“Ask a Priest: What If Friends Don’t See a Need to Pray for the Dead?”

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Q: What do you say to friends who have loved ones pass away unexpectedly, and they believe the deceased are in heaven already? I pray for the deceased, but the friends insist they are in heaven. So they ask me why I would pray for the dead. The deceased could use the prayers — and hardly anyone prays for them. Do I just say nothing or do I try to explain why it’s so important to keep praying for our beloved deceased? Thank you. – B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: You are certainly right to pray for the dead. Scripture touched on this in 2 Maccabees 12 when Judas Maccabeus had prayers and Temple sacrifices offered the dead. “In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection in mind” (verse 43).

And barring a special revelation from God, we do well not to presume that anyone who recently died is already in heaven (unless, perhaps, it was a baptized baby). The soul might be in purgatory and greatly in need of prayers before it can enter heaven.

The highest prayer is the Mass, which is why the Church insists so much on having a funeral Mass offered when someone dies. It’s also laudable to have Masses for the dead celebrated on other occasions.

Now, whether to insist with your friends on the need for prayer (and Masses for the dead) is a prudential decision.

You need to gauge whether they are open to the wisdom of praying for the dead, or whether your insistence will only upset them.

These folks might still be in mourning and thus a bit emotionally vulnerable. So, you would want to proceed with caution.

In any case it would be a great act of charity to continue to pray for the deceased.


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