prayer for the dead. I know there is no purgatory, but prayers for the dead SEEM to have been part of church life since at least as far back as St Augustine who I recall organised prayers for his departed mother. I understand Lutherans may pray for the dead privately but not as the church. What gives? If an individual can do it, why not the entire body?
P from Australia
It may actually surprise you, but the Church does indeed pray for the dead. Let’s take a look at three prayers of the Church:
Collect for the Last Sunday of the Church Year (Historic)
Lord God, heavenly Father, send forth Your Son, we pray, to lead home His bride, the Church that with all the company of the redeemed we may finally enter into His eternal wedding feast; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
Two prayers from the committal of the faithful departed:
May God the Father who created this body; may God the + Son, who by His blood redeemed this body; may God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be His temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh. Amen
Almighty God, by the death of Your Son Jesus Christ You destroyed death, by His rest in the tomb You sanctified the graves of Your saints, and by His bodily resurrection You brought life and immortality to light so that all who die in Him abide in peace and hope. Receive our thanks for the victory over death and the grave that He won for us. Keep us in everlasting communion with all who wait for Him on earth and with all in heaven who are with Him, for He is the resurrection and the life, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen
So then, how does the Church in her prayers teach us to pray for the dead? It begins with God’s Word which tells us all that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has done for the deceased. That Christ has redeemed her, brought her into the Church, and in Baptism has sealed her with the promise of the resurrection. This actually is how all Christian prayer takes shape. First, we listen to what God’s Word says. We then speak back to God this same Word in the form of a petition. This gives the Christian complete confidence that his or her prayer is not empty words, but is as sure as God’s promise. Where God’s Word is silent – ie as it does not say that the saints in heaven hear our prayers nor commands us to pray TO them (after all, we now have direct access to the Father by the Spirit in the name of Jesus – Eph. 2:18, 5:20) – we do not go that route. But we can be sure that the saints in heaven and earth do pray for the Church, and so prayer for the dead, as it flows from the assurance of the Word of God, is not useless.
To further clarify, lest there be any confusion, we do not hold that prayer is some sort of means of grace which will transfer the departed from hell to heaven. We pray based on what is true and what is sure. It is helpful then to look at the Lord’s Prayer itself. Our Lord teaches us to pray “Forgive us our trespasses.” Now, we pray this not because that by speaking these words God will decide to forgive us, but because we are forgiven as God’s Word clearly teaches. So too when we pray that the Lord will keep safe our beloved departed and bring them and us to the glorious Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, it isn’t mere speculation or a matter of trying to twist God’s arm into doing this. He said He will, and that is why we pray.
Matthew Lorfeld, Pastor
Messiah Lutheran Church
La Crescent, MN