Remembering the unborn

POST BY JHellings

stone cherub

On Sunday 1st February we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation. This commemorates the occasion when Mary and Joseph brought their new-born child to the Temple in Jerusalem to be presented to the Lord.  On this day we bless the candles which are to be used in the church during the coming year, the “Light which has come into the world” radiates around us. We begin to welcome the lengthening days which herald the end of winter.

For several years now Farm Street Church has also marked this day with a special remembrance service. Not all mothers and fathers have been able to present their new-born child to the Lord in the way that Mary and Joseph could.  Not all babies survive their time in the womb or the experience of birth, or the early days or weeks of their earthly life. As we hold the story of Mary and Joseph before us, we also offer a way for those who have been touched by the loss of an unborn child to come together in prayer and to receive the grace, consolation and strength which comes through a Mass offered for this special intention.  The loss of a child during pregnancy or in early life, through whatever cause, leaves many emotions. We hope that our special “Mass for the Unborn” can continue to bring peace and assurance to those who may be living with sad memories. Over the years the Mass (which is to be held in the Church at 3pm on Sunday 1st) has provided a means of marking an event which may otherwise be hidden or passed over, and it reminds us that we are still in a blessed communion with these souls.

Christ brings “a teaching which is new” into the world. He brings the Gospel  - the “good news”.  Our theology has not always helped people to find or experience this and one area of ambiguity has been the question of original sin and its effects on the unbaptised child. When I was a priest on supply as hospital chaplain shortly after my ordination I had my first experience of this area of doubt. Several times I was called out to perform emergency baptisms for newly-delivered babies who were in danger of death and it seemed that the parents believed their child would not go to Heaven if this was not done. Whatever the Church may appear to have taught regarding the separation from God’s grace of all human life at conception - and this varies with the theological schools – it is certainly not the mind of the Church to exclude unbaptised infants from the fullness of God’s presence in Heaven. Our funeral liturgies for children show this. The Vatican Council asserts that God offers “to every human being in a way known only to God the opportunity to be associated with the saving effects of the Paschal mystery.” Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae affirmed that “there is nothing more innocent than the unborn child”, and Pope Benedict XVI removed any doubt about this by declaring that the idea of a limbo for infants is not Catholic doctrine. These little ones are received into the fullness of God’s eternal love and we can see in their eternal destiny a glimpse of God’s greater plan for all his children, each one of whom is precious in his sight forever.

William Pearsall SJ