“Why do Catholics pray for the dead?”
THE RELIGIOUS GUY’S RESPONSE:
A Catholic All Saints News Agency report with the above headline was written by senior Rome correspondent Hannah Brockhaus. One of The Guy’s colleagues immediately criticized this formulation because Eastern Orthodox Christians also pray for the dead, although in a different way from Catholics, as we will see.
Perhaps the appropriate question should instead be: Why don’t Protestants pray for the dead when these other Christians do?
There is a long history behind the practice of Christians during their earthly life praying for the good of other believers who have died. This was recommended by revered theologians of the early church and by the early 5e Century, Saint Augustine declared that “the whole Church observes this practice which has been transmitted by the Fathers”. He said that through the prayers, masses and donations of parishioners, “there is no doubt that the dead are helped, that the Lord can deal with them with more mercy than their sins deserve”.
The Modern Orthodox Catechism “The Living God” (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press) teaches that just as Jesus and St. Stephen prayed for forgiveness even for those who executed them, so “the prayer of the righteous can also help obtain forgiveness for a sinner even if he is already dead.
At this point, Protestants will object that the Bible does not teach such a concept. Their founding principle of sole scripture means that Christian beliefs are defined solely by explicit teachings in Scripture and not by Church traditions, even those that are long-held and deeply rooted.
This raises the important difference between these three branches of Christianity on the text of the Bible. From its earliest days, Protestantism adopted Judaism’s official list of books in what Christians call the “Old Testament.” Catholic and Orthodox Bibles follow a different list of ancient Jews with added “deuterocanonical” books. One of these supplemental books provides these churches with the only biblical example of such a practice, in 2 Maccabees 12:38-45.
In the second century before New Testament times, Judas Maccabeus led a revolt against the Syrian occupiers who demanded that the Jews worship pagan gods and defiled the temple in Jerusalem with an idol. (Judaism’s Hannukah season celebrates the overthrow of Syria’s offensive religious tyranny.) After a pivotal battle, dead Jewish soldiers were discovered wearing pagan amulets, a major sin against the one true God. Therefore, Judas collected the offering money “sent to Jerusalem to provide an atoning sacrifice.” It expressed his belief in the resurrection, “for if he did not expect the fallen to be raised, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead…Thus he made atonement for the dead that they can be absolved of their sin. ”
In the Orthodox liturgy, the church prays not only for the “rest of the souls” of the deceased but, as in the Maccabees, that God forgive “any transgression they have committed, whether in word, deed or thought. “. The Orthodox Catechism cites the saints’ prayers to heaven in Revelation 5:8 and 8:3 to affirm the spiritual fellowship shared between Christians in this life and those who are “far from body and home with the Lord.”
Catholicism adds to it the dogma of purgatory, formulated after the great 11e Century shared with Orthodoxy at the Ecumenical Councils of Florence (1439) and Trent (1545-1563). Purgatory is defined as an intermediate state after death where souls who have been saved undergo punishment for sins in order to be purified and enter paradise in the presence of a righteous God. Catholicism uniquely includes a system of granting “indulgences” in response to parishioner prayers, masses, good works, and donations that can alleviate suffering and shorten the time individuals spend in purgatory.
Orthodoxy teaches none of this, and Protestant beliefs omit any mention of purgatory or specifically reject it.
Indulgences were the issue that originally triggered the Protestant break from the papacy. On All Saints’ Eve 1517, Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” claimed that this system had become an evil means to simply raise funds that distorted Christian belief. He also insisted that “the penitential canons are only imposed on the living and, according to them, nothing should be imposed on the dying”.
The last Council of Trent of Catholicism denounced as blasphemy the “illicit profits” which some had thus obtained. Trent also condemned with anathema those who denied the power of the Church to grant indulgences. Catholic writers note that from the beginning Luther expressed his own continuing belief in purgatory. But he opposes the indulgence system and soon clarifies that Purgatory is not found in the Bible and cannot be a required belief.
Some Catholic writers find support for purgatory in a difficult text from St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 3:12-15: [i.e. of Judgment] will disclose it. It will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test the quality of everyone’s work. . . . If someone’s work is burned, that one will suffer a loss; the person will be saved, but only as if by fire. The Catholic Study Bible, issued with the church imprimatur, comments that this passage “has sometimes been used to support the notion of purgatory, although it does not contemplate it”.
The Church’s current creed and rules of indulgences are elaborated in the Code of Canon Law and an Apostolic Constitution issued by Pope Paul VI in 1967, which abandoned the old specifics of the remission of days and years of sorrow. . The church affirms that its indulgences draw on the merits of an infinite “treasury” of prayers and good works constituted by the Virgin Mary and all the other saints. “In this way they achieved their own salvation and at the same time cooperated to save their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body.” For Catholicism, control of indulgences is part of the “keys of the kingdom” and of the power to bind and loose that Jesus granted to Saint Peter and his successors as pope (see Matthew 16:19).