After an infant's death

Question: I have a sister who was born prematurely and died less than three hours later. I am sure she was not baptized, as our family was not Catholic at the time. Does she need my prayers? Can I pray for her? Can I ask her to intercede with God? Would your answer be different if she had been stillborn?

-- Janice T., Richmond, Calif.

Answer: Prayer is a lifting of the mind and heart to God and an expression of love within the Communion of Saints. Therefore, prayer knows no limitations. Prayer is shared between the living and the dead and, indeed, is the means by which we are bonded to one another.

Of course, you can pray for your deceased sister, even if she was born prematurely. And you can ask her to intercede for you with the Father. We might have a difficult time imagining deceased babies as more than babies, but we know that in God's providence they have grown to the fullness of life and are able to share fully in the life of God and the Communion of Saints.

At a time when the Church is more aware than ever of its pro-life vocation, it is important that we keep in mind babies who were stillborn or who died soon after birth. I would encourage families to give them names, to keep their memory alive and to make them part of the prayers of the household in anticipation of a reunion in the Resurrection.

Would my answer be different if a baby in question were stillborn? Not at all. Though they were not able to be baptized, the Church commends the unbaptized to God's providence and acts in the confidence that those who did not receive the Sacrament of Baptism are still part of the heavenly family (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1261).

Oddities at Mass

Question: My wife and I had occasion to attend Mass in a Canadian parish recently. We were quite surprised at the way the priest celebrated the Eucharist. He left out several of the prayers and rituals. There was no penitential rite; there was only one reading before the Gospel. There was no profession of faith, no "this is the Lamb of God" before Communion. What was most disturbing was the bread used for Communion. Instead of a host, we received a cube of brown bread that was definitely not unleavened bread. Was this Mass valid?

-- Gene Badzey, La Quinta, Calif.

Answer: The validity of the Mass was not affected by most of the things you mention. Validity has to do with matter (bread and wine) and form (the words of consecration). The Church requires that the bread be made from pure flour and water and have no other additives. When other materials are mixed in with the flour and water, then the matter is still valid, but not licit.

The only consolation I can offer you about the oddities that characterized the Mass you attended is that, to my knowledge, liturgical experimentation, rife in the 1960s and '70s, is less common today.

In those decades, there was the thought that the simpler the Mass, the more authentic it is. Priests who experiment with the liturgy in the way you describe date themselves and exhibit the tendencies of a certain period after the Second Vatican Council -- in no way inspired by the principles of the council itself.

Laity are often at a loss as to what to do when it comes across the kind of liturgical celebration that you encountered.

One reaction is to write to the priest and detail your concerns and send a copy of the letter to the bishop. My impression is that most bishops contact their clergy about these sorts of problems and try to rectify the situation.

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.