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Catholics Pray for Their Dead|
Q. Why do Catholics pray for the dead but Protestants think it's evil to pray for our deceased family?
Communion of the Saints
Many Catholics don't really believe they are technically praying for the dead. If the deceased is a believer they conclude he or she is still alive - awaiting their resurrection bodies.
In a sense this is what they mean by the Communion of Saints. All of the believers throughout world history and time comprise the true Church which is alive throughout eternity.
Part of their belief in praying for the dead comes from a few verses in the Apocrypha. 2 Maccabees 12:39-40 says
…"Judas and his men went to gather up the bodies of the slain and bury them with their kinsmen in their ancestral tombs. 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 been slain. They all therefore praised the ways of the LORD, the just judge who brings to light the things that are hidden. Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out" (New American Bible).
Act of Charity
Catholics believe it is an act of charity to pray for their dead when they are going through or are in "purgatory." They don't believe it's all over once a person dies.
This is partly because they think almost all Christians still undergo purification as they believe it is described in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. But, of course Protestants believe these verses speak of judgment fires at a specific point in time during the judgment of Christians at the Bema Seat of Christ.
When Paul prayed for Onesiphorus, Catholics believe he was already deceased. Protestants do not. Second Timothy 1:16-18 says,
"May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me - may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day! - and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus" (ESV).
Baptized for the Dead
Catholics believe that Protestants ignore a verse none of us fully understand. In First Corinthians 15:29 Paul mentions the practice of being "baptized for the dead."
What is that about?
Intercession Written on Ancient Tombs
There are inscriptions written on early Christian tombs from the first few hundred years asking believers to intercede for the dead.
What should we make of that?
Conjuring up the Dead?
Most Protestants equate praying for the dead to Saul conjuring up Samuel from the dead through the witch at Endor. Of course, conjuring up the dead was absolutely forbidden. (See 1 Samuel 28:9)
Protestants believe Hebrews 9:27 when it affirms that…"it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (ESV).
Protestants feel that prayers for the dead are useless - once you are dead then judgment is next. There is no state in between death and judgment called "purgatory."
Church or Scripture?
It is up to each Christian to decide this issue for himself or herself. Catholics believe in the authority of the Church and its traditions. Protestants believe in the sole authority of Scripture alone.
Personally, I have a few issues with Catholicism regarding things like the infallibility of the Pope and Mariolatry. However, I also find some aspects of Catholicism appealing due to its historicity and great respect for traditions, authority, and the early Church Fathers.
The New Catholic Answer Bible NAB. 1991. Wichita, Kansas: Fireside.
Holy Bible, ESV. 2004. Wheaton, ILL: Crossway.
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