I like to watch the BBC Father Brown TV series on Public Broadcasting in the US. I’ve always like the ‘Whodunnit’ shows like this.
The other day, my wife was watching an episode with me in which a Catholic seminarian was murdered by another seminarian, who pushed him off the seminary roof to his death. At one point shortly after the death took place and before the plot was uncovered and the death was assumed by everyone (except Father Brown of course) to be suicide, the priest in charge told the rest of the seminarians to go to their rooms and pray for their deceased brother.
While realizing this is a fictional episode, this comment by the priest nevertheless made my wife bristle and say something to the effect, “It’s too late for them to pray for him now since he is dead. They should have been praying for him all along before he died if they truly cared for him”
Her assumption was that when he died, his soul directly went to face judgment and his eternal reward, or at least that is how she interpreted scriptures such as Hebrews 9;27: "Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…",
How would a Catholic explain to an inquiring Protestant why it is fitting and proper to pray for the dead person’s soul after he dies and presumably after he already has faced the judgment of the Lord and has gone to either heaven or hell ?
I told her that there was a third option according to Catholic theology – Purgatory, and that our prayers for the dead can help those who are sent there to reach heaven sooner. However, is there a better or more complete answer from the Catholic perspective?
Thanks to all for any replies you may have for this question.
The Wikipedia article on “Prayer for the dead” indicates it is a common practice among Jews and most Christians, such as Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodists. The article cites some Scripture and tradition.
Thanks, Todd977. I read the article and it was helpful. My wife came from the ‘Christian Church – Disciples of Christ’ denomination and so she has a bit of a different background than me. I am a little embarrassed to say I was unaware of the Methodist belief in praying for the dead until now, as it isn’t spoken about much at my church that I recall.
Follow up question:
When a person dies, does the Catholic Church believe the person goes immediately to judgment and then to their final destination of heaven, hell, or purgatory) or does the person go to a resting area to await the final judgment at a later time?
To me, it makes even more sense to pray for the dead if they are asleep awaiting final judgment. If anyone can help clarify, I would appreciate it.
There is an immediate personal judgement, which determines whether you will go to heaven or hell, after which if going to hell you go there, if going to heaven you go there if perfected or to purgatory if not.
Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification592 or immediately,593-or immediate and everlasting damnation.
This leads me back to the question my wife asked, which was why would the Catholic priest in the (admittedly) fictional ‘Father Brown’ episode ask the seminarians to pray for their newly deceased seminarian brother who had just recently died?.. especially if he had already presumably received his fate? Would it be just in case he went to Purgatory?
That was my initial impression anyway.
Purgatory is not the soul’s final destination–heaven is. Everyone in purgatory will be in heaven after their purgation:
1Cor.3 each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.  If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
The judgment your wife cited is heaven or hell, but purgatory is a part of heaven–probably the lowest heaven (St. Paul cited 7 levels, as I recall). So, the dead do receive their personal judgment–heaven, hell or purgatory.
We pray for those in purgatory to help their process of purgation. After all, if those who have passed on, who are not in hell, are alive in God, as Jesus himself stated they are, then we can pray for their needs, just as we pray for those still alive with us on earth. This teaching is part of the Communion of Saints. If I’m not mistaken doesn’t the Methodist Church also believe in the CofS? I would think so, if they also believe in purgatory.
… which can be really confusing for a Protestant to hear.
We pray for the repose of their soul; we pray because we believe that God hears our prayers; we pray because we believe our prayers have a positive effect on their experience of purgation. (The Church used to use the analogy of ‘time’ to describe purgation, but no longer. Back when we used that analogy, we might extend the analogy to think that we lessen the “time spent in purgatory” by our prayers.) So, however we try to wrap our heads around what ‘purgation’ means, we know that our prayers have some positive impact on our loved ones who have gone before us.
We also know that our prayers aren’t “wasted”, so it’s doesn’t make sense to think of prayers that are “too late” or “after the fact.”
[quote=Tommy999]While realizing this is a fictional episode, this comment by the priest nevertheless made my wife bristle and say something to the effect, “It’s too late for them to pray for him now since he is dead. They should have been praying for him all along before he died if they truly cared for him”
No offense to your dear wife, but doesn’t her question assume that no one had been praying for the deceased brother before his death?
Be assured that religious do pray for one another quite regularly–especially if they know one among them is trouble. Still, that would not prevent a brother from killing another one. The devil loves to play on people’s weaknesses and cause divisions among even religious–indeed, he targets them. This is why Catholics are encouraged to pray daily for all our religious, those in religious orders as well as what is termed “seculars” (bishops, priests and deacons) under the authority of the local archbishop. So prayers are continually going up for them from all sides, as well as for all the people of God and persons of good will.
Yes, just as others have said, we don’t know where their soul is. And the Christian thing to do is to pray for the repose of that soul as it may be in purgatory.
I do this not only for those I know, but for anyone I know OF who passes recently. Especially those who passed tragically/suddenly. I would imagine it’s quite a bit to absorb, the total change of existence for them.
And who knows, maybe someday I will be in purgatory and they will pray for me just as I did for them.
What a great mystery this body of Christ is. The Church Triumphant in heaven, Church Suffering in Purgatory and Church Militant here on earth all forming one mystical body with Christ at the head.
Thanks to all for helping me better understand the concepts related to this. I think the part where my wife and I see things differently is that I believe that Purgatory probably exists, whereas she does not. Therefore to her, it makes no sense to pray for those who passed away before us because – in her way of thinking – they are already in God’s presence or separated from God in hell – and we can’t do anything about that now since the book is now closed on their life here on earth.
However, if purgatory exists and people are sent there — it makes all the sense in the world to pray for them – that their time there be lessened.
As you know, the Father Brown TV series is fictional so I hope that no actual seminarian has ever killed another, but like Angela Lansbury in ‘Murder She Wrote’, it always helps to figure out who the murderer is when there is an actual murder to investigate.
Yeah, it makes zero sense for those more on the fundamentalist side. I understand why it’s so foreign to her.
But if you believe purgation likely exists and you believe in the Communion of Saints, you see how the pieces of the puzzle go together…
A good starting point is to explain to her that we believe that Christ has one body…not one body in heaven and one here, just one. And that we have this sin problem even after we get “saved”. And that nothing unclean enters heaven REV 21:27. So while the Lord is purging us of any impurities, we can ask for the process to be expedited.
Ultimately, this is all the mercy of God at work. It’s just like when you suddenly get this urge to pray for cousin “Joe”, who you haven’t heard from in years. I believe when you do that you are simply responding to the grace of God.
The answer is HOTLY contested by Protestants; yet it is completely logical to anyone with an open mind and a bit of understanding of, as it’s foundation is God’s desire verses God’s Divine Nature and Divine sense of Justice and Fairness.
 God’s Divine Nature which is unchangeable requires Justice and fairness
 Sin which GOD applies to ALL sins [even those confessed & forgive] a DEBT that must be repaid before access to heaven is possible
1Tim.2: 4 to 5 “ who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”
At death is the “immediate judgment” where our lifes choices are made evident & confirmed by God.
3 Possibilities exist:
Hell for those who deny God [the unforgivable sin]; & those who dies with unconfessed / unforgiven Mortal sins 1: Jn. 5: 16–17 [done GOD"S WAY Jn. 20:19-23]
Heaven for those few who die with neither any sin or ANY stain of sin [Temporal Punishment]
**Purgatory **for ALL souls that die without Mortal sin and believed in God.
These Souls eventually will attain heaven; but only after they have been purified; made Perfect; as noting imperfect can or shall enter into the Beatific Vision; GODS presence.
EACH of these passages refer to Purgatory
Lev.22: 21 “And when any one offers a sacrifice of peace offerings to the LORD, to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering, from the herd or from the flock, to be accepted it must be perfect; there shall be no blemish in it.
Rev. 21: 27 “But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
Mt. 5: 26 truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.
Matt.5: 48 “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Heb. 2: 10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering.
The existence of Purgatory dates back to OT times:
2Mac.12 Verses 39 to 45
 On the next day, as by that time it had become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kinsmen in the sepulchres of their fathers.
 Then under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen.
 So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden;
 and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen.
 He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection.
 For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead.  But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.
So it is Sacred Tradition, & the bible both resulting from GODS Divine Mercy and desire to have as many souls as POSSIBLE: [Perfect and perfectible] join Him in Heaven that makes praying for the dead a VERY GOOD PRACTICE.