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Why Miscarried Babies Aren't Angels - And Why It Matters

Almost anyone who has ever lost a child or experienced the death of any close one has probably heard it or said it themselves:

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 a baby or other deceased loved one, sweet poems regarding 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 and infant loss world for a baby that has died. There has been widespread popular belief for decades, if not centuries, that human beings turn into angels when they die, despite it running contrary to Christian doctrine. Even if one knows intellectually that it isn't the case, the prevalence of the terminology and custom often muddles the understanding and perpetuates the confusion.

It’s a tricky topic to bring up, of course. It's a heart wrenching and sensitive subject especially to a person is in the midst of grief. Without doubt, there are times when it’s not appropriate in the circumstance and relationship to correct someone, and prudence and charity should dictate when we should simply keep our mouths shut instead.

But some might ask, does it even matter anyway? Why not just let people believe whatever they want to in their grief if it’s consoling to them? Do we really need to be all theologically accurate about it? Why should we care and try to be precise when talking about these things? We would argue that it's quite important because not only are we called to honor and speak the truth in and of itself but also because the truth of what we do become is incredibly important and profoundly beautiful to understand.

Our babies do not become angels when they die, nor do any of us human beings. Never in all eternity will any of us become an angel. That, friends, is wonderful and important and beautiful news because we become something far more fitting. We become saints.

Angels are completely spirit, a completely separate form of creation than humans. "The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls "angels" is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 328). To say that people become angels in heaven is like saying we become a different species. We are two totally separate creatures, each of us never morphing into the other. Angels do not have and never will have a body, excluding the few cases where God allows an angel to temporarily take on physical form for a specific message to the physical world. 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 is defined by the separation of 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 physical bodies will rise again. We will have that 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, redeemed 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 it's probably fair to say they 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.

In reuniting us with our bodies, we ultimately give fuller glory to God as the human beings He created us to be. And in His mercy, He allows us our bodies again, this time perfected and glorified. For those of us who have lost children, or any loved one for that matter, this can give us so much more consolation than the idea of them turning into angels! 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. We will never be able to hold an angel in our arms but we will be able to do so for a saint. That means, God willing, that someday we will truly be able to see with our eyes and hug with our arms the sons or daughters that we didn't get to in this life. We will know the color of their hair and the turn of their smiles. We will know the sound of their laughter and the feel of their arms around us. Some of us will finally know for certain whether the child was a son or a daughter and never again have to wonder.

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. St. Maximilian Kolbe speaks of the angels being jealous of us for that reason. We can have a physical relationship ultimately with Christ but also with our fellow human beings. And now in Christ’s redemption of the material world, we can praise Him in ways that they cannot, soul and body. It is an acknowledgement of their incredible worth, dignity, and uniqueness to recognize those in heaven as saints rather than angels. This includes our unbaptized babies as we pray and hope as the Catechism says, "entrusting them to the mercy of God."

"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," allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism" Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1261.

Many theologians (including Pope Saint Leo the Great) even posit that in heaven we will actually become greater than the angels. Not only does Paul tell the Corinthians that we will have authority to judge the angels in 1 Corinthians 6, but in heaven the saints will truly be made one with Christ the Son of God in a way that the angels are not. We are, what they call, divinized.

As saints it also means that those in heaven will be connected with us, in the Communion of Saints, more than any angel ever could. We become part of the Body of Christ together as that Communion of Saints, eventually united with our resurrected bodies. When our loved ones pass on to heaven before us, they can intercede for us more than they ever could before on earth - 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, be experiencing the joy of heaven. May these, our own personal patron saints, be praying for us now that we can one day join them there, body and soul. Thank God for the saints. Thank God they are saints.


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