Make Atonement for the Dead

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Background: A while ago, my daughters asked my favorite books when I was their age. Christopher Pike was one of my favorite authors during my late middle school and early high school years. I have already blogged about two of my favorites from him here and here. Remember Me was probably in my top three choices from him, and I have read this book many times. It is part of a trilogy, but I have always despised books 2 and 3. I only recommend Remember Me from this series. This story is about a high school girl who dies during a birthday party. As a ghost, she follows her friends and a detective around to determine if she died from suicide or murder.

Discussion with child: For this book, I focused on one scene. Shari, the ghost narrator, attends her funeral. She sits by her Catholic housekeeper, who is praying the rosary for Shari’s soul. Shari becomes engrossed in the prayers, a light shines over her, and she is overwhelmed with a sense of peace. Time speeds by, she misses her entire funeral, and later a friend ghost criticizes her for staying on earth and not entering into the light during the rosary.  

I would discuss the importance of praying for the dead with my children, such as a Divine Mercy Chaplet, Rosary, or having a mass said in their name.  

Praying for the dead is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy, and the Catholic Church’s Catechism encourages this practice. 

In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and ‘because it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins’ she offers her suffrages for them.” Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.

CCC 958

This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” 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. . . Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.

CCC 1032

I used to think that praying for the dead was unique to Catholics and Judaism. However, after looking into this topic more, I discovered that this practice is common in all five major religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. 

Praying for the dead was universal among Christians until the Reformation. We know that the earliest Christians prayed for the dead. Three known examples are

  1. Ancient Christian tomb inscriptions ask for the faithful to pray for them
  2. Tertullian, an early Christian apologist, around 211AD, wrote about offering sacrifices for the dead on their birthday anniversaries
  3. St. Augustine (~400AD), in his book Confessions, pg 184, prays for his mother’s soul

Praying for the dead is found in the Old Testament of the Greek Septuagint scriptures:

2 Macc 12:44-45: For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin. 

The New Testament contains the concept as well. St. Paul prays for a departed friend:

2 Tim 1:16-18 May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me; he was not ashamed of my chains … may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day. 

Also, Jesus implies that some sins can be forgiven in the next world.

Mt 12:32 And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. 

You can read more about this at:

Salvific Offerings for the Dead

Catholic Encyclopedia: Prayers for the Dead