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Dead, Prayers for the

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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a custom that arose in the Church at an early period. Tertullian (220) remarks (De Corona Milit. c. in) that it is the practice for a widow to pray for the soul of her deceased husband. He also speaks (De Monogam. c. x) of "oblations" made for the dead on the anniversary of their martyrdom. Origen ( 254) speaks of Christians "making mention of saints in their prayers" (lib. 9, in Romans 12). Arnobius (cir. 300) says that Christians pray for pardon and peace on behalf of the living and the dead (adv. Gentes, 4). Cyril of Jerusalem even declares it to be a considerable advantage for the souls of the dead to be prayed for (Cat. Mystag. v. 6). The same custom is found in many of the ancient liturgies. Chrysostom ( 407) says of the wicked dead, "they are to be succored with prayers, supplications, alms, and oblations." While this was the common practice, it had no reference to the notion of a purgatory. Many of the fathers regarded such prayers as little more than a thanksgiving, a commendation of souls of the deceased to the mercy of God, and a commemoration of their spiritual excellencies. Still there is no doubt that not a few of the fathers believed that the souls of departed believers were not taken at once to heaven, but were in some separate place Hades or Paradise out of which the fervent prayers of survivors might help to remove them. So that the idea of purgatory sprang out of such views in no long space of time. Nevertheless, it is not true, as Romanists assert, that prayers for the dead necessarily imply a belief in purgatory. Almost all the English writers on purgatory refute this; e.g. Burnet, On 39 Articles art. 22; Stillingfleet, Defence of Laud, p. 643; Jeremy Taylor, Dissuasive from Popery; Collier, Eccles. Hist. of Great Britain, v. 288 sq.

In the Church of England burial service of 1549, under Edward VI, one prayer was, "We commend into thy hands of mercy, most merciful Father, the soul of this our brother departed . . . that when the judgment shall come, which thou hast committed to thy well-beloved Son, both this our brother and we may be found acceptable in thy sight, and receive thy blessing." "Almighty God, we give thee hearty thanks for this thy servant, whom thou hast delivered from the miseries of this wicked world, from the body of death and all temptation; and, as we trust, hast brought his soul, which he committed into thy holy hands, into sure consolation and rest: Grant, we beseech thee, that at the day of judgment his soul and all the souls of thy elect, departed cut of this life, may with us, and we with them, fully receive thy promises, and be made perfect altogether, through the glorious resurrection of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord." And the next prayer was, "O Lord, with whom do live the spirits of them that be dead, and in whom the souls of them that be elected, after they be delivered from the burden of the flesh, be in joy and felicity, grant unto this thy servant that the sins which he committed in this world be not imputed unto him, but that he, escaping the gates of hell, and pains of eternal darkness, may ever dwell in the region of light, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the place where there is no weeping, sorrow, nor heaviness; and when that dreadful day of the general resurrection shall come, make him to rise also with the just and righteous, and receive this body again to glory, then made pure and incorruptible." The prayer was ultimately changed into the thanksgiving form in which it now appears in the Prayer-book: "After the offertory in the Eucharist is said, and the oblations of bread and wine, with the alms for the poor, are placed Upon the table, the minister addresses this exhortation to the people: Let us pray for the whole state of Christ's Church militant here in earth.' The latter part of this sentence is wanting in Edward's first book. The words militant here in earth,' which were designed expressly to exclude prayer for the dead, were inserted in the second book, in which that part of this prayer, which contained intercession for the dead; was expunged. It was the intention of the divines who made this alteration to denote that prayers are not to be offered up for the dead, whose spiritual welfare is already accomplished; but for those only who are yet fighting the good fight of faith,' and are consequently in a capacity of needing our prayers" (Shepherd, cited by Hook, Church Dictionary, s.v.). Protestants reject prayers for the dead as having no ground either in Scripture or reason. Bingham, Orig. Eccles.bk. 15, ch. 3, § 15; Riddle, Christian Antiquities, p. 277 sq.; Coleman, Ancient Christianity, ch. 25; Browne, On 39 Articles, art. 22; Palmer, Orig. Liturgicoe, ch. 4, § 10; Theol. Stud. u. Krit., 1866, 2:396. (See SYNAGOGUE).

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Dead, Prayers for the'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​d/dead-prayers-for-the.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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