ROSTHERN, Sask. — The writers of this article were the Diocese of Prince Albert’s representatives to the World Meeting of Families, held in Philadelphia in September 2015. One of speakers at this event was Cardinal Luis AntonioTagle of the Philippines who spoke about the “wounded” and what we, as a church, must do to help them. One of the groups discussed was the victims of prenatal and perinatal death, whether by miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, or other causes.
Returning to Saskatchewan, we had a number of meetings with Prince Albert Bishop Albert Thévenot, M.Afr., and finally, in June of this year, the first Mass for the Unborn was celebrated at St. Odilon Roman Catholic Church in Rosthern, Sask. The bishop was the celebrant.
The first challenge was how we were to obtain an idea of “numbers” — who might wish to attend this mass. In the past our church, like many other churches, and like the medical profession did not handle matters like miscarriages very well. There were exceptions to this, but generally a miscarriage was met with silence or some pious platitude like, “Well, it’s God’s will” or worse, “God needed another angel.” Statements like this did little or no good, and did nothing to alleviate the pain felt by parents over their lost child.
Knowing that many parents never really resolve issues surrounding their loss, we knew that their privacy must be respected. Therefore, when we started advertising this mass, parents were asked to sign up not by name, but just with an indication of the number of children they wished to have remembered. Sometimes it was one; often it was more. It was repeatedly announced that no one would have to get up in front of a microphone or tell their story.
Since many of these losses occurred early in a pregnancy, often there was no fetal material to bury, no name given the child, and no idea even of the gender of the child. So on the night of the mass we asked that parents fill out a card, naming their child, if the child had not already been named. These cards were placed in a basket and carried in procession to the altar. If parents were uncertain as to the gender of their child, we asked them to pray about it and be guided by inspiration — and, if they named their child “Patrick” and after death discovered their child was a Patricia, they and their child would have a good laugh over it!
Each parent took a candle with an angel sticker on it to represent the number of children lost. These candles were eventually lit from the Paschal candle.
The bishop focused on wounds in his homily. Throughout the preparatory stages, parents were reminded of three things: (1) these children did not really require our prayers, for they were enjoying the presence of God; (2) we can certainly ask for their prayers, and talk to them, for they are powerful saints in the heavenly realm; and (3), we will see them again.
After the mass there was an opportunity for participants to sit down and enjoy coffee and baking. It was amazing how many people did stay; they did not seem to want to depart. Maybe this was an indication that the mass had helped some to resolve their issues and gave them peace.
We now propose to have a memorial to the unborn placed in our local graveyard. Those who may have had abortions were welcomed to participate, for this is not an abortion issue and should not be referred to as such. It is a time for healing. Also, while the mass was advertised in Catholic venues, at least one non-Catholic family attended, which causes us to believe that in other situations an ecumenical service could be planned, involving other churches.
For further information, contact the Prince Albert diocesan office (306-922-4707), or the writers of this article (306-232-9012).