Why Our Babies Aren't Angels…And Why It Matters



My baby’s not an angel. And I’m so grateful for it. 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 their baby or loved one, sweet poems regarding our 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.
It’s a tricky topic to bring up, of course. It's such a difficult and sensitive subject especially to a person is in the midst of grief. Should we tell someone that their child, or that any loved one that has died, does not actually become an angel in heaven? There are often times where it’s not appropriate in the circumstance and relationship, of course, and prudence would dictate then that we should keep our mouths shut. But why 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? I would argue yes, yes we do. Not only should we honor the truth about God's plan for each one of us 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. 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. To say that people become angels in heaven is akin to saying we become giraffes. 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 take on physical form). 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 bodies will rise again. We will have a 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, new 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. 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. I will never be able to hold an angel in my arms. But I will be able to do so for a saint. And that means, God willing I hope and pray, that someday I will truly be able to see my sweet son or daughter and hold him or her in my arms again. I will know the color of his or her hair and the turn of his or her smile. I will know the sound of his or her laugh and the feel of his or her arms around me. I will finally know for certain whether this child was a son or a daughter and never again have to ever qualify with a clumsy "his or her".
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 including, we pray and hope our unbaptized babies, 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 a communion of saints, we say, more than any angel ever could. We become part of the Body of Christ together as the 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 - 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. 

2 comments

  1. Mary ~ Thank you for developing the theological thread that I needed. A friend and pastor sent me this link. I had a disagreement with a family who recently lost there baby after the mass that the deacon had preached that they had an angel in heaven. It scratched all of the nerves in my body to have to listen to him say this over and over. I too lost my sweet Henry in February so the pain is raw but I knew the truth was real. It is helpful to feel empowered to say something, where appropriate. The teaching of having a saint in heaven is SO beautiful and SO needed. Thank you and God Blessings!
    Lisa

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    1. I'm so so sorry for your loss, Lisa. It really is such a tricky and sensitive subject, understandably! I wish more clergy were clear in this beautiful truth that we become saints in heaven...it would clear up a lot of the confusion and give greater hope and consolation to those that are grieving.

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