Praying for the dead
Jesus said, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you…” (NRSV, Matthew 7:12)
Praying for the departed differs in no way from praying for the living, for in both instances we ask God to help those for whom we are offering up our prayers. Thus, although the prayers themselves will vary according to the varying needs of the living and the departed, both operate on the same principle.
Prayers for the living are very much wider in scope. We may pray for someone in hospital, or for people lately bereaved, or for world leaders assembled to discuss international affairs. In so doing we are calling upon and releasing God’s healing and strengthening power at the material as well as the spiritual level. In praying for the departed, however, who have passed from this material world, our prayers are necessarily confined to their spiritual needs, and we ask God to help their souls.
The separation of the soul from the body by the incident of death does not in itself alter anybody’s character. One is exactly the same person after it as before. The notion that the act of passing from this world is a sort of automatic passport to Heaven is the result of holding a low idea of what God is really like and of forgetting that God dwells in light unapproachable by sinful man (1 Timothy 6:16).
For the all-important fact about the nature of God is his dazzling perfection which demands nothing less than perfection in ourselves before we can fully share it (cf Revelation 7:13,14; 21:27). As Our Blessed Lord said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (NRSV, Matthew 5:48), and moral perfection is the result of gradual growth not of a sudden transformation.