[Following is a study I put together on prayer for the dead for my congregation some time ago...]
The Synodical Catechism (1943) asks: “For whom should we pray?” (#210) and answers this: “We should pray for ourselves and all other people; but not for the souls of the dead.” In contrast to this, consider these words from Concordia: The Book of Concord: “Regarding the adversaries’ quoting the Fathers about the offering for the dead, we know that the ancients speak of prayer for the dead, which we do not ban.” (Ap. XXI:94) and “Epiphanius declares that Aerius maintained prayers for the dead are useless. He finds fault with this. We do not favor Aerius either.” (Ap XXI:96). The funeral service provided in Lutheran Service Book prays: “Give to Your whole Church in heaven and on earth Your light and Your peace…. Grant that all who have been nourished by the holy body and blood of Your Son may be raised to immortality and incorruption to be seated with Him at Your heavenly banquet.” So which position is Scriptural?
Read 2 Timothy 1:15-18:
1. Who abandoned Paul?
2. Why did St. Paul mention “the household of Onesiphorus”?
3. What did Onesiphorus do for Paul in Rome?
4. What does Paul now ask for Onesiphorus? What are the implications regarding Christian prayer?
Read 2 Timothy 4:19:
6. What is implied once again?
7. Does prayer for the dead “change” the state of the dead? Explain.
8. Examine this prayer for the dead and evaluate:
O holy and righteous God, it has pleased You to call from this life the departed lying here before us by temporal death. Let us learn from this death that we, too, must die and leave this world, in order that we may prepare for it in time by repentance, a living faith, and avoiding the sins and vanities of the world. Refresh the soul that has now departed with heavenly consolation and joy, and fulfill for it all the gracious promises which in Your holy Word You have made to those who believe in You. Grant to the body a soft and quiet rest in the earth till the Last Day, when You will reunite body and soul and lead them into glory, so that the entire person who served You here may be filled with heavenly joy there. Comfort all who are in grief over this death, and be and remain to the bereaved their Father, Provider, Guardian, Helper, and Support. Do not forsake them, and do not withdraw Your hand from them, but let them abundantly experience Your goodness, grace, love, and help, until You will grant them also a happy and blessed end. Hear us for Your mercy’s sake. Amen. (Starck’s Prayer Book Revised Concordia Edition, p. 345)
“God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers...but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” Similarly, God gives eternal life to all His people, even without our prayers, but when we pray for the dead, we ask God to give precisely what He has promised so that we would realize this and receive His promise of eternal life with thanksgiving, and be comforted by His resurrection Gospel.