Praying for the dead

The Question:

My parents and family are Catholic and recently my brother passed away. My mom is having a hard time but it seems to me that she is holding on to him by having masses said and lighting candles on his behalf. I am born again and believe that we are in heaven or hell after we die. Praying for the dead and to anyone other than the Lord is wrong. What can I do?

TH from Heath, Texas


The Answer
Part 1: Was Christ's blood good enough?

Was Christ's blood good enough? (Part 1)

The doctrine of praying for the dead in the Catholic Church is closely associated with the belief in purgatory and the need to speed people on their way out of the hellish abode. If there were indeed a place called purgatory I would admit that praying for the dead would be an act of kindness. Without the existence of purgatory, prayers for the dead are a waste. (Please see: “Does Purgatory Exist?” for additional help.)

Does the Catholic Church have any scriptural support or justification for praying for the dead? No, they admit, except for a couple of inferred passages from Tobias and Machabees II, two books excluded from the canon of scripture by Protestant Christianity.

However, Catholics claim that praying for the dead was practiced in the early church because some evidence of it has been found in the catacombs. I do not know if that is true but if so, might those that did be similar to your mother? You wonder if her prayers are partly a coping mechanism and that would certainly be understandable.

I am in agreement with you: after we die we go to either heaven or hell based on what we did with the question of Jesus and whether we accepted his free gift of salvation. Was his sacrifice on the cross truly a sufficient substitute for our sins? A YES answer means that purgatory is unnecessary and therefore masses and candles etc. are also unnecessary.

You wonder what you can do? With your mother in the grief process I would do nothing – except pray. People handle grief in different ways and perhaps she needs to feel she is doing something productive. Perhaps she is also reacting in fear and may not feel sure that your brother died in Christ. Better to hold out a belief in purgatory than accept her son being in eternal hell.

I am so sorry you lost your brother but though he is gone we definitely believe in praying for the living. Therefore pray for your mother diligently. Later, if you can get her to begin reading the Bible she may give up on her own anything that does not match its truth.

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