Support for miscarriage; lamp for Blessed Sacrament

| Father Kenneth Doyle | January 21, 2016 | 0 Comments

Q. Until my own personal experience in losing a child, I had no realization as to how deeply a miscarried baby can touch one’s heart. I am still puzzled that the Catholic Church does not have something more formal for grieving parents after a miscarriage occurs. Are there any resources, prayers or rituals available for the numerous parents who sit with empty arms?

A. Your search for solace after a miscarriage is understandable and, sad to say, all too common. The American Pregnancy Association states that 10 to 25 percent of all clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. It stands to reason, then, that the Catholic Church would provide resources for such grief-stricken parents, and in fact the Church does offer a variety of options that can bring spiritual solace and hope.

The Church’s official “Book of Blessings” contains a ritual, commonly offered by a priest or deacon, called “Blessing of Parents after a Miscarriage.” In it, a series of scriptural readings is provided, each of which highlights the continued presence and support of the Lord through times of sadness.

One of the prayers reads: “Compassionate God, soothe the hearts of these parents, and grant that through the prayers of Mary, who grieved by the cross of her Son, you may enlighten their faith, give hope to their hearts and peace to their lives.”

Other prayers in that same ritual note the promise of eventual reunion with the miscarried child in heaven. “Comfort these parents with the hope that one day we will all live with you.”

Another option that the Church offers to parents is a funeral Mass for the miscarried child. And since the Church believes in the sanctity of life from the moment of conception, parents are always encouraged to give the miscarried child a name, acknowledging the child’s unique identity and presence now before the Lord as an intercessor on behalf of the family.

Many dioceses also offer individual counseling and/or support groups for parents after a miscarriage. Your parish would have that information.

Q. Some years ago, I was driving in an unfamiliar area and felt a desire to stop in a church and pray. I came across a huge barn of a building with no sign on the outside, and I wondered whether it might be [a Catholic church].

I entered and saw a red candle lighted to the right of the altar, and I knew that I was “home.” In more recent years, though, some of the Catholic churches I visit have no red light, and the Blessed Sacrament is locked away in a chapel. Perhaps this is just a quirk of my home diocese, but I can’t help wondering: Why are we hiding God?

A. The “sanctuary lamp,” to which you refer, is actually required in a Catholic church whenever the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (the GIRM, the Church’s liturgical “rule book”) says in No. 316 that “near the tabernacle a special lamp, fueled by oil or wax, should shine permanently to indicate the presence of Christ and honor it.”

Note that it need not be red, though certainly that is the traditional color. As for your concern with the Eucharist’s being “locked away in a chapel,” you should know that the GIRM does provide an option (in No. 315) so that the Blessed Sacrament may be reserved “either in the sanctuary, apart from the altar of celebration” or “even in some chapel suitable for the private adoration and prayer of the faithful.” That chapel, though, must be “organically connected to the church and readily noticeable by the Christian faithful.”

I am assuming that you have not seen the Eucharist literally “locked away,” since that would preclude the chance for adoration. In our parish, we have a separate eucharistic chapel. It can accommodate six to eight people, who may kneel or sit in quiet meditation before the Blessed Sacrament.

Just outside this chapel, visible as one enters the main body of the church, is a (red) sanctuary lamp that is kept lighted throughout the day and night. Far from “hiding God,” I believe this small but prayerful place honors the presence of Jesus in a special way and beckons people to visit.

Father Doyle writes for Catholic News Service. A priest of the Diocese of Albany, New York, he previously served as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.

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