What is the teaching on limbo?

Q: Does the Catholic Church have a stance on the academic community replacing A.D. with C.E.? It feels like the academic world is trying to take God out of our lives. (Clover, SC)

A: The Church has no position on the use of C.E. (Common Era) instead of A.D. (Anno Domini, or Year of Our Lord). The expres­sion has been used in the English language since the seventeenth century but has rapidly grown in popularity in recent times, espe­cially among academics.

While it’s understandable that the academy will use its own lan­guage for its work, it’s unsettling that predominant cultural expres­sions are being abandoned over supposed tolerance and pluralism. Incidentally, most institutions and social customs in the West trace themselves back to the Christian faith. This foundation shouldn’t disturb those who are not Chris­tian since in their original integri­ty they were sources of unity. They were a means to assist and serve the common good and nurture healthy societies.

Societies should be cautious, therefore, about abandoning centu­ries-old customs that build up social cohesion, edify our higher natures and direct us to a care and service to one another.


Q: We were always taught that babies who died at birth would go to limbo. I thought that was so unfair. I have not heard anything about limbo for many years. What is the Church’s teaching on limbo? (Myrtle Beach, SC)

A: We know that God is infinitely compassionate and loving. He cares for all his children and desires for them to be with him. Based on this primary truth, the view of limbo was developed as a theological opinion in answer to questions about children who died under the age of reason and without baptism. Limbo was believed to be a place of relative blessing but with­out the vision of God. It was never a formal teaching of the Church, even though many well-intentioned religion teachers and catechists taught it in answer to questions about children who died without being baptized.

It is now generally held by theologians that children who die without baptism, such as unborn children, stillborn children, or newly born children, are received into heaven through a type of baptism of desire. This means that God blesses the child with the neces­sary graces of salvation, even though a baptism of water was not received.


Q: Throughout my entire life, whenever someone has died, every priest has invariably said, “He (or she) is now in heaven,” and I have always interpreted the priest to be sincere and believe ex­actly what he was saying. Do priests actually believe in purgatory? (Isle of Palms, SC)

A: This is an insightful question and one that displays the pasto­ral approach of the Church and her ministers during the loss of a person’s loved one. While certainly priests and deacons believe in purgatory, the homily is to preach the Paschal Mystery, namely, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and remind the faith­ful of heaven. Many of the prayers of the funeral Mass are filled with hopeful intercessions and declara­tions that the deceased person is in heaven and, oftentimes, a homilist will express this same hope in his message. It’s essential that we un­derstand that this is an act of hope, not certainty.

With this pastoral accommoda­tion in mind, however, it is impor­tant for a homilist to be careful to avoid any decree of canonization. While he is to announce a hope of salvation, he is also to remind the faithful to make supplication for the deceased, asking the Lord for his mercy and compassion.

At the next funeral you attend, I encourage you to listen for the subtleties of the homilist. You might be surprised to hear more of a reference to supplication than you remember.

Father Jeffrey Kirby is administrator of Our Lady of Grace Church in Lancaster. Email him your questions at askfrkirby@gmail.com.

About Father Jeffrey Kirby | The Catholic Miscellany 67 Articles
Father Jeffrey Kirby is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Church in Lancaster. He holds an M.A. in philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville and a doctorate in moral theology from Holy Cross University in Rome. Father Kirby is the author of several books including, "Lord, Teach Us to Pray" (St. Benedict Press, 2014). To learn more about him, please visit frkirby.com or follow him at Twitter/fatherkirby.