in heaven we will be able to glorify God with our bodies AND our souls. We don’t know much about those bodies other than conjecture from what we know of Christ’s glorified body after the Resurrection but we do know they will be physical bodies…and they probably won’t include wings.
In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. God, in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus’ Resurrection. – Catechism of the Catholic Church, 997
This is wonderful, glorious, happy news! Why?
Because you can’t hug an angel.
Without a body, you cannot hug. You cannot touch. You cannot kiss or know the color of someone’s hair or eyes or the way they smile. I will never be able to hold an angel in my arms. But I can do so for a saint. And that means, God willing, that someday I will truly be able to hold my sweet son or daughter in my arms again.
It is we humans who are called in a unique human way to become adopted sons and daughters of God. It is only we who have the capacity to have Christ living fully inside us. And it is only we who can receive Him physically in the Eucharist. In fact, some saints talk about the angels being jealous of us for that reason but also because in Christ’s redemption of the material world, we can now praise Him in ways that they cannot. It is an acknowledgement of their incredible worth, dignity, and uniqueness to recognize those in heaven as saints rather than angels. Our babies deserve that recognition, too.
Being saints also means that they will be connected with us, in communion we say, more than any angel ever could. We become part of the Body of Christ together in a physical way. When our loved ones pass on to heaven they can intercede for us more than they ever could before. Loving us, caring for us, praying for us, becoming not our guardian angels but our personal and unique patron saints. What a gift that can become to our families and what a consolation in our grief.
May all of our loved ones, those babies we have lost, too, our own personal patron saints, be praying for us now that we can one day join them in heaven.