Question about praying for the dead


#1

Hi,
I am a conservative evangelical who has a few questions about praying for the dead, as in the case of Justice Antonin Scalia. I realty admired Justice Scalia and thought he was a fine man and a great justice of the Supreme Court.

I watched his funeral mass last Saturday and was fascinated by it. I tried to take it all in and understand as much as I could. At one point his son, Father Scalia, who officiated, humbly asked everyone to pray for his father who had passed away a week before the funeral.

I’m trying to better understand why he did that.

Questions:

  1. Is he presuming that Justice Scalia went to Purgatory and needs prayers to lessen his time there?

  2. If number 1 above is not correct, I am wondering why he would ask that. In my faith tradition, when a person dies, they are believed to go straight to the judgment seat of Christ. By the time of the funeral a week later, presumably the Lord would’ve already made up His mind about the fate of Justice Scalia. I personally hope he is now in heaven with the Lord enjoying his heavenly reward. .

Using a courtroom analogy, it’s not like Jesus calls a recess and waits to hear how many prayers are made on behalf of Judge Scalia before He pronounces judgment, right? I am just trying to better understand why prayers are being asked for Justice Scalia a week after his passing, unless he is presumed to be in Purgatory.

If indeed he was received into heaven, I would assume that a devout Catholic would be asking for the prayers of Justice Scalia now and not the other way around. Please forgive my lack of understanding on this subject. Much appreciated. :tiphat:


#2

For one thing, God is beyond time. No one really knows how much prayer a dead person may need or for how long. Whether he is in God’s presence now or still journeying to God through some dimension, no one knows. So prayers are always appropriate. But God and judgement are beyond time as we know it.


#3

The particular (first) judgement was set, the belief that Jesus took the Justice to heaven, however that does not mean that the Justice was purified totally…Purification happens in heaven, (not hell). Agrees with the last poster… The time that a soul is purified by Jesus is up to Jesus and we do not know… Look to the scriptures and we see Jesus preaching to the souls in prison…(1 Peter 3:19). Jesus also says a person will stay there until they paid their last penny… (Matthew 5:26) Who knows, there might even be persons who stay in purgatory for hundreds of years or more because no one ever prayed for them…:frowning: So we know it is always good to help empty purgatory by praying for the souls in prison, imprisoned by the effects of sin on their soul…


#4

If we put these ideas together, Jesus does not have to wait, because he knows all the prayers that ever were prayed and ever will be prayed on behalf of Justice Scalia. Thus, no prayer comes too late (or, for that matter, too early).


#5

Yes, that’s the typical Catholic practice. We don’t know for sure if someone is in purgatory or heaven or even hell, so we just pray that God will be merciful to them.

  1. If number 1 above is not correct, I am wondering why he would ask that. In my faith tradition, when a person dies, they are believed to go straight to the judgment seat of Christ. By the time of the funeral a week later, presumably the Lord would’ve already made up His mind about the fate of Justice Scalia. I personally hope he is now in heaven with the Lord enjoying his heavenly reward. .

Using a courtroom analogy, it’s not like Jesus calls a recess and waits to hear how many prayers are made on behalf of Judge Scalia before He pronounces judgment, right? I am just trying to better understand why prayers are being asked for Justice Scalia a week after his passing, unless he is presumed to be in Purgatory.

If indeed he was received into heaven, I would assume that a devout Catholic would be asking for the prayers of Justice Scalia now and not the other way around. Please forgive my lack of understanding on this subject. Much appreciated. :tiphat:

Again, we don’t know whether or not he is in heaven, but it’s better to err on the side of prayer. If he doesn’t require prayers because he is in heaven, then God can use our prayers to help someone else. Prayer can never be a waste. :thumbsup:

Hope that helps make a little more sense of things. :slight_smile:


#6

Interested in this too.


#7

The thing that truly needs to be kept in mind is that we as Catholics do not believe that if Scalia were to be in Hell (God forbid) that he could somehow be prayed out of it. The thing is, we don’t know where he is though. He is either on his way to heaven, or not. The reason we pray for the dead is because we have hope that God’s mercy transcends all things, even time itself. With God all things are possible. So we ask for his mercy to pour out on this soul. It’s a way of us reaching out to the body of Christ regardless of where they are, praying for someone who has already gone on.

One of the things that we do not see in the Protestant church that helps understand why we Catholics have this faith tradition is the book(s) of Maccabees. When the church separated the Protestant version of the bible went off a different set of manuscripts and part of what the Catholic retained with the version that had been used for over a thousand years in the church explained the traditions that now make less sense to those who have never read them.

2 Maccabees 12:38-46
38 Judas rallied his army and went to the city of Adullam. As the seventh day was approaching, they purified themselves according to custom and kept the sabbath there. 39 On the following day, since the task had now become urgent, Judas and his companions went to gather up the bodies of the fallen and bury them with their kindred in their ancestral tombs. 40 But under the tunic of each of the dead they found amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. So it was clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. 41 They all therefore praised the ways of the Lord, the just judge who brings to light the things that are hidden. 42 [a]Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. 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. 43 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; 44 for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. 45 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. 46 Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.

This at the very least shows a historical precedence that the Jewish people at the time near Jesus birth believed that not only could they pray for forgiveness for the dead, but that they could offer sacrifice for them. The Catholic church still believes in that tradition, that we pray in hope that that sin is forgiven. We pray in hopes that no one goes to hell, though we believe that some will. We just don’t know who. So we pray for all.


#8

Thanks, Michael. I think I was not familiar with the “beyond time” aspect of things, although I do truly believe God is timeless. I had just not heard it applied in this way before.

With this perspective, is there ever any closure for those who are praying? In other words, would it be normal Catholic practice for Father Scalia to continue to pray for Justice Scalia’s soul for the rest of Father Scalia’s life?


#9

Hi Robyn,
Yes it helps very much. I agree it is always better to err on the side of prayer. :slight_smile:


#10

Thanks for the explanation, bmullins. You are correct. I am not familiar with the Book of Maccabees. Thanks for sharing that.


#11

Yes, and no prayer goes to waste even if he is already in heaven.


#12

Thanks to all who have replied. Much appreciated. It’s beginning to come into focus a little more.


#13

Along with both the Scriptural and Traditional evidence, there is also archeological evidence in burial inscriptions from very early Christians.


#14

We don’t know where the judge is. We hope heaven. But it could be purgatory. So we pray for him just in case he may be in purgatory. If he is, our prayers will shorten his payment of suffering in purgatory.

We never know where anyone goes after death, but Catholics always pray for people who die, for the person might be in Purgatory where they are suffering. Our prayers as members of Christ’s body on earth do help, for the Heavenly Father sees his children’s requests and fulfills them partially or completely.


#15

I had a similar question as I wanted to pray for family long passed. I believe the question was answered when the next day I was reading about Padre Pio who apparently prayed for his great grandfather and when questioned why he would pray so long after his death he basically responds with God being timeless and and although to him his prayers are happening now when the great grandfather passed God heard those prayers back then. I think it is just another wonderful display of God’s love and brilliance and mercy, we can pray for those even long deceased and God still hears at the time of their deaths. As others have said if they are lucky enough to already be in heaven (or I shudder to think the opposite) the prayers aren’t wasted , perhaps they go to other needing souls!


#16

Yes.

Interestingly, prayer for the dead predates the formalization of the understanding of Purgatory. Jews of Jesus time did so (and still do), though they don’t profess Purgatory. It’s also mentioned in Maccabees (I can’t recall offhand whether it was Macc 1 or 2). Similarly, the Orthodox Churches pray for the dead, though they don’t profess Purgatory (there is some variety of belief here - e.g. a belief in the final judgement of the soul coming later). Finally, there are numerous references to prayer for the dead from the early Church.


#17

It may not be written in any catechism but this I believe by faith…I believe though we may always offer prayers for souls, that God can give us a sign, or maybe even the person will give us a sign that they are at peace with God… Today ironically, I heard a story of a woman who was nearing death who was speaking about another person in heaven, a child, as if she knew that the child was in heaven and was happy… I’ve experienced a couple times where a person whom I loved came to let me know that they were okay and are at peace…:slight_smile:


#18

Thanks for addressing that part of my question, Karen. I hope one day to obtain that kind of spiritual sensitivity to be able to discern that for my deceased family and friends who have gone on before me. Otherwise, it would seem like a continual guessing game with no closure in sight, which seems a bit perplexing to me. Perhaps I am not totally grasping the concept yet. Forgive me if that is the case.

My understanding is that Catholics ask for prayers from saints and relatives who have passed away and ask them to prayer for us to the Lord, like a heavenly prayer partner.

I just wanted to better understand what has to happen for a devout Catholic to stop praying for the soul of the departed and start asking them to pray for us. I assume if someone has been canonized as a saint, the faithful can confidently petition such a saint to pray for them, but I was more curious about normal relatives like Aunt Sally and Uncle Joe who were good and devout Christians, but weren’t ever canonized.


#19

As far as I know, although the Church does not officially ask the souls in Purgatory to pray for us in her liturgies, it does not forbid Catholics from privately praying to the souls in Purgatory.

The canonization process of a saint, which ordinarily requires two after-death miracles attributed to his or her intercession, seems to require that people ask the deceased person to pray for them before it is known that he or she is in heaven.

According to the old Catholic Encyclopedia, in the section on “Invocation of souls” in the article on “Purgatory,” the jury is still out on whether or not we may ask the souls in Purgatory to pray for us. It says, in part:
Do the souls in purgatory pray for us? May we call upon them in our needs? There is no decision of the Church on this subject, nor have the theologians pronounced with definiteness concerning the invocation of the souls in purgatory and their intercession for the living. In the ancient liturgies there are no prayers of the Church directed to those who are still in purgatory. On the tombs of the early Christians nothing is more common than a prayer or a supplication asking the departed to intercede with God for surviving friends, but these inscriptions seem always to suppose that the departed one is already with God. St. Thomas [Aquinas] (II-II.83.11) denies that the souls in purgatory pray for the living, and states they are not in a position to pray for us, rather we must make intercession for them. Despite the authority of St. Thomas, many renowned theologians hold that the souls in purgatory really pray for us, and that we may invoke their aid. (source)

The story Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus suggests that even those in torment in the afterlife can intercede for the living. (Luke 16:27-28)

If memory serves, recently canonized St Padre Pio routinely sought the intercession of the souls in Purgatory. I found this quote online attributed to him:
The souls in Purgatory pray for us, and their prayers are even more effective than ours, because they are accompanied by their suffering. So, let’s pray for them, and let’s pray them to pray for us. (source)

In this video, Catholic Answers apologist Tim Staples answers in the affirmative the question, Can the souls in Purgatory pray for us?


#20

Good question Tommy. But actually, nothing particular has to happen. The Church in her liturgy usually only invokes those who are canonized, bur we can ask for a loved one’s intercession even if they are not officially canonized by the Church. I’ve prayed for the repose of my friend’s soul and then said “hey, pray for me too.” All Christians - those in heaven, earth and purgatory - are all part of the one Body of Christ and so we all can pray for each other.

As far as closure goes, you probably have already heard this before, but I just want to emphasize that purgatory is not a separate destination from heaven, but more of a “front porch” so to speak. What this means is even though we are praying that the dead person will be cleansed and able to enter Heaven, we aren’t worried about their ultimate salvation. Their destiny is decided.

So even though I still pray for my friend because I’m not sure if she still needs purification, I do have closure, because I know she is in the hands of a loving God. I’m not worried about her eternal destination. It’s possible that she is not in heaven at all and is actually in hell, but that would be a possibility even if I didn’t believe in purgatory. In other words, belief in purgatory doesn’t add any uncertainty to the fate of our loved ones.

I just wanted to mention this in case you may have thought we were worried about our loved ones when we pray. That’s not the case. We pray out of love to help them if they need it, but ultimately we entrust them to God’s mercy.


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