Sacred Liturgy

Providing Pastoral Support When an Infant Dies Before or Shortly After Birth

This page offers resources to parish priests and pastoral staff, hospital chaplains, and anyone seeking answers to the question, “What can or should be done to help mothers, fathers, and other loved ones who are suffering from the death of a child before or shortly after birth?” We hope the information and resources provided on this page give you the support you need to be effective in this most sensitive and important ministry.

If you have searched the internet and come to this page because you or someone you love has experienced the death of a child before or shortly after birth, we are sorry for your loss. It is our hope the information on this page might lead you toward healing.

If you have searched the internet and come to this page because you or someone you love has received a poor prenatal diagnosis, please follow the links below for help.

Resources for anyone experiencing a poor prenatal diagnosis

Resources for Anyone Who Experienced the Death of a Child before or Shortly after Birth

An Open Letter to Parents Who Have Lost a Child Before or Shortly After Birth

The Importance of Familiar Prayers and Rites, as Well as Community, in the Healing Process

Catholics in grief seek and find in the Church’s Liturgical Rites a comfort in the familiar words and rhythm of the Sacred Liturgy. Through participation in the Sacred Liturgy, they express their faith and find peace in the assurance of their child’s presence with God. Additionally, the Church’s Liturgical Rites allow for them to mourn and express outwardly their grief within a community of faith that surrounds them with their love and support.

Forming a Sensitive Pastoral Response Based on the Specific Needs of Each Unique Situation

Each person will respond differently to the loss of a child before or shortly after birth and everyone moves through the various stages of grief at their own pace. A mother who expresses a desire for solitude one day may experience an overwhelming need for company and a listening ear another day. It is important for pastoral caregivers to remember that healing is a journey. We walk the path of grief with the family and must be prepared to respond to their needs at each step along the way. Immediately following their loss, some individuals or couples are thirsting for the comfort of a prayer of blessing. For others, that need might surface after the initial shock has somewhat subsided. In order to minister well to these families, it is incumbent upon pastoral caregivers to know what options are available so we can offer appropriate support and guidance that matches each unique situation.

A Prayer Booklet for the Naming and Commendation of an Infant who Died Before Birth

Click here to download a copy of the prayer booklet, Order for the Naming and Commendation of an Infant Who Died Before Birth. This rite may be used by a priest or deacon, and also by a layperson who follows the rite and prayers designated for a lay minister.

Copies of this booklet with a keepsake certificate can be obtained by contacting the Archdiocese of St. Louis Office of Sacred Worship through email or a web-request.

Order for the Naming and Commendation of an Infant Who Died Before Birth.
Archdiocese of St. Louis, Office of Sacred Worship. 20 Archbishop May Drive, St. Louis, MO 63119. ©2013.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia received permission to make a copy of this ritual prayer booklet available online
as a sample prayer service for families in need. Any further use of the booklet is restricted.

Resources in the Order of Christian Funerals Part II “Funeral Rites for Children”

Pastoral ministers will find many resources in the Order of Christian Funerals (Order of Christian Funerals) Part II “Funeral Rites for Children.” Each prayer for a deceased baptized child also offers an alternative for a child who died before receiving baptism. Even if the child’s body is not present, the use of readings and prayer from the Order of Christian Funerals can be very comforting to the family of a deceased infant.

Hospital chaplains and parish priests testify to the effectiveness of the use of the “Order for Blessing of Parents after a Miscarriage” in the case of stillborn or miscarried babies. If the body of the child is present, often the ceremonies of naming and signing the child from the Rite of Baptism can be consoling when celebrated together with this blessing. (Books of Blessings IX p. 86)

In preparing funeral rites for situations such as these, we should keep in mind the following principles

Part II of the Order of Christian Funerals provides liturgical rites and texts for “Funeral Rites for Children” including the “Funeral Liturgy” with Mass in the presence of the body and “Funeral Liturgy outside of Mass.”

The Order of Christian Funerals contains a section in Part I called “Related Rites and Prayers.” Here are found brief prayers and rites to be used in a home, hospital, or funeral home with family and friends after the death of a loved one. Note the instructions of Order of Christian Funerals # 234 “These rites as they are presented in Part I are models and should be adapted by the minister to the circumstances of the Funeral Liturgy for a child.” This adaptation, using Scripture and prayers from the funeral liturgy for children, is most important pastorally.

It is important to note the variety of prayers in “Funeral Rites for Children.” The rites and prayers for baptized children are distinct from those for children who died before baptism.

The Order of Christian Funerals encourages the use of those rites that will best meet the needs of the family and community. “The minister, in consultation with those concerned, chooses those rites that best correspond to the particular needs and customs of the mourners. In some instances, for example, the death of an infant, only the rite of committal and perhaps one of the forms of prayer with the family may be desirable.” (Order of Christian Funerals #235)

The public, communal character of these liturgical rites is best respected when family, friends, and hospital staff or members of the parish community are invited to participate. This is done with pastoral sensitivity to the parents and immediate family but also bearing in mind the great support that a prayerful community can offer.

In discussions of the appropriate place for these rites to be celebrated, we should also keep in mind:

Some rites can be celebrated in the hospital or in the family home – e.g. “Prayers after Death,” “Gathering in the Presence of the Body,” “Order for Blessing of Parents after a Miscarriage.”

Other rites are better celebrated in a church, home or funeral home, e.g. the “Vigil for a Deceased Child” or the “Funeral Liturgy outside Mass” which includes the Final Commendation.

The cemetery is the appropriate site for the Rite of Committal (With or without the Final Commendation). We should note the special rite for “Final Commendation for an Infant” (Order of Christian Funerals # 337-342) is particularly suited to the committal of stillborns and infants who have died soon after birth.

In cases where the hospital has attended to the burial of a stillborn or an infant dying shortly after birth, the “Rite of Final Commendation for an Infant” can be used (Order of Christian Funerals #337-342). It can be celebrated in the hospital with or without the presence of the child. Note that it is a model and may be adapted, e.g. with other readings from Scripture, or by asking the parents to name the child as part of the rite.

A response from the office of catholic cemeteries to questions regarding catholic burial

The Catholic Cemeteries Office encourages and welcomes families who have experienced the death of a child before or shortly after birth to inter the remains of their child in any of our Catholic Cemeteries.

Typically, two options are available. The first option is to purchase a grave in sections within the cemetery which have been reserved for the burial of infants. One of these graves can be purchased for $35.00. If they wish, the family may place a small granite marker on the grave.   (There are additional fees associated with the memorialization of the grave). There is no fee to open the grave.

The second option is available to families that have already purchased interment rights in any of the Catholic Cemeteries. In that case, the infant’s remains can be interred in the lot. There is no fee to open the grave.  If there is a monument on the lot, the family can inscribe the infant’s name on the existing monument. Depending on certain lot and monument size restrictions, a small marker, similar to the one described above, could be placed on the lot, however this option will vary and might not be possible in all lots. Click here for contact information for the Catholic Cemeteries in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The cemetery is the appropriate site for the Rite of Committal (With or Without the Final Commendation). We should note the special rite for “Final Commendation for an Infant” (Order of Christian Funerals # 337-342) is particularly suited to the committal of stillborns and infants who have died soon after birth. When parish pastoral staff are informed of the death of a child before or shortly after birth, they should be prepared to include a discussion of burial options along with any conversion regarding liturgical resources.

A Compassionate Response to Questions and Discussions Surrounding Baptism

Baptism is a Sacrament for the living. Particular care needs to be given when a child is stillborn or dies shortly after birth. Parents will ask, often with sad persistence, that a priest or deacon baptize the child. In their loving concern, the parent’s underlying anxiety is really asking, “Is my unbaptized child with God?” Pastoral caregivers can confidently recall the words from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“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 them 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.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1261)

When a child dies before or shortly after birth, and the parents intended them to be baptized, “the Christian community entrusts the child to God’s all-embracing love and finds strength in this love and in Jesus’ affirmation that the kingdom of God belongs to little children.” (The Rites, Volume One, page 1005). For in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says, ““Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19: 14)

Continuing Care: Remembering to Minister to Parents and Families Months after Their Loss

In the months following the loss of an infant or child, it is important to provide pastoral care for parents and families. A parish pastoral minister might simply stay in touch by making a quick phone call, or sending a note of care, or providing resources to support parents in their grief. There might be times when parents do not wish to be reminded of their loss, and in these cases, pastoral care ministers must follow the lead of the parents.

Parish bulletins could regularly carry an invitation to parents of stillborn children or miscarried babies to contact the pastor, deacon, or pastoral minister and arrange for the “Blessing of Parents after a Miscarriage.” When the couple finds that they are pregnant again, this may be a good opportunity to celebrate the “Rite of Blessing of a Child within the Womb” or a blessing of parents found in the Book of Blessings.

Annual Mass for Those Who Experience the Death of a Child before or Shortly After Birth

Many parishes find an annual Mass scheduled for families who have lost children during the past year is a powerful and consoling experience of faith and worship. The Mass could be scheduled at any time, but the month of October seems particularly fitting since October 15 is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Strive to make the Mass open to as wide a variety of needs as possible. Include families of miscarried or stillborn children as well as families searching for spiritual healing after an abortion. It seems advisable that this be a separate and distinct observance from a parish’s observance of All Souls’ Day or similar Memorial Masses.

Ensuring Funeral Homes Have the Appropriate Answers

Parents who desire an element of a Catholic Funeral Liturgy for their child have a right to a positive response. Due to a lack of awareness, some funeral home directors might discourage Liturgical Rites for infants and stillborn babies. Pastoral staff should enter into a dialogue with funeral home directors and share educational materials with them so they are prepared to discuss with Catholic families all the options available to them.

Selecting the Appropriate Liturgical Rite for Deceased Infants and Their Families

Click here for a quick reference guide outlining the options for Liturgical Rites for deceased infants and their families. For additional help in selecting the appropriate rite contact the Office for Divine Worship.

Much of the material on this page has been copied, with permission, from the website of the Archdiocese of Boston. The Prayer Booklet, Order for the Naming and Commendation of an Infant Who Died Before Birth, is published by the Archdiocese of Saint Louis and used with permission.