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Mark Strittmatter wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • Why is it, not long ago, the Church would not allow an unbaptized child to buried in sacred ground?
  • Does the Church still practice this or has this thought changed?

My parents had a miscarriage years ago and because the child was never baptized, they were unable to have the child buried in the Catholic section of the cemetery.

I am a cradle Catholic and I'm having a hard time accepting the Church's view of Limbo.
From what I understand, the Catholic Church adopted this belief from a similar Jewish belief. 

  • Is this correct?

From what I read in the Bible, children are God's greatest possessions, baptized or not.

  • Based on the Scriptures below, how can the Church continue to believe in Limbo?

    Luke 18:17
    "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all."
    Matthew 18:3
    "and I say, Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."
    Matthew 19:14
    But Jesus said, "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
    Mark 10:15
    "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all."

Thank you,

Mark S.

  { Why would the Catholic Church not allow an unbaptized child to be buried in sacred ground? }

John replied:

Hi Mark,

The Church never actually officially taught Limbo as a matter of doctrine. It was a popular theological opinion, nothing more — nothing less.

The Church entrusts everyone, upon their death, to the grace and mercy of God. We trust that God, in ways known only to Himself, can save those who have neither heard the Gospel or understood the Gospel. Likewise, we hold the Church holds the same position regarding the
un-baptized. (CCC 1261)

Although their is one Faith, one Lord, and one Baptism (Ephesians 4:5), the Lord is not bound by His own sacraments and can save who He wishes.

  • For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament. This is known as a Baptism by desire.
  • 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," (Mark 10:14; cf. 1 Timothy 2:4) allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.
  • The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This is known as a Baptism by blood.
  • "Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery." (Vatican II, Gaudium et spes 22 § 5; cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 16; Vatican II, Ad Gentes 7.) Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

    From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
    The Necessity of Baptism, paragraphs 1257 to 1261

As for burying un-baptized children in Catholic cemeteries, I believe the prohibition (which was a practice and not doctrine) has been lifted, but I'll leave that for others to address.

John DiMascio

Mary Ann replied:

Hi Mark,

Well, the easy answer is that the Church never believed in Limbo. Many Catholics did, and many theologians taught it, but it was never an official teaching of the Church that we were bound to believe.

That is a separate question from unbaptized babies not being buried in consecrated ground. I believe that may have been a decision of the pastor, and not Church practice, but I may be wrong. The Church has a burial ceremony for children who die without baptism and commits them to God's saving love using all the quotes you mention.

At present, the Church is studying the whole question of unbaptized innocents. The Church wants to preserve the necessity of baptism and the doctrine of original sin.

If unbaptized adults can be saved, then surely unbaptized innocent children can be saved. Personally, I think the solution will be found in the faith of the Church and the parents, as it is for the Baptism of children. There are Scripture verses that speak of deceased children being with God, as in the case of David and his infant son.

In any case, no matter how the Church decides to explain the salvation of unbaptized infants,
the salvation of all of us depends on God's mercy. We are told in Scripture that God enlightens everyone who comes into the world, so perhaps the miscarried and aborted children are enlightened at the moment of death, to choose the good.

Mary Ann

Fr. Nick replied:

Dear Mark,

It was never the official teaching or practice of the universal Church to prohibit the burial of
non-baptized people in consecrated cemeteries.

It was, however, the practice of individual bishops and pastors.

There should be no problem anywhere today having a non-baptized person, i.e., husband, wife, son, daughter, buried with their family.

John is correct that Limbo was never the official teaching of the Church. I think the early Church leaders struggled to explain the theology of Heaven and Hell, good and evil, and instead strived to encourage people to follow the words and teachings of Jesus Christ.

Fr. Nick

Mark replied:

Thank you all so very much for your explanations.

These questions have been burning a hole in me for years and probably a cause for some resentment I had pent up inside. You have given me what I was looking for and feel very relieved by your answers.

I hope I can come to you with a few other questions I may have in the near future.

Thank you again so very much for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Mark Strittmatter

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