Most Holy Trinity
Praying for the Dead
Last week’s Pastor Column reflected on the Catholic perspective of death and the proper care of the body, in connection with Memorial Day that we had just celebrated near the end of May. Today, we consider another theme related to death and dying: praying for the dead and why Catholics do it.
Question: “What is the biblical basis for the Catholic practice of praying for the dead?” Answer: “The practice of praying for the dead is not just Catholic, and yes, it is biblical.”
First of all, it is not just a Catholic thing to pray for the faithful departed. Except in the Protestant community, prayer for the dead is universal among Christians (Roman Catholics, Eastern Rite Catholics, Orthodox). Fur- thermore, prayer for the dead has been practiced by the Jewish people since before the time of Christ and con- tinues to be practiced by them even to this day.
In Sacred Scripture, Judas Maccabeus (in the First and Second Books of Maccabees) and his men were retriev- ing the bodies of fallen comrades when they discovered that the men who had fallen in battle were wearing pa- gan amulets, and so, “turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out.” (2 Macc 12:42)
Protestants may not regard this passage as inspired Sacred Scripture, but Catholics do, and thus it is legitimate for us to appeal to it. Whether one regards it as Sacred Scripture or not, it constitutes evidence of prayer for the dead amongst the Jewish people before the time of Christ, and the Jewish people continue to pray for the dead even to this day, particularly using a prayer known as the Mourner’s Kaddish.
The New Testament also contains a plausible instance of prayer for the dead. After praying for the household of a man named Onesiphorus, Saint Paul goes on to pray: “May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day.” (2 Tim 1:18) Saint Paul twice mentions “the house of Onesiphorus (2 Tim 1:16, 4:19), but he does not greet him with the rest of his household and speaks of him only in the past tense. Many scholars have concluded that Onesiphorus had passed away, and thus Saint Paul was praying for him as among the faith- ful departed.
Many Protestants, too, spontaneously ask God to blessed their departed loved ones. Thus, the Protestant apol- ogist C.S. Lewis writes: “Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me.... At our age, the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to Him?” (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, 107)
It is a perfectly natural human impulse to pray for our loved ones, even when they have passed away from this life.
on Saturday, June 6 at 3:40PM