Praying for the Dead

Hey, Fr. Smith!

“Why would we pray for the Dead?”

November 2nd, is a special day in the catholic calendar:  “The Commemoration of All Souls”…aka “All Souls Day”.  Unlike the Feast of “All Saints” that focuses our prayers to God in gratitude for those whose lives shined with holy glory (“the Saints”- well-known and “the saints”- known only to God).  All Souls Day gives us the opportunity to remember out loud, by name, the souls of our own faithful departed family and friends who we consider “faithful departed”, but not “saints” in the theologically precise sense.  

Unfortunately, All Souls Day has provoked controversy within the Body of Christ.  In my 13 years as Rector at GSAC, I have dealt with several folk who seem disturbed or offended by the notion that we can or should pray “for” the dead.  I’m not sure I have ever adequately answered these concerns.  So, today, I am going to shamelessly borrow an answer from one of the greatest 20th century theological minds, C. S. Lewis.  Lewis was, until his death, an unapologetic Anglican.  His book “Mere Christianity” is a classic defense of the Christian Faith, with an eye to avoiding controversy.  Yet, Lewis never shirked from taking unpopular positions for the sake of the comprehensiveness of truth.  Here’s what Lewis wrote concerning “The Commemoration of All Souls” November 2nd:

     Of course, I pray for the dead.  The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me.  And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden.  At our age the majority of those we love best are dead.  What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to Him?

     On the traditional Protestant view, all the dead are damned or saved.  If they are damned, prayer for them is useless.  If they are saved, it is equally useless.  God had already done all for them.  What more should we ask?

     But don’t we believe that God has already done and is already doing all that He can for the living?  What more should we ask?  Yet we are told to ask.

     ‘Yes’, it will be answered, ‘but the living are still on the road.  Further trials, developments, possibilities of error, await them. But the saved have been made perfect.  They have finished the course.  To pray for them presupposes that progress and difficulty are still possible.  In fact, you are bringing in something like Purgatory.’

     Well, I suppose I am.  Though even in Heaven some perpetual increase of beatitude, reached by a continually more ecstatic self-surrender, without the possibility of failure but not perhaps without its own ardours and exertions, for delight also has its severities and steep ascents, as lovers know- might be supposed.