Why do we Pray for the Dead?


The existence of Purgatory has long been a disagreement among Catholics and Protestants. The Protestants’ disagreement is based on their belief that there is nothing in Scripture that refers to praying for the dead.

The Deuterocanonical Books

During the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther removed seven books from the Bible (Tobit, Judith, 1 & 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, and Baruch). His reason was they were written in Greek and all other books were written in Hebrew. This collection of writings is known as the deuterocanonical books. Catholics, however, felt that these books were important and they remain in our Bible to the present day.

Second Book of Maccabees

The New American Bible tells us that The Second Book of Maccabees is especially important because of its teachings on the resurrection of the just on the last day, the importance of intercessory prayer, and the power of the living to offer prayers and sacrifices for the dead.
2 Maccabees 12:43-46 reads, “He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection in mind; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.” This passage offers a strong implication of the existence of Purgatory and the importance of our praying for the souls therein; another reason Luther did not want the book included in the Bible.

What about Purgatory?

Purgatory is a transitional place where souls go after physical death to be cleansed and atone for their sins. Merriam Webster defines Purgatory as an intermediate state after death for expiatory purification.
Specifically 1: a place or state of punishment wherein according to Roman Catholic doctrine the souls of those who die in God’s grace may make satisfaction for past sins and so become fit for heaven
2: a place or state of temporary suffering or misery. It is believed that there are nine levels of Purgatory and the level where a soul is sent depends upon the degree of sin for which that soul is atoning. Souls in Purgatory can pray for the living but they cannot pray for themselves. Without our prayers, they cannot leave Purgatory and go to heaven where they will reach the beatific vision.
Purgatory was once explained to me in this way: “Think of yourself as a child who was outdoors playing, fell and scraped your face and knees. You go to your mother who, with a warm face towel, gently washes the sand from your bruise.” This is the cleansing.

The Beatific Vision

When a soul reaches the beatific vision, it has come face to face with God. Pure light. Pure love. Heaven. And, of course, we cannot come face to face with God unless we are cleansed of all residue left by our sins.
To simplify, let’s compare this to visiting a very important person. We would be certain to be perfectly clean, well-manicured, and wearing our best clothing. To face God, we must be spotless in every sense or we would be blinded by His light. The beatific vision was once explained to me in this way: “Consider that you have gone to the theater to see a movie. The movie is over and the theater is very dark. You find your way to a side exit and when you open the door, the brilliance of the sun, until your eyes can adjust, is blinding.”

Souls of the Departed

Now, we understand the importance of praying for the souls of the departed, and when we cross over the veil, we want our loved ones to pray for our souls. We were created to be loved. The ultimate love is the love of God and being in His presence throughout eternity. The greatest gift we can offer a loved one is a prayer for their soul and the assurance of spending eternity with them in heaven.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls and the souls of all faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

‘Requiescat in pace’

Marilyn Nash for Holyart.com