Prayers for the Dead

We had a beautiful All Souls Day Mass at St Joseph’s Catholic School today. The students, faculty and staff recorded the names of their loved ones and each one was named as Mass was said.

Most non-Catholic Christians don’t have any truck with the Catholic custom of praying for the dead. Their theology forbids it. Once you’re dead, they believe, you either go straight to heaven or straight to hell. In a sense that’s what Catholics believe too because we don’t believe that Purgatory is a third destination, but simply a part of heaven. Everyone in purgatory will eventually get to heaven proper. We don’t pray for the dead because we believe in purgatory. We believe in purgatory because we pray for the dead.

Prayers for the dead are far older than a belief in purgatory as such. The Jews prayed for their dead as 2 Maccabees 13:43-45 shows. This article gives detailed evidence that prayers for the dead were not only a Jewish custom, but carried over into the New Testament and the early church. Some people think St Paul’s reference to prayers for Onesiphorus in 2 Timothy 1:16 are an example of prayers for the dead since Onesiphorus is referred to in the past tense and because at the end of the book greetings are given to ‘the family of Onesiphorus.’

The clearest example of prayers for the dead in the New Testament, however, is in I Corinthians 15. In his famous chapter on the resurrection St. Paul mentions in verse 29 that the resurrection must be true, otherwise why would they baptise for the dead? We don’t practice baptism for the dead anymore (unless you’re a Mormon) but after the custom of the early Church we do celebrate Masses for the dead, and the fact that the New Testament Christians baptized for the dead, and St Paul did not disapprove, shows that prayer for the dead were part of the early Christian beliefs which they had taken on from the already existing practice of the Jews.

Belief in purgatory follows from this devout practice. We logically ask where the souls are for whom we are praying, and we conclude that they must be in a place where God’s grace and light continues to work for them and with them for their continued growth in grace until they reach the full manhood of Jesus Christ their Lord.
"Catholicism has always defined the ideal but there are no limits on God's mercy and ..."

Tony Palmer: Is There Salvation Outside ..."
"With all due respect, Shaun, are you relegating the actual Faith to whatever the local ..."

Notes on Tony Palmer’s Funeral
"There are good parking valets and bad parking valets. There are good housesitters and bad ..."

The Case for Conversion to Catholicism
"did you vote for Bush Fr Longenecker? would you have?"

Understanding Iraq

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • James

    Father, Purgatory is not part of heaven since the beatific vision is denied those in Purgatory.

  • It is part of heaven inasmuch as those in purgatory will eventually go to the fullness of heaven. Perhaps it is more precise to call it an ‘antechamber’ to heaven?

  • “We don’t pray for the dead because we believe in purgatory. We believe in purgatory because we pray for the dead.”Very good point. When my grandfather died I longed to pray for him. The idea was so natural that I would start praying without thinking and then stop myself: “No! You’ll offend God with that prayer; it’s not theologically correct. He’s either in Heaven or (God forbid) in Hell, and you can’t help him either way!” Then I reflected that God dwells outside of time and knew in the past what I would pray in the future, so I came up with this loophole to pray for Grandpa: “Dear Lord, I pray that he was saved.”Now that I’m Catholic I pray for him at most Masses, right at, “Remember, Lord, our departed brothers and sisters.” 🙂

  • bernadette

    Fr Dwight, many of my Protestant friends do not have Maccabees in their bible.. it was thrown out during the so-called reformation. What would have been the thinking at the time – why was it removed ?

  • One of the reasons it was removed was because it gave solid Scriptural evidence for prayers for the dead.

  • Father, some suggest that the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians deals with the resurrection. False teachers had infiltrated the church at Corinth, teaching “that there is no resurrection of the dead,” (vs. 13).Paul had stated that the heart of the gospel was Christ’s resurrection (vs. 1-14). Christ died on the cross for man’s sins, was buried, and that he rose again the third day.The chapter is devoted to defending the resurrection of the dead against false teaching.In verse 29, Paul points out a further reason that the resurrection is real. He says: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” The apostle is pointing out an inconsistency in the practice of these false teachers. Apparently, they did not believe that the dead would rise (15:12), but they practiced proxy baptism for the dead. If the dead do not rise, why did they baptize them after death? It was a contradiction.By noticing the pronouns, one can see who was actually practicing baptism for the dead. Paul says, “…what shall they do which are baptized for the dead… why are they then baptized for the dead?” Paul did not say, “Why are you (Corinthian Christians) then baptized for the dead?” He did not say, “Why are we (the followers of Christ) then baptized for the dead?” He did not say, “Why then am I (Paul himself) then baptized for the dead?” He was asking, in effect, why these false teachers, who did not even believe in the resurrection, would want to baptize for the dead if the dead do not rise at all

  • First of all the apocyphal books aren’t inspired by GOD, the RCC’s own test of canoncity goes against these books they aren’t backed by any prophet or apostle, not one of these ever quotes from the apocryphal books. Next the typical RC doesn’t just pray “for” the dead, but they pray “to” the dead example the booklet of “our lady of perpetual help” are prayers “to” mary not for her, they even ask mary fro salvation if you can believe this, ppl wake up mary is not omnipresent she can’t hear your prayers or mediate for you she is awaiting the ressurrection period. Now purgatory is a lie from the pit of hell this place is a fairy tale, if you ask a catholic to describe this place it sounds like hell but temporay, this place is made up by the imagination of men who aren’t sure of their salvation in christ, but 1 john 5:13 say we can know we have salvation, yet the RCC denies this verse, well ppl the RCC as been adding to the bible and the word of GOD for years to keep it’s ppl in bondage. Purgatory is nothing but a money amker for some priest to have mass for a dead love one to shorten their stay in this fake place, yet he can’t tell you when they leave this place so many ppl will have masses maybe for years to come without knowing if their loved one is still there(sheesh). Test all things if the typical catholic would test their false doctrines and dogmas against the word of GOD they would see the lies of their church. Plus the RCC preist is not biblical there is no office of preist in the NT as outlined by (1 cor 12:28) the only priesthood GOD accepts in the NT is that of believers which are called a Royal Priesthood,I always say this the greatest trick satan has played on humans is the RCC, sad they must find things outside of the word of GOD to have salvation I know all script is GOD breathed,but I never heard of sacred traditions being GOD breathed,saints search the script test what you hear, let those who willing want to stay in bondage in the RCC stay,for they are serving their father already the father of lies they put more trust in their councils, magesterium,and popes than they do GOD, they serve two master and don’t even know it sad.