Why Pray for the dead?

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    In 2 Maccabees 12:38-46, Judas Maccabee orders that sacrifices be offered in the Temple in Jerusalem for slain Jewish soldiers who had worn pagan amulets (good-luck charms).

    Some people have seen this story as biblical justification for the teaching on purgatory. That certainly overstates the author’s intention. If, however, those Jewish soldiers did something wrong by wearing pagan amulets, why offer sacrifices on their behalf?

    The two Books of Maccabees are probably not in your friend’s Bible because they were originally written in Greek. During Jesus’ lifetime, some Jewish people regarded these books as inspired by God.

    About 60 years after Jesus’ death, however, rabbis at Jamnia in Palestine drew up the list (canon) of the Scriptures used by Jewish people to this day. That shorter list includes only works composed in Hebrew, excluding the two Books of Maccabees, five other books and parts of the Books of Daniel and Esther.

    For centuries, Eastern and Western Christians accepted as inspired the longer list. When Martin Luther translated the Bible, he used the shorter list. Sometimes, these seven books are printed in Protestant Bibles as “Deutero-canonical” or “Apocrypha.”

    The New Testament and early Christian writings offer some evidence for purgatory. In 2 Timothy 1:18, St. Paul prays for Onesiphorus, who has died. The earliest mention of prayers for the dead in public Christian worship is by the writer Tertullian in 211 A.D.

    The question of purgatory and praying for the dead was a major issue between Catholics and Protestants in the 16th century. The Council of Trent’s 1563 decree about purgatory reaffirmed its existence and the usefulness of prayers for the deceased, yet it cautioned against “a certain kind of curiosity or superstition…” about it.

    The Roman Catholic teaching on purgatory reflects its understanding of the communion of saints. We are connected to the saints in heaven, the saints-in-waiting in purgatory and other believers here on earth. Prayers for the deceased are not a means of buying their way out of purgatory.

    The Catholic Church’s teaching about purgatory (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1030-32) says that all sin, unfortunately, has a life of its own and may have bad effects even after the sinner repents. Sincere repentance includes a desire to repair the damage done by one’s sins. That may or may not be complete before the person dies.

    When the world ends at the Final Judgment, there will be only two possibilities: heaven and hell. We who celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection over sin and death look forward to sharing in that victory, and we pray that our beloved dead may do the same.



    Thank you for your post.

    First thing I would like to say is that praying for those who fell asleep in Christ was well established before Constantine ( You know what I mean).

    Here is an interesting verse:

    Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?
    1Cor 15:20

    We know that Paul is making his apologia for the resurrection in 1Cor 15. Paul cites what seems to be a practice of faith within the Corinthian church, in that members of the church would be baptized for those departed before receiving it.

    While we know this is not practiced today, some observations:

    1) Paul did not condemn this practice.

    2) This shows that the Corinthians had a sacramental understanding of baptism.

    3) That Paul acknowledged this was done for the dead.



    [quote:1ijzeg52]Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?
    1Cor 15:20

    We know that Paul is making his apologia for the resurrection in 1Cor 15. Paul cites what seems to be a practice of faith within the Corinthian church, in that members of the church would be baptized for those departed before receiving it.

    While this is one scolarly opionion, there are those at the Angelicum who follow St. Thomas Aquinas expl. that the “dead” in this case are those who’s souls are “dead” because of sin, original and actual, and not a corporal death. It does nonetheless show that there are difficult passages in the Holy Writ that require more than just personal inspiration to interpret. As St. James has well pointed out, most Fundie Pulpit pounding is done from the aspect of a few carefully selected “proof texts” quoted frequently and out of context, rather than the entire message.

    Yesterday as I was brushing the dogs, I had a Moriss Cerillo “Revival” on the TV, the guest preacher has made millions of dollars going around preaching on “Seed Faith” This is a five or six year old rerun, that Cerillo and his gang show when they want extra money. The jist of the preacher, (and I’ve seen him on TBN from time to time with the same schtick) is that God laid it on his heart that the first three hundred to pledge a thousand dollars on a credit card will get a one hundred times return on their seed money. He went on for over an hour, talking only about how people who have given his ministry money have within 90 days got between two and one hundred times back from God. Now he never mentioned that they got back money. But he did tell quite a few stories of how people run up to him at airports around the world stuffing his pockets with money, so God can reward them. Brother X really does have a way with preaching the word as God inspires him don’t he!!! Amen!!!



    Thanks for the insight.



    When the world ends at the Final Judgment, there will be only two possibilities: heaven and hell.[/quote:32cdvdlp]

    The belief in Purgatory comes to us from the first Christians and they learned it from the Apostles of Christ.

    St Paul prays for his dead friend:”The Lord grant unto him to find mercy of the Lord in that day. And in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou very well knowest.” 2Ti 1:18

    Saint Paul is praying for his friend and asking God to be merciful to him “in that day”.If all good Christians go to Heaven then why is St. Paul praying for his friend? The only reason is because his prayer will help him get to Heaven which means he could be in a different place that is not Heaven. That is what the Church calls Purgatory.

    What follows are the Biblical verses and their explanation by some of the Fathers of the Church.

    “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.” 2Mac 12:46

    ” In the books of the Maccabees we read of sacrifice offered for the dead. Howbeit even if it were no where at all read in the Old Scriptures, not small is the authority, which in this usage is clear, of the whole Church, namely, that in the prayers of the priest which are offered to the Lord God at His altar, the Commendation of the dead hath also its place.” St. Augustine, On Care To Be Had For The Dead, Chapter 1:3 [A.D. 354-430]

    And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him:But he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him neither in this world, nor in the world to come.” Mat 12:32

    “Hence we may gather that there are some sins that are remitted in this world, some in the world to come; for what is denied of one must be supposed to be admitted of others. And this may be believed in the case of trifling faults; such as much ill discourse, immoderate laughter, or the sin of carefulness in our worldly affairs, which indeed can hardly be managed without sin even by one who knows how he ought to avoid sin; or sins through ignorance (if they be lesser sins) which burden us even after death, if they have not been remitted to us while yet in this life. But it should be known that none will there obtain any purgation even of the least sin, but he who by good actions has merited the same in this life.”
    St. Gregory of Nazianzus (fourth century )Catena Aurea

    “Each one will be presented to the Judge exactly as he was when he departed this life. Yet there must be a cleansing fire before judgment because of some minor faults that may remain to the purged away. Does not Christ the Truth say that if anyone blasphemes the Holy Spirit he shall not be forgiven either in this world or in the world to come’ From this statement we learn that some sins can be forgiven in this world and some in the world to come. For if forgiveness is refused for a particular sin we conclude logically that it is granted for others. This must apply as I said to slight transgressions.”
    St. Gregory the Great ,DIALOGUES 4:39 ML 77 396 FC XXXIX 248″

    “And every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour. ;;.
    Every man’s work shall be manifest. For the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire. And the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any mans work burn, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.”
    1Co 3:8 & 13-15

    “For if on the foundation of Christ you have built not only gold and silver and precious stones (I Cor., 3); but also wood and hay and stubble,what do you expect when the soul shall be separated from the body? Would you enter into heaven with your wood and hay and stubble and thus defile the kingdom of God; or on account of these hindrances would you remain without and receive no reward for your gold and silver and precious stones? Neither is this just. It remains then that you be committed to the fire which will burn the light materials; for our God to those who can comprehend heavenly things is called a cleansing fire. But this fire consumes not the creature, but what the creature has himself built, wood, and hay and stubble. It is manifest that the fire destroys the wood of our transgressions and then returns to us the reward of our great works.”Origen of Alexandria (Homilies on Jeremias [c. AD 244] or Migne PG 13:445,448)

    ” ‘Neither chasten me in your hot displeasure’ (Ps. 37:2)…. so that you may cleanse me in this life and make me such that I may after that stand in no need of the cleansing fire for those who are to be saved yet so as by fire’ (1 Cor. 3:15). And because it is said he shall be saved that fire is thought lightly of. For all that though we should be saved by fire yet will that fire be more grievous than anything that man can suffer in this life whatsoever.” ST AUGUSTINE EXPOSISTIONS ON THE PSALMS 37:3 ML 36 397 NPNF VIII 103″

    “Amen I say to thee thou shalt not go out from thence (from the prison) till thou repay the last farthing” Mt. 5 26

    “That allegory of the Lord [Matt 5:25,26] which is extremely clear and simple in its meaning, and ought to be from the first understood in its plain and natural sense…Then, again, should you be disposed to apply the term ‘adversary’ to the devil, you are advised by the (Lord’s) injunction, while you are in the way with him, ‘to make even with him such a compact as may be deemed compatible with the requirements of your true faith. Now the compact you have made respecting him is to renounce him, and his pomp, and his angels. Such is your agreement in this matter. Now the friendly understanding you will have to carry out must arise from your observance of the compact: you must never think of getting back any of the things which you have abjured, and have restored to him, lest he should summon you as a fraudulent man, and a transgressor of your agreement, before God the Judge (for in this light do we read of him, in another passage, as ‘the accuser of the brethren,’ or saints, where reference is made to the actual practice of legal prosecution); and lest this Judge deliver you over to the angel who is to execute the sentence, and he commit you to the prison of hell, out of which there will be no dismissal until the smallest even of your delinquencies be paid off in the period before the resurrection. What can be a more fitting sense than this? What a truer interpretation?” TERTULLIAN (A Treatise on the Soul 35 [c. AD 210] or ANF III:216)

    “.It is one thing to stand for pardon, another thing to attain to glory: it is one thing, when cast into prison, not to go out thence until one has paid the uttermost farthing; another thing at once to receive the wages of faith and courage. It is one thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged by fire; another to have purged all sins by suffering. It is one thing, in fine, to be in suspense till the sentence of God at the day of judgment; another to be at once crowned by the Lord. St. Cyprian Bishop of Carthage,Epistle 51 To Antonianus, Chapter 20 [A.D. 200-258]



    One of the first objections with which Catholics are hit when we bring up Purgatory is this line:

    “Well, I looked all through my Bible, from front to back, and I didn’t see ‘Purgatory’ anywhere in there.”

    Ironically, this same objection comes from Christians who usually believe in words and phrases such as the ‘Trinity’, the ‘divinity of Christ’, ‘altar calls’, ‘Easter’ and ‘Christmas’, and ‘personal Lord and Savior’, all of which also appear nowhere in Scripture, from front to back.

    Should this bother us? Of course not, because we understand that Scripture doesn’t have to explicitly name a doctrine for it to be true. Some concepts are presented implicitly, which means that Scripture presents clues to which there can be no other conclusion. “Purgatory”, after all, is just a word, but the concept is real enough and undeniably present in Scripture, as well as in the belief system of the early Christians. And not only is compatible with Christian doctrine, it is necessary for Christian doctrine, as we will see through this essay.

    To begin, consider a wedding analogy. A new bride and her groom are standing before the priest, and as he is asking the bride for her vows, she seems distracted and distant. After the wedding, the groom asks her what the deal was. “Hank,” she tells him, “You asked me to be your wife and I accepted. I will love you until death do us part … but I just can’t get my old boyfriend Hank off my mind.”


    Christ is our bridegroom, and when we become Christians, we accept his proposal of marriage. However, all of us are sinners and know that no matter how much we give ourselves to Christ, we still selfishly cling to earthly things, loving them more than him on occasion. Perhaps we love sleeping in more than we love Mass on some Sunday. Perhaps we love TV more than prayer. Yet, for a marriage to be truly perfect, we must be “purged” of these distractions to the love we have for our spouse.

    Purgatory is not some second chance, as many mistakenly believe Catholics understand it to be. When we die, we are on our way to Heaven or to Hell. However, some of us will die still attached to those things of the flesh. While Christ made the perfect sacrifice for our sins, and while we have forgiveness for even the worst transgression, our sins damage our souls and body. If we sin once, say by indulging in pornographic material, it becomes easier to sin in that way again, even after God has forgiven us. If you doubt this (and I don’t think anyone honestly could), talk with someone who has battled with an addiction, and he will tell you how giving in to the temptation once made it easier to do it a second time, and then a third, and then …
    Purgatory is the place where God, because he loves us so tremendously, allows us to break from our earthly desires and sinful attachments before entering into his glory. There are many who believe Purgatory to be a place of punishment and torture, which are misunderstandings of the strong Biblical imagery. Will there be suffering in Purgatory? Of course, just as there is suffering any time we break ourselves of something unhealthy. My body aches when I start an exercise routine, but it is a good pain because I know I am toning those muscles and reducing that fat. A drug addict sweats and shakes in a rehabilitation center, but this is a good suffering because it is a sign of the body purging itself of the poison and healing. Any suffering we feel in Purgatory will be the consequence of stripping from ourselves all that is unhealthy to our marriage to Christ.

    We see the imagery in Scripture which points to suffering in these verses: Heb 12:5-6 “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.” Peter 4:1 “[W]hoever suffers in the flesh has broken with sin” Prov. 20:30 “Blows and wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being.”

    Some object that Christ made the perfect sacrifice for our sins, so why should there be anything left to do? Purgatory, they insist, is an insult to his work upon the cross. Yet, the mistake here is in assuming that Purgatory is supplemental to Christ’s work – something in addition. Rather, Purgatory is a manifestation of Christ’s work – it owes its very existence to his redemptive act.

    It should be pointed out here that Purgatory does not necessarily have to be a place. While it is a necessary dogma for Catholics (we must believe in it), the Church has never specifically defined its nature. It could be a state of being or an instantaneous process, something through which we pass on the way to Heaven. Remember, time will not mean the same thing in the hereafter as it does in this existence. Another important point is that not all of us will need to experience Purgatory. Surely some of us are working out our suffering here on Earth, such as might have been the case for the good thief who confessed belief in Christ before his crucifixion. Some of us might have completely stripped ourselves of earthly attachments and will have no need for this purging, such as is surely the case for many of our recognized saints.

    One point that many non-Catholics make is that we are “clothed in Christ”, and that there is no need for further cleansing after death. While it is true that we are clothed in Christ, Rev. 21:27 tells us that nothing unclean will enter Heaven. Christ doesn’t simply intend to throw a tarp over our dirty bodies; he intends to make us holy and without blemish (Eph. 5).
    And, as he is our bridegroom, I truly believe that, for those of us who go to Purgatory, it will be something we desire. Just as a bride wants to be pure and beautiful on her wedding day, we would want nothing less than to present ourselves in such a way to Christ. Just as the groom would be offended if she were still clinging to memories of “Hank”, Christ would be offended if our souls still clung to those things of the flesh that we should have left behind ‚Äì our old “lovers”, so to speak. The word for this process of purification is sanctification, a belief that all Christians share. Even though we are forgiven for our sins, we are made Holy through the course of our lives, and if it is not complete at death, the process is finished in Purgatory.

    But don’t take my word for it. C.S. Lewis, the darling of Evangelical Christianity, also believed in Purgatory. In his book, Letters to Malcolm, he writes, “Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would in not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy’? Should we not reply, ‘With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.’ ‘It may hurt, you know’ – ‘Even so, sir.’

    While all this is fine, we are ultimately left with the question of what, exactly does Scripture have to say about Purgatory? One of the classic texts can be found in 2 Maccabees 12:43-46, which states, “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they might be loosed from their sins” “Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.” Non-Catholics will often object that they do not consider 2 Maccabees to be inspired (though it is), they will surely admit that it is a historical document, which we can trust just as we would trust a non-inspired historical document to give us information about Lincoln’s presidency. Examining this ancient text, we see that it was a practice among Jews to pray for the dead. If the only possibilities after death were Heaven and Hell, this would make no sense. We have no need of prayer in Heaven and cannot be helped by them in Hell, so the prayers must be efficacious in some other place, which only leaves the possibility of Purgatory. For argument’s sake, should our prayers be beneficial for the dead (as instruments of God’s grace) the true tragedy of rejecting Purgatory, as many non-Catholics have done, is that they have missed the opportunity to offer prayers for so many friends and relatives who have already passed.

    When we look at the writings of the early Christians, when the religion was at its purest, we see that the practice of praying for the dead was an important part of the early Christian church, which indicates that Purgatory has always been a part of Christian tradition.
    That said, the stronger verses can be found in any Bible you may pick up. Take Luke 12:42-48 for example. Here, in the parable of the three types of servants, when master returns on that “unexpected day” and “unknown hour”, servant who obeys is rewarded; servant who disobeys is punished; servant who disobeys out of ignorance is punished, but only lightly. We see three fates here, one that is clearly symbolic of damnation, one of Heaven, and a third (light punishment) signifies a third place, which cannot be Hell because that is surely not a light punishment, nor Heaven where no punishment occurs.

    A more powerful verse is 1 Cor 3:15 which is where Paul discusses how we must build on the foundation of Christ. Those who don’t will go to Hell, of course. Of those who do, some will build with valuable materials and precious metals, while others will chose more common materials. Paul writes that each man’s work will be tested with fire, and “If it [each man’s work] is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames”. Now, consider this – we are not saved in Hell, yet we suffer no loss in Heaven, so where is this place (or what is this “process”) in which we suffer loss but are saved? Some non-Catholics argue that this verse simply refers to a glorification through which we pass in judgment. As Catholics, we agree. In fact, based in part on the Biblical evidence, we’ve recognized this all along. So much so that we’ve assigned it a name: Purgatory.

    The word isn’t in Scripture, but the concept is. What it finally comes down to is a willingness to admit it.




    My Methodist wife and I have a running joke that one of us will be awful surprised upon dying to discover the other was right about the existence of Purgatory. That’s as far as it goes in our household, attempts to convince each other in the past have gotten exactly nowhere. I’ll show her the pertinent Scripture and she’ll say, “Is that it? Nothing else?” and she’ll tell me Christ already died for her sins so there’s no further need for purification. My response to her is about needing a shower after spending time at work being similar to the need for spiritual cleansing after life on Earth.

    Like I said, it goes nowhere. At least we can laugh it off.


    Ron K

    Mr. Subvet

    I agree with your wife, but since you don’t would you tell me what sin or sins doesn’t His blood wash away or cleanse or redeem anyone of us that as a believer, I should know about

    Ron K



    Once again, Ron, purgatory cleanses by His blood, not apart from it.

    Your question is a non-sequitur.


    Ron K

    Benedict when you say

    [quote:1hc7iwgt]Once again, Ron, purgatory cleanses by His blood, not apart from it.[/quote:1hc7iwgt]

    you are talking two different times and places. Jesus shed His blood two thousand years ago and you say that He will clean your soul by getting purged at Purgatory, something yet future.

    That makes no logic, regardless of Christ being outside of time, His word doesn’t teach that even in one spot.

    NOT even one spot!


    Andres Ortiz

    The purgatory debate has already happened in other threads. Ron, you ruined a good thread by turning it into a debate. Thanks.

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