prayers for the dead

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Though 2 Macc. 12: 40–5 is the only biblical text in which prayer for the dead is clearly recorded, there is ample evidence for the practice in the inscriptions of the catacombs and in the early liturgies, as well as in the writings of the Fathers. In the E. Church no limits are placed on such prayer; saints and martyrs, those ‘bound in Hades’, and pagans are all mentioned. In the W. such prayer was gradually limited to prayer for the ‘holy souls’, that is souls in purgatory. The W. Church does not pray for the souls of martyrs and canonized saints because they are believed to be already in possession of beatitude. Nor, it is held, can the damned be helped by our prayers, though who they are is known to God alone. Thus, RC canon law forbids the public offering of Masses for the Dead and funeral rites for various classes of persons unless they have shown signs of repentance before they died. (Private prayers and Masses are, however, allowed.) The Reformers after a time denounced prayer for the dead, partly because they believed it to be without biblical foundation (Macc. was dismissed, since the Apocrypha no longer ranked as Scripture), and partly through their rejection of the doctrine of purgatory. In the C of E express prayers for the dead disappeared from the BCP in 1552, but they have been widely used since the mid-19th cent. They are allowed in CW and some (though not all) other modern Anglican liturgies. Prayer for the dead is still avoided by Evangelicals and in the Free Churches. See also burial services; Requiem; and suicide.

Subjects: Christianity.

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