Praying for the dead is one of the most intuitive and holy impulses we humans have.
Death is the ultimate alienation: a sword that cuts through human experience, separating loved ones and leaving so much broken, unfinished and incomplete. It leaves us with a thousand questions — and a cruel, crippling numbness because even if we had all those answers, somehow it still wouldn’t make sense.
What can we do in response but to pray?
The Protestant Reformers insisted that prayers for the dead were meaningless. At death, our destiny is fixed: we are either in or out. The irony is that in forbidding prayers for the dead, the Reformers shut out all the dead.
The Reformation, in silencing all naming of the dead in prayer, unwittingly endorsed the experience of death as alienation: the dead were cast out from the company of the living, and the Church shrank to the living alone.
When we love someone, our love doesn’t end with death “for love is strong as death” (Song of Songs 8:6) — no, love is stronger than death. Our love extends beyond the grave and our prayers are heard over the silence of death. We make “atonement of the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Maccabees 12:45), not because the atoning blood of Christ is insufficient but because it is more than sufficient: the Blood of the Lamb has conquered even death itself.
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe we will also live with Him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death has no dominion over Him. For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. (Romans 6:8-10)
Our departed brothers and sisters are still our brothers and sisters. They don’t just need our prayers, we need to pray for them. Our prayers are how we keep loving them, even though they are far from us. Before the cruelty of death, we do the only loving thing we can do: we entrust all our loved ones to the mercy of God, the Eternal Father who loves them more than we do.
It was by love that Christ conquered the grave and it because we love that we pray for those beyond the grave. For not even death can “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.