11 November 2009

On Prayer for the Dead

[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?

The Word

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.


Anonymous said...

Is there a difference between prayers for the dead who clearly fell asleep in Christ and those for unbelievers (or for those the "evidence" would seem to raise serious questions)? If there is no distinction, then couldn't such prayers lead to all sorts of misunderstandings and beliefs?

William Weedon said...

Yes, I think there is a huge difference. I'd simply commend those about whom there are questions to God's hands and leave it at that.

Scott Larkins said...

Prayer for the faithful departed is a catholic practice. Period. Those who oppose it place themselves outside the catholic faith.

Scott Larkins said...

Our Synod's Catechism just stinks. We should stick to "the six chief parts."

Kiran said...

Pastor, I *think* On the Care of the Dead is genuine Augustine, though I am not certain.

In it, he makes the distinction between care of the body (which benefits the living) and prayers and sacrifices offered for the soul, which benefits the dead, but he would also say that it is better to needlessly offer sacrifices for the ungodly than to leave sacrifices unofferred for the regenerate:

let us not think that anything reacheth unto the dead, unto whom we would extend our care, save such things as we solemnly supplicate for them by means of sacrifices, either of the altar, or of prayers, or of alms given to God in their name. And even so, such sacrifices be not profitable unto all for whom they are offered, but to them only who so lived their lives on earth as to merit that such things should be profitable after death. But forasmuch as we know not who these be, it is meet to offer them for all regenerate persons, lest anyone be passed over whom these benefits may and ought to reach. Far better it is that these things be needlessly done on behalf of them whom they neither hinder nor help, than that they be lacking unto them whom they aid.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I think that the '43 catechism was driving at deals with the word "for". How is "for" being used - are we praying "for" the dead as in "for their benefit, to move them to a better part of the afterlife? Are we giving thanks "for" them - is the prayer on account of the service they give - a thanksgiving? Indeed, even thanksgiving that they now have peace, and that this peace may be maintained?

The '43 approach is an attempt to head off anything approaching an indulgenistic view of our prayer for the departed.

Also, do you take 2 Timothy to mean that Onesiphorus is dead? I've taken this passage to refer to the faithful congregation gathered under his care (whom he is not serving at the moment because he went to Paul)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Oh, and that should be "I think WHAT the -43. . . ."

William Weedon said...

Dear Pr. Brown,

Yes, I take it that Onesiphorus has died. Franzmann writes in his Concordia Bible with Notes - NT:

"Onesiphorus is otherwise unknown; Paul's tribute to his energetic and fearless love remains his only but enduring monument. He was apparently dead at the time Paul wrote." (p. 418)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Okay - what makes this apparent that he is dead?

I find that the words, "apparently", "obviously", and "clearly" should often simply be replaced with "possibly" or "I think that _____ was/is".

I think this interpretation stretches a bit too much -- it is not unfaithful, do not think I say that - but to present this as a proof-style text relies a touch upon a rather large assumption.

Your arguments from the liturgy demonstrate a much better sense of how proper prayer for the dead is recognized.

William Weedon said...

What makes it apparent, I believe (as also Franzmann concludes) is the way St. Paul speaks of his help in the past tense (not something he currently is rendering) and how at the end of the letter that he does not greet the man himself, but his household.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

That, or his duties called him elsewhere and perhaps into other dangers as well. He could very well be dead - but still, I have two thoughts.

First - My, you are just so morbid, killing the faithful off left and right >=o)

Second, when the base of the argument rests upon an assumption, that makes me leery -- I rather prefer the arguments that Pastor Curtis gives in the elsewhere posted letter.

Paul McCain said...

I suspect that prayers offered for those who have fallen asleep in Christ do far more for the one offering the prayer, than the one whose soul is at peace in Christ, awaiting the day of Christ's second coming and the resurrection of all flesh.

And that's a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't 2 Maccabees 12 be sufficient scriptural warrant for prayers for dead?

Also, doesn't the suggested sharp distinction between prayers for the faithful departed and others presume to know the mind of God?

Lastly, what has this to do with Purgatory? Prayer for the dead is performed by all the ancient communions without reference to Purgatory - perhaps we need not explain how God uses our prayers and rather simply hold to what we have been taught to do?

Scott Larkins said...

"...Our Synod's Catechism just stinks."

O.K. That was a bit harsh. It's got a few statements that need to be edited or removed.

Trent said...

Since St. Epiphanius' name was raised, I would recommend reading his sermon for Great and Holy Saturday, it's amazing.