Question: Why do we pray for the dead?
Please watch video below for answer:
If you prefer to read, below is Fr. Paul’s Answer:
To make it super easy to understand, let’s take a look at two concepts.
The first one: Did you know that you will never really die? And the second – and it’s pretty obvious: You can help someone else whenever you want.
1. Did you know that you will never really die?
Let’s answer this question with a question. Have you ever wondered why we call a cemetery – a cemetery? The word is the English equivalent of the Greek word “koimeterion” which means literally “a place to rest and sleep”. This is because we never really die – it’s true, our bodies are buried. Our soul – however – the part of us which lives forever – goes to the afterlife to be with God. If you open the Bible,
St. Paul says this: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14) So literally, through the power of Jesus’ resurrection, we too will be raised from death to life after we pass away here on earth. Thus, we never truly die, but after a life of living in God’s love, are counted among the saints and angels in Heaven.
2. You can help someone else whenever you want.
The second statement is pretty obvious. For example, if you want, you can shovel your elderly neighbour’s driveway, you could help someone whose struggling with their homework, or you could give someone who’s having a tough day a hug. But what if you can’t physically be there for them? You probably would just text them or FaceTime them. But what if you want to do something concrete for them, not just talk with them, and you’re not physically there? You can actually pray for them. In our Catholic faith we can pray for other people, even if they’re not present or even aware of it, taking their problems and intentions on their behalf to God.
3. Putting it all together
By now you probably see where this is going. You know that we never really die, even if we have ‘fallen asleep’ in the cemetery and passed away. You know that we can pray for other people even if they aren’t present among us. It makes sense that you can put those two things together and pray for those people who have ‘fallen asleep’ and are no longer present among us.
4. But WHY do we do it?
As Catholics we often pray for the dead, because we know that as humans we make mistakes and sin. That being said, God in His great love and mercy not only allows us to ask God for forgiveness and receive it any time we want during our life, but additionally, allows us to pray for and intercede for those who have already passed away.
So we can pray and ask God to forgive the sins of those who have already passed away – in other words – it’s never too late and God’s mercy and love always gives us and our loved ones infinite time and possibilities to be reconciled with God.
A really cool example of this in the Bible happens in the second book of Maccabees; we see how Judas Maccabee prayed that the Lord would forgive the sins of his fallen soldiers. And in the New Testament, St. Paul prays for a man who passed away “May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day” (2 Timothy 1:18).
If you have the opportunity to travel to Rome, make sure you visit the Catacombs – the underground burial places of the early Christians, where they gathered regularly to pray for their deceased family members and friends. Fast forwards to the year 2021 and Christians still gather together to pray for those who have “fallen asleep” in Christ. Traditionally in the month of November, we gather in the cemeteries of our loved ones to remember their lives and pray for them. That being said, you can pray for the deceased members of your family and friends any time you want!
Thank you for listening in to this Question and Answer series. If you have follow up questions to this answer or have other questions send them in to us.