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Praying For The Dead

"It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that
they may be loosed from their sins" (2 Mach. xii. 46).

NO ONE will deny that the practice of praying for the dead is
reasonable, if the dead are benefited by our prayers. That our prayers
are beneficial to the departed we will endeavor to show. We are taught
by revelation that besides heaven and hell, a state of everlasting
pleasure and a state of eternal pain, there also exists a middle state
of punishment for those who die in venial sin, or who have not
sufficiently satisfied the justice of God for mortal sins already

The people of God in the Old Law believed, and Jesus Christ and His
apostles in the New Law taught, the existence of this middle state. In
the Second Book of Machabees, quoted above, we read that the pious
general Judas Machabeus having made a collection, "sent twelve thousand
drachmas of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifices to be offered for the
dead [soldiers], thinking well and religiously concerning the
resurrection [for if he had not hoped that they that were slain should
rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the
dead], and because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with
godliness had great grace laid up for them. It is, therefore, a holy and
wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from
their sins." If prayers were not beneficial to the dead, God would not
have sanctioned them.

This is exactly the practice of the Catholic Church. We pray and offer
sacrifices for the souls in purgatory, just as Judas Machabeus did. Even
if the Books of Machabees were not inspired, it is historically true
that the Jews and almost all nations of antiquity believed in the
existence of purgatory and the utility of prayers for the souls detained
there. This universal consent is the voice of nature and of God. Hence
we see that the practice of praying for the dead is reasonable.

This practice is in accordance with the teaching of Christ. In the 12th
chapter, 32d verse, of St. Matthew, He says: "He that shall speak
against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this
world nor in the world to come."

These words teach us that some sins will be pardoned in the life to
come. They can not be pardoned in heaven, since nothing defiled can
enter heaven; nor can they be pardoned in hell, out of which there is no
redemption, for "their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be
quenched." Therefore, there must be a state in the next world where sins
will be forgiven, and we call that place or state purgatory. And the
existence of purgatory implies the necessity of praying for those
detained there. The belief in the existence of purgatory and the
practice of praying for the faithful departed have existed in the Church
from the time of its foundation.

Tertullian, who lived in the second century, considered it a solemn
duty, whose obligation came down from the apostles, to offer sacrifices
and prayers for the faithful departed. St. Augustine says: "The whole
Church received from the tradition of the Fathers to pray for those who
died in the communion of the body and blood of Christ." The dying
request of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, is well known. "I
request you," she said, "that wherever you may be, you will remember me
at the altar of the Lord." And he assures us that he frequently and
fervently prayed for her soul.

The teaching of the Church of every age confirms the teaching of the Old
and New Testament regarding purgatory and praying for the dead. To one
who believes in heaven and hell, a place of eternal pleasure and of
eternal punishment, the doctrine of purgatory must appear as a
necessity, and the practice of praying for the dead reasonable. For it
is certain that nothing defiled can enter heaven. But it is possible
that many die guilty of but slight sins. Therefore, it must be said that
these are damned, which is impious and absurd; that what is defiled can
enter heaven, which is unscriptural; or that there is a purgatory, a
state in which such souls are made pure as the driven snow, so that they
can enter into the presence of their Maker. For an infinitely just God
can not condemn to the same eternal punishment the child who dies guilty
of a slight fault and the hardened murderer. No. He will render to every
one according to his works.

The doctrine of purgatory, then, is reasonable as well as scriptural and
traditional. Reasonable, too, is the practice of praying for the dead,
for they are still members of the Church. All the members of the Church,
consisting of the church militant on earth, the church triumphant in
heaven, and the church suffering in purgatory, are one family bound
together by the bond of charity. The members of the Church on earth pray
to those in heaven, who love us and pray for us; and we pray for those
in purgatory. They are God's friends deprived of heaven for a time. As
those in heaven rejoice when one sinner does penance, so those in
purgatory hear us, see us, love us, and are helped by our prayers. We
love them and never cease to pray for them and offer the Holy Sacrifice
for them. Even the unbeliever will stand or kneel by the remains of his
departed friend and offer a prayer for him, thus showing that praying
for the dead is reasonable and the natural dictate of the human heart.

Next: Praying To The Saints

Previous: The Last Sacraments

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