Mass for Children Who Died before Baptism offers healing, compassion

by Mary Lou Seewoester

North Texas Catholic

September 29, 2017

A young child holding roses walks towards the altar during the Memorial Mass for Children who Died before Baptism on Oct. 08, 2016 at St. Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth. (NTC photo/Ben Torres)


FORT WORTH — When Pat Pelletier and her late husband, Chuck, first organized a Mass for Children Who Died before Baptism, it was a small, private liturgy just for women seeking healing after an abortion. But it was their own loss that led them to understand that such a Mass could also help and heal families who experienced miscarriages or stillbirths.

“We lost our fifth child to a miscarriage and we found [the Mass] to be so healing ourselves, we decided we would make it a public, diocese wide Mass… and include anyone who has lost a baby to miscarriage, abortion, or stillbirth,” Pelletier said. 

That was more than 20 years ago. This year, Bishop Michael Olson will celebrate the Annual Mass for Children Who Died before Baptism at 10 a.m. Oct. 14 at St. Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth.  

Pelletier, president of Mother and Unborn Baby Care and a Catholics United for Life board member, said those organizations sponsor the Mass each year. Depending on Bishop Olson’s availability, she schedules the Mass as close to the feast of the Holy Rosary as possible to encourage parents to turn to Mary for comfort. She invites priests who are interested in the ceremony to concelebrate with Bishop Olson and enlists help from the Knights of Columbus.

She said attendance has grown in the past 20 years, from about 30 people to more than 200 at the Mass in 2016.

The Mass is intended to be similar to a funeral. There is a procession for each baby lost, and after Mass, a bereavement luncheon gives families the opportunity to visit with each other, Bishop Olson, and other priests who concelebrated the Mass.

“It’s very solemn Mass,” she added. “The procession helps them to sense that this is a funeral for their child. For most of these babies that are lost, there’s never a liturgy that remembers them. There’s not a time for [families] to grieve.”

After the homily and before the prayers of the faithful, anyone who would like to place a rose on the altar of the Blessed Mother is invited to go to the back of the church to receive a rose for each baby they have lost. Families then process individually to place their roses before the Blessed Mother.

“We don’t ask how they lost their baby,” Pelletier said. “We just ask how many roses they need.”

“When they place that rose on the altar of the Blessed Mother, it gives them an opportunity to return that baby to God, through her. So in every church they go to after that, the altar of the Blessed Mother becomes like a cemetery for their child. They have that memory and carry it with them,” Pelletier said. 

“We have seen incredible healing at being able to place that child in the lap of the Blessed Mother,” Pelletier added. “You can see it in their faces from the time they walk up to the altar and then back to their seat.”

“I don’t know where that healing comes from,” she continued, “other than from the love of God.”

A liturgy for the Mass for Children Who Died before Baptism is in the Sacramentary, or Roman Missal, which contains the prayers for various Masses.  

“The only thing we have done to modify it in any way is the procession for those who have lost their children,” Pelletier said.

“The healing that goes on at these Masses is just unbelievable,” she pointed out.  “There are women who have had miscarriages 40 or 50 years ago and it’s the first time they have felt what we call closure … to remember the child and place that child in the hands of the Lord.”

Theresa Schauf, Respect Life Coordinator for the Fort Worth Diocese, said it is important for the diocese to offer a Mass for Children Who Died before Baptism “because it validates the mourning process for families. Our culture has a ‘get over it’ mentality — that we don’t have a right to mourn that kind of loss. But this is something to grieve…even though their lives were very short, their existence is important.”

Schauf, who first attended the Mass several years ago to support a friend who had a miscarriage, said “in a broader sense, the community also needs to see that validation — that it’s an opportunity for parents to remember the child.”  

Jessica Martinez, a Holy Name of Jesus parishioner, participated in last year’s Mass for Children Who Died before Baptism after experiencing a miscarriage at 14 weeks gestation. After the Mass, Martinez told the North Texas Catholic that it is important to acknowledge the baby’s existence.

She said, “It was a 14-week-old baby but it still deserves our respect. People think it’s just a miscarriage. No — it’s a life. The heart was already beating.” 

Pelletier encourages anyone who has lost a child before Baptism to attend the Mass and to invite family members or friends to support them.

“There are no questions asked,” she said. “Just show up and you can place a rose in memory of your child.”

FORT WORTH — When Pat Pelletier and her late husband, Chuck, first organized a Mass for Children Who Died before Baptism, it was a small, private liturgy just for women seeking healing after an abortion. But it was their own loss that led them to understand that such a Mass could also help and heal families who experienced miscarriages or stillbirths.

Published (until 12/20/2030)
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