Why Do We Pray for the Dead?

Why Do We Pray for the Dead?

I wasn’t prepared for the sudden finality of death. I’ve had the privilege and the burden of being by both my father and father-in-law’s bedsides when they died. Both men were practically comatose moments before their deaths, and yet, I was shocked by the change when their souls finally left their bodies. Their physical bodies remained, but they were gone. We were heartbroken, left to navigate an undesired and hazy road ahead, and yet somehow life carried on.

The Church promotes tremendous wisdom regarding life’s major moments whether that be new life, marriages, adult rites of passage, and yes, even death. Taking time to grieve the dead and ride the emotional rollercoaster of this inevitable, yet always painful, human reality is proper, healing and sanctifying. Life is fragile, or as Psalm 144 says, like “a passing shadow,” but as Christians we believe that death, for the faithful believer, is not the end, but a doorway into a new eternal life with God.

Therefore, Catholic funerals carry a beautiful combination of mournful recognition for what is lost and joyful hope for what is to come. The Church has always taught that the faithful prayers of those still on earth have both temporal and eternal ramifications. Temporal since God hears the cry of the broken-hearted and provides the grace and loving presence mourners need to carry on and unite their suffering to Christ’s. Eternal because those undergoing additional purification in Purgatory can truly benefit from the grace solicited on their behalf.

The catechism confirms this:


“From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.” (1032)


Isn’t this inspiring, consoling and exciting? Grief is real and must be acknowledged, but because of our faith in Jesus’ resurrection plan for his bride (the Church), we do not need to be consumed by the fear, sadness and isolation of losing a loved one. Yes, our physical deaths are the end of something, but our prayers, works, joys and sufferings united with the Lord mysteriously help ensure that God’s grace reverberates across time and space.

I miss my Dad, but I remember and pray for him, because I believe and want to see him again.


Pete Burak is the director of i.d.9:16, the young adult outreach of Renewal Ministries. He has a master’s degree in theology and is a frequent speaker on evangelization and discipleship.