Infant Loss · MIscarriage · Stillbirth

Why Our Babies Aren’t Angels…and Why It Matters

BabyAngel2

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.

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31 thoughts on “Why Our Babies Aren’t Angels…and Why It Matters

  1. This is so beautiful! You’re right – I never want to be the one to correct someone during such a difficult time, but maybe I will just share this article around and the news will get out 😉

  2. Great post, Mary! I completely agree. I go to a pregnancy loss support group at a local non-denominational church (there are no Catholic ones offered in my diocese) and I’m never brave enough to speak up and say this but it does bother me so much.

  3. This is well written! Thank you for posting this! I am a labor doula and for some reason have had so many losses with many of my clients last year. Many are Catholic and they understand this but many don’t quite. It’s so hard going through a loss. Understanding we have a little saint praying for us helps. Thanks!

  4. Thank you. Beautiful. I knew the facts but not the scope of them. I will hug my loved ones again someday but couldn’t without a body.

  5. I regularly call this the “least popular truth” – but you are 100% correct. The truth matters. Let’s remember and pronounce and underline and highlight and emphasize our children’s humanity at every turn. They were *more* than nebulous spiritual beings. They were physically here. And now they are not. Their death may not make sense to us – but their LIFE does make sense. As a mother with no children in her arms who is constantly told “that I have several angels in Heaven”…. I struggle with this kind of dialogue daily. If I can acknowledge the truth through the pain of my own child loss, then I think we can all do better. I challenge us to make the truth more important than what feels “comfortable”. Comfort can live in the truth.

    Thank you for the wonderful post.

  6. So does this mean, when I die I won’t be able to hug my son who is in Heaven? That is kind of a hard thing to believe. I have to believe that God would like nothing more than for my Son and I to share that joyful embrace in His presence.

    1. Hi Jason,
      No, I think you misread the article. Because those in heaven ARE saints and NOT angels, we will be able to have that hug once the resurrection of the body takes place. If they were angels, we wouldn’t be able to share that physical relationship. It’s a very comforting thing for us as physical people that we don’t become angels when we die. I hope that clarifies it and I’m so very sorry for your loss.

  7. Ryan and I lost our baby at 10 weeks and 6 days. It is 1:44 am and I am hurting. I found your site. Thank you for doing all these posts. They are a blessing to my heart in this time of grief.

  8. I feel like nobody knows what heaven is like or what exactly happens to us when we die. Only God does ( and those who have passed)I feel like it’s ok to call babies Angels or saints. My daughter lived for 3 minutes. I sometimes call her both. Maybe she is not an actual angel but can you tell me for sure that she is not? Have you been to Heaven and know. God does anything he he wants. So what does it actually matter? It bothers me when an adult passes and people automatically put them in heaven. We honestly don’t know! We can pray for them and hope to see them again. We just truly do not know. So, If I say my daughter is an angel in heaven if anybody tried to ” correct ” me it would be very hurtful. I have heard plenty of people talk about their children being good and calling them an angel. Sometimes I like the thought of her having wings and an ethreal body. As her body was not perfect on earth. Is she a saint absolutely. Is she an angel. Yes. Hopefully one day I will find out, and then really will it have mattered what I called her??

    1. Hi Caty, I’m so very sorry for your loss and thank you for the comment. This post was an attempt to explain why yes, it does matter. I hope you read it all. Angels and humans are two completely different creatures. Certainly the idea of “correcting” has to be done with great charity, tact, and never when one is in the midst of grief but it is an important distinction that has been misunderstood in modern culture. Christians do believe that we can know that some people are in heaven and are saints. Have we SEEN it? No. But we do see the evidence and it requires an assent of faith that cannot be understood through our senses alone, just like any article of faith. Part of our task here on earth is to seek truth as best we can and this post was an attempt to do that. I hope that clarifies it a little! Thank you again.

    2. A really good comment I heard from a priest once might help you in this situation Caty: “Believe that your loved on is in heaven but PRAY as if they aren’t.” In other words, I pray that my Mom, who died almost 3 years ago, is no longer in Purgatory and that she is in Heaven. Because you are right, we don’t know. And of course, if anyone tried to tell you that your loved one or my mom was not an angel in heaven I would have been hurt too but now that much time has passed and I have learned more about what we believe, it absolutely does matter that we understand that we are not spirits trapped in our bodies here on earth. And we believe in the Resurrection. I know it’s difficult to think of these concepts now as humans, this is why they are mysteries. Our human brains can’t possibly comprehend what heaven will be like but that’s faith! We believe we will have physical bodies in heaven in order to hug and embrace our loved ones. I CANT wait to see my Mom again. It’s going to be glorious!

  9. What about the unbaptized babies that are lost through miscarriage or those babies born still? I have been told by traditional priests that there actually is a Limbo for such souls where they can enjoy perfect happiness, but not the beatific vision. I know Limbo was never an official doctrine of the Church. I have also heard people try to say that there are baptisms of desire, baptisms of blood, etc. that can gain Heaven for some, but does that include our unbaptized babies? In this case can we really consider them saints?

    1. Hi Lori, I’d highly recommend reading the document The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized from the Vatican.
      Here’s a tiny snippet of what it says:

      The conclusion of this study is that 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 most desirable— to baptize them in the faith of the Church and incorporate them visibly into the Body of Christ.

  10. Yes, it was very hard to hear this from people after my miscarriages, because I was too emotionally exhausted to correct them. People do not become angels. But at the same time, I had Catholics who wanted to assure me that my child was now a saint. I also lacked the strength to argue with them about this. Fortunately a rock-solid priest had given a homily a year before about how these children who are lost before they can be baptized do not behold the beatific vision, but God has provided for their care. Even if I do not meet them again, they are not suffering. There are many people I love in this life that I will not meet in heaven, if I am fortunate enough to find myself there. All are not saved. That does not cheapen the reward.

    1. I’m so sorry for your losses. I just want to point out that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is very clear that we can hope for the salvation (heaven) of those infants who have not been Baptized. “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,”63 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism.” CCC 1261
      I would also encourage you to read the Magisterium’s document The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized. It is very clear that limbo is NOT a teaching of the Church and that unbaptized children have the hope of heaven.

      1. Notice that it says there is a hope (which in the Catholic meaning has a connotation of confidence) but not a certainty. It really isn’t much difference from the hope we have for others who, through no fault of their own, were not baptized into the Faith.
        Also, regarding the document, please notice the following conclusion:
        “Our conclusion is that the many factors that we have considered above give serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptised infants who die will be saved and enjoy the Beatific Vision. We emphasise that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge.”
        God is merciful, but original sin is real.

  11. I had a miscarriage early in my pregnancy 18 years ago, and it still hurts. I never got to hear that baby’s heart beat or know who he/she was or even give him or her a name. We know that a fetal heartbeat begins in just the first few weeks and with a heartbeat comes a soul doesn’t it. I have often wondered what form all these lost babies that were already loved will take. I hope that I am lucky enough to find out. I don’t see any specific posts here about this.

    1. I’m so sorry for your loss, Meliea. Even though it was long ago, your grief speaks to the reality of your baby and how important his or her life is. The soul is actually given to a human person at the very moment of conception. At that moment, when fertilization occurs, there is a new, never before created human person with unique DNA and who is a separate entity from his or her mother. Any human person who dies and enters into heaven, including any of these babies, are considered saints. We remain human persons in heaven and at the end of time we will be reunited with our resurrected bodies. We don’t know how exactly that will look (what age we look like, how our physical features will appear) but we do know that Christ and the Church teach that we will follow after His example in His Resurrection. He had a glorified body after He resurrected from the dead. Those of us in heaven will also have a glorified body someday. I’m so grateful for that because if we are hopefully there with our sons or daughters that we never truly met, we will be able to truly see them and touch them and recognize them. It makes me all the more motivated to live a life with the goal of heaven. God bless you!

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