Forbidding mourning for babies under seven?

Someone told me that in the pre-vaccine era, infant mortality rates were so high that Catholic church officials sadly forbade mourning for children under seven. It was so common they were afraid that elaborate funerals would cause needless expense and hurt poor parents financially.

Is this true? Thank you.

There was a Victorian practice of “dead photography.” Many times people simply did not have the opportunity to photograph their children, so if the children died at a tender age, the only picture the parents would have is a post-mortem photograph.

The pictures are incredible. The clothing worn by the children, the flowers surrounding them, and simply the effort to get this last–and often only–picture taken certainly belies any thought that mourning was “forbidden.”

I’ve heard (and thought I read somewhere) that it was official Catholic church policy. I can’t begin to imagine how it hard it must have been to have babies before widespread vaccine efforts. So many needless deaths! :frowning: Even today worldwide deaths from measles are still over 100,000 annually even after mass vaccine efforts.


This sounds like a bit of confusion regarding the actual practices.

Mourning was not forbidden, but instead of the solemnity of a funeral with black vestments and tolling bells, the funeral of a child who had not attained the age of discretion, (a.k.a., the age of reason), was to be carried out with white vestments and if the church bells were rung, it was to be done with a “joyous peal.”

The reasoning behind these rules was that a child who had not yet reached the age of reason was considered to be incapable of sinning, so the funeral for such a child was the celebration of the child’s presumptive entrance to heaven with no thoughts of Purgatory, much less Hell. Therefore, the liturgical practices, not the civil or familial practices, emphasized the joy of the child reaching heaven.

There are no rules that I have ever heard, (or that I can now find), that prohibited a child being mourned by the family.

The Catholic Church at one time (they may still not) did not have “Funeral masses” for young children, instead performing a somewhat brighter service that emphasized youth and innocence. Where I came from, it was called a Mass of the Angels. The priest wore white instead of black.

However, that was a difference in tone. Dead children were certainly mourned, and also had graveside services and all the other rituals that went with death.

ETA: pretty much the same as tomndebb said.

I’ve not heard of this. What does “forbidding mourning” mean anyway? The Catholic Church can’t control the emotions of parents.

I can see a germ of this notion in the differing funeral practices for young children who die under the age of reason (often conveniently quoted as 7 years old). Through until the 1960s such children would not have had a requiem mass offered at their funerals. This was because, having died before they were able to tell right from wrong, it was assumed that their souls would not go to Purgatory. Hence the funeral mass was one of thanksgiving for their reception into heaven (white vestments), rather than one offered for the repose of their soul (black vestments).

And on preview I can see that others have the same view.

Thank you.

Is this difference in mourning rituals still practiced today among Catholic clergy? I am not Catholic so I don’t know.

I still occasionally see this phrase used in the funeral notices for young children in newspapers.

Actually, following Vatican II, the Funeral Mass has generally been replaced by the “Mass of the Resurrection” with white vestments and lighter hymns, so we are now treating everyone pretty much the way that we treated young children, previously, looking forward to the deceased entering heaven.

One difference might be that we probably celebrate Mass at the funerals of chidren, on the basis that it is a way for the family to have a liturgical expression. (The parents, obviously, are much older than the age of reason, generally regarded as seven.)

This site shows RC Liturgical colors–both pre & post Vatican II. (But why does it list “Halloween”?) Still, included because it also shows Orthodox colors & has notes on Anglican & other Protestant practice.

Perhaps the Boston Archdiocese’s list is more up-to-date. It appears that White is increasingly recommended for* all* requiem masses.

I have one of my older brother. He was my parents first child and was stillborn in 1945.

Photos of the dead of any age were quite common at one time. One woman I knew 50 years ago dragged her much-older husband to the photographer’s: she wanted the formal picture of him live.

Was there religious pressure upon parents not to be unduly sad at the death of a child? Also, this age of reason at seven stuff, is there a biblical basis for this doctrine?

Religions can’t control a lot of things which they nonetheless forbid.

I don’t know if this particular Catholic prohibition on mourning ever existed, but certainly other religions have strict rules concerning mourning. Islam, for example, generally prohibits mourning to last longer than three days, and forbids certain expressions of grief, such as loud crying and wailing.

A Funeral Mass or a Glory Mass are still Masses - do you mean that children’s funerals may be “regular” Masses instead, with the day’s readings?

In Spain the main difference between a child’s and an adult’s funeral is the casket (white for a child) and that there will likely be very little in the way of remembrance. In my mother’s parish at least, the family is asked whether they’d like to have any specific reading; for Dad’s we just went with the day’s readings.

On a slight tangent - Jewish tradition apparently dictates no mourning for the death of a child before 30 days of age (see this article by a Reform Rabbi challenging the tradition).

No, but I don’t think the Catholic church has ever put a high priority on requiring Biblical basis for its doctrine.

Earlier in the twentieth century, (I don’t know if the change occurreed at Vatican II or earlier), the funerals of young children were held without any Mass, at all. There was simply a blessing service at the church and then the interment prayers. The inclusion of a Mass during the proceedings is the change.

There was never pressure placed on parents to not mourn their child.
As I noted, earlier, the rules regarding the manner of liturgical expression were not intended as an order for personal behavior.

The “age of reason” (or, age of discretion or age of discernment), was simply the age at which a person was considered sufficiently aware that they could act in a moral capacity. This meant the age at which they could act as witness to Matrimony, or act as a sponsor at Baptism or Confirmation. It coincided with the age at which a child was considered old enough to participate in the Eucharist or Reconciliation/Confession. This age was, typically, regarded as occurring around the onset of puberty and typically was recognized in the early teens.

In the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century, a number of people began to express the idea that the Eucharist should be available to younger chidren. The idea was kicked around for a few years, and finally Pope Pius X decreed, (Quam singulari, August 8, 1910), that the age at which a child should participate in the Eucharist and Reconciliation were to be “about the seventh year, more or less.” I have not seen all the discussions of the topic from that period, but my guess would be that it was set to match the period at which a child would be educated to read and write.

The other attributes of the “age of reason,” (the ability to act as witness/sponsor at marriages, baptisms, and confirmations and a few more arcane activities), have remained tied to the onset of maturation, and are still reserved to those who have attained the age of 16, (unless modified by the local bishop).

I certainly don’t think the question is a silly one. People today think of mourning as a psychological process. In Victorian times it was a long, stringent and expensive ritual.

And that was just to get the deceased out of the house. The formal mourning period, during which you had to wear special clothes and behave in a manner determined by custom, was as long as a year. Here is a link to a 1901 article in Colliers that shows the expense that mourning could entail:
And that article is largely about how it wasn’t as bad in 1901 as it had been in the previous century.

And apparently as late as 1962 the Catholic Church was putting in its two cents worth when it came to telling its members how to properly mourn:

So it isn’t a stretch that the church had something to say about the correct way to mourn in earlier times. I couldn’t find any earlier examples in a breif search but given what I did find I would be surprised if there aren’t many examples out there from earlier times.