Christmas With the Ghosts of Christmases Past? Pray For the Dead!

Christmas With the Ghosts of Christmases Past? Pray For the Dead! December 20, 2011

Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is one of the most beautiful Christmas stories out there. In it we see the presence of ghosts, ghosts facing punishment for the sins committed in life. Marley’s ghost came to Scrooge as a part of his penance, and, one can only guess that this act of charity ultimately has positive effect on Marley even as it does on Scrooge. But the question could be asked, how Christian is this? Can Christians believe in ghosts? Many think the answer is no. But history shows that Christians of many traditions have believed in ghosts and encountered them in their daily life. While some suggest that ghosts must be demons, no explanation has been given as to why demons would do the things often associated with ghosts. What would be the point?

Traditional Catholicism follows with what we see in Dickens as an explanation for them. They could be the souls of those in purgatory working off the temporal punishment due to their sins. Hugh of Saint Victor, in discussing purgatory, expresses the belief that ones being purged from sins might have those sins purged in those areas they performed them:

Now there is another punishment after death which is called purgatory. In this those who have departed from this life with certain faults but are just and predestined for life are tormented temporarily so as to be purged. And its location has by no means been determined, except that by many examples and revelations of the souls which have been placed in punishment of this kind it has been shown very often that that punishment is exercised in this world; perhaps it will be more probably to believe that individual souls are punished especially in those places in which they committed the sin, as has often been proven by much evidence. Indeed, if there are any other places for these punishments they are not easily assigned.[1]

This accords with a story an exorcist-priest told me. What I remember of it is this: He said that there was a convent that was known to have a ghost of a nun which would make her presence known during prayers. The nuns at the convent were used to her and considered her a friendly spirit. The convent was eventually being closed down, and a new priest came to visit it before it did so. He encountered the ghost and asked the elderly nuns there about it. They told her the name of the nun they believed it was. The priest then said prayers for the rest of the soul and a mass for the nun. After that, the ghost was no longer there. I do not remember the name of the ghost, nor the convent, but the priest who told me the story told me their names.  His point of the story is that he learned that sometimes the best exorcism is to pray for the repose of the souls of those who are from a certain place.

And this is something we might want to ponder this Christmas as we come once again to celebrate the birth of the savior. If we want to give the best present we can to those loved ones who are now deceased, perhaps, just perhaps, we can say a prayer or have a mass said for them. “A Christmas Carol” not only reminds us the charity we need to show to the living, but the interdependent relationship we have with the dead. And the dead need our charity too.


[1] Hugh of Saint Victor, On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith, 440.

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