Praying for the Dead

As a Catholic I quite often pray for my deceased loved ones for their cleansing and entry into heaven. As I understand it Protestants believe this to be futile. Their claim is that no one in hell can benefit from such prayers and Catholics would agree. Those in heaven would not need prayers and Catholics would agree, though we often ask for the help of those in heaven by asking them to prayer for us on earth. I also understand that Protestants claim that one’s eternal destiny is set the instant after death. Catholics believe hell, heaven and for a while purgatory are possible destinations. Purgatory would be a process /place where those souls that are not clean are purified before their guaranteed entry into heaven.

What I want to ask my Protestant brothers and sisters is this. If God does not want us to pray for the dead then why did Jesus pray after Lazarus had died so that Lazarus would be raised? Further, what was God doing answering Peter’s prayer to raise Tabitha from the dead? Here are two New Testament entries that clearly demonstrate someone is dead, an alive person prayers for such person, the dead person is raised. It seems to me that if the Protestant position in that praying for the dead is futile were true then God should have not raised Tabitha or Lazarus upon hearing such prayers. As it is we know that God did hear and answer both prayers and raised the dead person. My conclusion is that praying for deceased people is a good and loving thing and this would fall in line with my Catholic beliefs, Catholic Tradition and scripture. I also conclude that the Protestant stance on prayers for the dead as being futile does not line up with God’s will nor Scripture. I’d be interested to hear the Protestant answer to what I have raised. God bless,

Lutherans pray for the dead; here’s one of the prayers in the funeral Mass

Be mindful, O Lord, of “Name” and all who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection unto eternal life. Shelter them in a place of brightness, a place of verdure, a place of repose, whence all sickness, sorrow, and sighing have fled away, and where the sight of Your countenance rejoices all Your saints from all ages. Grant them Your kingdom and a portion in Your ineffable and eternal blessings, and the enjoyment of Your unending life. For You are the Resurrection and the Life and the Repose of Your departed servants, O Christ, and to You we ascribe glory, together with Your Father, who is from everlasting, and Your all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now and forever.*

*Please note that prayers for the dead are specifically NOT rejected in the Lutheran Confessions, which assert that such prayers are neither useless nor prohibited. See Apology of the Augsburg Confession, XXIV:94-96.

If Protestants and Catholics agree that there is no benefit to pray for those in hell or those in heaven, then the only place one can pray for someone dead is if they are in purgatory. Protestants don’t believe in purgatory, so they don’t believe in praying to/for the dead.

As far as the two examples you gave about prayer raising the dead, Obviously, the prayer was for a miracle to bring a person back to life, which God granted. There is still no proof that prayer can change the eternal resting place of our Spirit after we die - unless of course you believe in purgatory.

2.Hebrews 9:27
Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,

Lest we also forget Eutychus, who fell asleep during one of Paul’s extended sermons, falling to his death from the third story window of an upper room. “He was taken up dead”, but Paul embraced him and he was then found alive. This was on a Sunday, when they had met to break the bread in that upper room (Acts 20:7>).

Paul embracing him reminds me of Elijah embracing the dead (only child) son of the widow and raising him back to life. Elijah did this in an “upper room” and the Lord heard his prayer for the dead young man. Elijah presented her son to her alive (**1 Kings 17 **).

Compare this language to that in Luke 7, where Jesus raised the only son of the widow of Nain, and presented him to her alive (Luke 7:30>).

In each case, prayers for the dead were efficacious.

Now, in 2 Maccabees 12:45>, Judas Maccabeus offered prayers for those who had died in godliness, so that they might be loosed from their sins.

It is the evil one who desires that we do not pray for the dead.

Remember that purgatory is not a place, but a state of purification of the soul - and only of those bound for heaven.

No non-Catholic has ever clearly explained the process described in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. Lots of twisting, excuses and lack of agreement in what it signifies. Seriously, just how is it that, on the day of judgment, after our death, when we are in the Lord’s presence, that our work is tested (and we are judged), that we may suffer loss, but are yet saved, although as one passing through fire?

I await an explanation from purgation deniers.


I think that protestants, generally, acknowledge that a ‘purgation’ of sorts takes place. The opposition isn’t, generally, to that fact but rather against the old-fashioned Roman Catholic explanation of purgatory as a holding place. Protestants, generally, are averse to the idea of confining the purging of our sins (and therefore the One who purges us of those sins - God) to time as we perceive it. When it is presented properly, Roman Catholics and at least Lutherans agree that:

  1. Today, Lutheran and Catholic teaching integrates purgation with death, judgment, and the encounter with Christ. Recent Catholic and Lutheran understandings of purgation sound remarkably similar. While the word “purgatory” remains an ecumenically charged term, and for many Catholics and Lutherans signals a sharp division, our work in this round has shown that our churches’ understandings of how the justified enter eternal glory are closer than expected.
  2. In light of the analysis given above, this dialogue believes that the topic of purgation, in and of itself, need not divide our communions.

But this doesn’t do anything for the OSAS folks. To many of them, Lutherans may as well be Papists.:smiley: I look forward to seeing an answer, too.

a difficult issue-those who are in heaven are Saints-according to the Roman Catholic doctrine those is Purgatory are not saints but will be -in fact guarenteed-so if you pray say a Novena for a soul you think is in Purgatory (you really do not know right?) you speed up the process-say 1 NOvena = .06% reduction in suffering or time suffering or just time-of course if Purgatory is a Statethen there really is not time per se right?

the Orthodox have a different take on it -sort of shift the saints to be into Hades and torment them for awhile-see below

Thru the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ all Christains are saved-I do not believe this central tenet came with (but you got to go to Hades and suffer for oh about a million years give or take-unless you get lots of people praying for you so we can cut down the time-certain prayers are better than others)

The Confession of Dositheus defines Orthodoxy over against Protestantism. It is the most important Orthodox confession of modern times:

We believe that the souls of those that have fallen asleep are either at rest or in torment, according to each hath wrought. For when they are separated from their bodies, they depart immediately either to joy or to sorrow and lamentation; though confessedly neither their enjoyment nor condemnation are complete. For, after the common resurrection, when the soul shall be united with the body, with which it had behaved itself well or ill, each shall receive the completion of either enjoyment or of condemnation. Such as though involved in mortal sins have not departed in despair but have, while still living in the body, repented, though without bringing any fruits of repentance—by pouring forth tears, by kneeling while watching in prayers, by afflicting themselves, by relieving the poor, and in find by showing forth by their works their love towards God and their neighbor, and which the Catholic Church hath from the beginning rightly called satisfaction—of these and such like the souls depart into Hades, and there endure the punishment due to their sins which they have committed.
But they are aware of their future release from thence, and are delivered by the Supreme Goodness through the prayers of the priests and the good works which the relative of each perform for their departed—especially the unbloody Sacrifice availing the highest degree—which each offers particularly for his relatives that have fallen asleep, and which the Catholic and Apostolic Church offers daily for all alike. It is not known, of course, when they will be released. We know and believe that there is deliverance for them from their dire condition, before the common resurrection and judgment, but we do not know when. (Decree XVII).

A teaching that will always be problematical

Since purgatory is not a permanent state but rather, temporary, it has some element of time involved in it - the root of ‘temporary’ having to do with time.

Hi gmalq,
I believe you stated the majority Protestant position accurately. Most protestants don’t believe in Purgatory and believe that your eternal destination is set for heaven or hell when you die and you go straight to one or the other. However, I respect the Catholic argument for Purgatory although I don’t see a clear cut case for it in scrpture, except for the Book of Maccabees, which is not included as scripture in most Protestant Bibles. As already mentioned, the cases you cited from the lives of Jesus Christ and Paul were supernatural miraculous events that occured while they were performing their earthly ministry. If that was the norm, I assume that popes and bishops would be raising the dead in today’s times as well.

I have a real life and personal question for you that is near and dear to me. My father died a couple of years ago. He was a believer, a God-fearing man, repented of his sins (no mortal ones) and lived a good life but was not perfect by any means. How do I know that he went to Purgatory or not? If he went to Purgatory and I pray for him and even invoke Mary and the saints to intercede for him, how will I know when his purification ends and he makes it to heaven so that I can quit praying to God on his behalf, or am I supposed to do that for the rest of my life? That whole process seems a little confusing and convaluted to me, but I am easily confused at times. :slight_smile: May God bless you also.

Respectfully in Christ,

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