Dozens of tiny votive candles flickered in front of the altar during the first diocesan Silent Sorrow Mass on Oct. 7 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
The liturgy was celebrated as a way to offer support and healing to those who suffered from miscarriage, infertility and neonatal death. Bishop Nelson Perez told the congregation that Catholics believe conception is the beginning of life.
When a young life is lost, he said parents often carry that loss silently in their hearts. Often people don’t understand that such a loss can impact them for many years.
He shared a story about how one of his best friends, a lawyer, lost a child. He said the couple “became a wonderful example of how to embrace the loss.” The bishop said the couple went on to have three other children, but they never forgot about the child they lost, “They always talk about having four children,” he said, and speak often of the young son they lost. Their other children also talk about the brother they never knew. “He’s a part of their family. That doesn’t take away the silent sorrow, but it soothes it a bit,” the bishop said.
He mentioned three saints who have connections to the loss of young life or miscarriage: St. Gianna Beretta Molla, St. Zelie Martin and St. Catherine of Sweden.
St. Gianna, a physician, who developed a life-threatening disease while pregnant with her fourth child, opted to save the life of her unborn child rather than undergo an abortion or hysterectomy in order to save her own life. She died at age 39 in 1962, a week after the birth of her daughter, who is a physician and lives in Italy. Bishop Perez said St. Gianna’s husband and children were present at her canonization in 2004 in Rome. He noted how rare it is for the spouse and children of a saint to be present at the canonization.
St. Zelie and her husband, St. Louis Martin, were the parents of nine children, but only five survived infancy. All five of their surviving daughters — including St. Therese of Lisieux, also known as the Little Flower – became religious sisters. The Martins were canonized in 2015 and were the first spouses to be canonized together.
Although St. Catherine never suffered the loss of a child, the bishop said she was supportive and was a consoler of women who suffered such losses.
He said it is important to offer support to those who lose a child – regardless of how early they suffer the loss. “We know life begins at conception; it’s not just a bunch of cells,” he added.
After the homily, the bishop invited those in the congregation who had suffered a loss – including miscarriage, infertility or neonatal death – to come forward and light a votive candle in remembrance of their loss. It was a powerful moment as a line formed and people slowly walked to the altar steps to light their candles, which remained burning through the Mass.
“These candles are a reminder that they are still with us,” Bishop Perez said.