Why We Pray For The Dead

The simplest answer might be, "Love." Prayer of any kind is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who moves our hearts toward union with God. Why would we ever not want to share that gift with anyone, living or dead? Christ Himself, by His coming as man, by His dying and rising to new life, and by His descent into hell, made it clear that the dead are not beyond the reach of love. And what is prayer if it is not love?

Another answer might be, because they have asked for our prayers. Thousand of monuments and markers in our cemetery bear inscriptions that read, "Pray for Him," or, "Pray for Her," or "My Jesus, Mercy." We all go to God aware of our humanity – grateful for our strength, but aware of our weakness; proud of our achievements, but sorry for our failures; happy for the love we have shared, but sad for the injuries we have caused. In humility, we ask one another to pray for the healing we can no longer seek for ourselves in death. In charity, we fulfill that request for each other, aware that we, too, will rely one day on others' prayers.

To encourage a renewal of the practice of heartfelt prayer for the dead, and to better explain this beautiful, sacred tradition, we offer the following resources:

Some Interesting Thoughts on Why We Pray for The Dead

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom


Many are dismayed at the thought of praying for the dead. Can the destiny of the dead be changed if one prays for them?"

If you believe that prayers for the living are a help to them, why should you not pray for the dead? Life is one, for as St. Luke says: "He is not the God of the dead but of the living"(20:38). Death is not the end but a stage in the destiny of man, and this destiny is not petrified at the moment of death. The love which our prayer expresses cannot be in vain; if love had power on earth and had no power after death it would tragically contradict the word of scripture that love is as strong as death (Song 8:6) and the experience of the Church that love is more powerful than death, because Christ has defeated death in his love for mankind.

It is an error to think that man s connection with love on earth ends with his death. In the course of one’s life one sows seeds. These seeds develop in the souls of other men and affect their destiny. The words written or spoken that change a human life or the destiny of mankind, as the words of preachers, philosophers, poets, or politicians, remain their authors responsibility, not only for evil but also for good; the authors destiny is bound to be affected by the way they have influenced those living after them. The life of every person continues to have repercussions until the last judgment, and man’s eternal and final destiny is determined not only by the short space of time he has lived on this earth but also by the results of his life by its good or evil consequences. Those who have received seed sown as in fertile ground, can influence the destiny of the departed by prayerfully beseeching God to bless the man who has transformed their lives, given a meaning to their existence. In turning to God in an act of enduring love, faithfulness and gratitude, they enter this eternal kingdom which transcends the limits of time, and they can influence the destiny and the situation of the departed. We do ask him merely to forgive a man in spite of what he has done but to bless him BECAUSE OF THE GOOD HE HAS DONE, to which other lives bear witness.

From Living Prayer

Why Pray for The Dead?

Q: A Christian friend of mine says that the Bible contains no references to purgatory. What is the basis for the Catholic Church’s teaching about this? Why do Catholics pray for the dead?

A: In 2 Maccabees 12:38-46, Judas Maccabee orders that sacrifices be offered in the Temple in Jerusalem for slain Jewish soldiers who had worn pagan amulets (good-luck charms).

Some people have seen this story as biblical justification for the teaching on purgatory. That certainly overstates the author’s intention. If, however, those Jewish soldiers did something wrong by wearing pagan amulets, why offer sacrifices on their behalf?

The two Books of Maccabees are probably not in your friend’s Bible because they were originally written in Greek. During Jesus’ lifetime, some Jewish people regarded these books as inspired by God.

About 60 years after Jesus’ death, however, rabbis at Jamnia in Palestine drew up the list (canon) of the Scriptures used by Jewish people to this day. That shorter list includes only works composed in Hebrew, excluding the two Books of Maccabees, five other books and parts of the Books of Daniel and Esther.

For centuries, Eastern and Western Christians accepted as inspired the longer list. When Martin Luther translated the Bible, he used the shorter list. Sometimes, these seven books are printed in Protestant Bibles as “Deutero-canonical” or “Apocrypha.”

The New Testament and early Christian writings offer some evidence for purgatory. In 2 Timothy 1:18, St. Paul prays for Onesiphorus, who has died. The earliest mention of prayers for the dead in public Christian worship is by the writer Tertullian in 211 A.D.

The question of purgatory and praying for the dead was a major issue between Catholics and Protestants in the 16th century. The Council of Trent’s 1563 decree about purgatory reaffirmed its existence and the usefulness of prayers for the deceased, yet it cautioned against “a certain kind of curiosity or superstition...” about it.

The Roman Catholic teaching on purgatory reflects its understanding of the communion of saints. We are connected to the saints in heaven, the saints-in-waiting in purgatory and other believers here on earth. Prayers for the deceased are not a means of buying their way out of purgatory.

The Catholic Church’s teaching about purgatory (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1030-32) says that all sin, unfortunately, has a life of its own and may have bad effects even after the sinner repents. Sincere repentance includes a desire to repair the damage done by one’s sins. That may or may not be complete before the person dies. When the world ends at the Final Judgment, there will be only two possibilities: heaven and hell. We who celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection over sin and death look forward to sharing in that victory, and we pray that our beloved dead may do the same.

— Excerpted from St. Anthony Messenger – Ask a Franciscan

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