I would like to jot down some thoughts on the subject of praying for the dead. What has prompted this post is the response from the local community to a tragic accident here which claimed the life of a twenty year old woman, and left (at last report) her twenty year old passenger in critical condition.
I have been praying for these two young women and I would ask that you consider uttering a word of prayer for them also. Dozens of people are praying for the families of the victims, and for the (so far) survivor. However, no one has mentioned praying for the young woman who died, and this is what has moved me to write.
Each day I pray for the souls who may be in Purgatory (specific family members, friends and prayer requests) and also for those who have no one else to pray for them. I think that there must be a lot of souls there who have been forgotten by their families, or who may not have any loved ones or friends left to pray for them.
Or, perhaps, they don’t believe in Purgatory in the first place.
Matthew tells us that whoever “speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (12:32). This would seem to indicate that there is some sort of “forgiveness” or “second chance” after death, but we know that once we die we cannot change our lives (repent).
So what is this “forgiveness” in the next life? It’s not so much “forgiveness” as it is a purification. In 1 Cor, Paul tells us that if someone “builds on the foundation of Christ using gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire and the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire” (1Cor 3:12 – 15). The wood, hay and straw are burned away, leaving only the gold, silver and precious stones, purified.
The Book of Revelation tells us that “nothing unclean will enter Heaven” (Rev 21:27) and Hebrews tells us of “the spirits of the just made perfect” (Heb 12:23). Heaven and imperfection are not compatible. God and imperfection are not compatible. Purgatory is a place of purification which enables a soul to become perfected and, therefore, enabled to become “a partaker of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
While there may be people who, when their time on Earth is over, go straight to Heaven, I suspect that many, if not most, of us stop over in Purgatory on the way. I think that very few of us die in a state of perfection and, therefor, require some “cleanup” before we can enter through the pearly gates.
Of course, there is no way to know the state of a person’s soul when they die (or at any other time), but I believe that it is an act of charity (love) and hope to pray for the repose of their soul. A soul cannot pray for itself after death, but we can pray for them. And we can offer our own suffering as a prayer for them (and each other) (see Colossians 1:24).
And we should, particularly for those for whom no one else is praying.