I was invited to say a few words at a funeral recently. I was not very close to the family – which made it both an honor to be invited and also meant that I wast not involved in any of the planning of the ceremony. During the course of the service, many prayers were offered and many of them were directed towards the recently deceased. The helpless theologian I am, I couldn’t help but begin the mental conversation over this classic question:
Should Christians pray for the dead?
It’s vital to realize that this is a very personal and pastoral question, as well as a theological issue. While I was thinking this question over, I ran across the following thoughts about prayers for the dead from two classic Church Fathers:
Cyril of Jerusalem: “We pray for the holy fathers and bishops who have fallen asleep, and in general for all those who have fallen asleep before us, in the belief that it is a great benefit to the souls for whom the prayers are offered… In the same way, b offering to God our prayers for those who have fallen asleep and who have sinned, we offer Christ sacrificed for the sins of all, and by doing so, obtain the loving God’s favor for them and for ourselves.” [4th Century text on Eucharistic Liturgy]
John Chrysostom: “Let us help and commemorate them (the dead). After all, if the children of Job were purified by the sacrifice of their father (Job 1:5), why should we doubt that our offering for the dead bring them any comfort? … Let us not hesitate to help those who have died, and to offer our prayers on their behalf.” [Homily at the very end of the 4th Century]
What do you think about Cyril and John’s beliefs about the effects of prayers for the dead and the reasoning they offer for the practice?
What do you think: Should Christians pray for the dead?
Why or why not?