Author Topic: Praying for the dead?  (Read 4637 times)

randallb

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Praying for the dead?
« on: June 25, 2014, 04:12:21 PM »
I've heard some indirect comments from relatives and fellow Lutherans about the Prayer of commendation in the Burial Rite  in LBW and ELW: as in discomfort that it sounds a lot like we're "praying for the dead"... trying to "pray them into heaven"..
Of course, comes the rebuttal; Lutherans don't do that.    I've always considered this prayer the final prayer of 'commending' one into the hands of God, the last prayer so to speak.  Anyone else heard these kinds of comments or discomfort with this prayer?

J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: Praying for the dead?
« Reply #1 on: June 25, 2014, 05:16:08 PM »
Never....even in a congregation with many neoZwinglians and other assorted rabid anti-romanists.
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Weedon

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Re: Praying for the dead?
« Reply #2 on: June 25, 2014, 05:55:14 PM »
We might wish to 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).

While Lutherans clearly rejected the notion of Purgatory and the idea that our works or services here (including the Mass as Rome conceives it) could actually relieve the sufferings of the saints in purgation, they did not hesitate to offer prayers for the dead that are in accordance with the Word of God. So we have in Starck's Prayer Book the following prayer offered in the presence of the deceased:

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)

If anyone asks what is the use of such prayers, consider “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 blessed 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.
« Last Edit: June 25, 2014, 05:57:05 PM by Weedon »

John_Hannah

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Re: Praying for the dead?
« Reply #3 on: June 25, 2014, 05:56:53 PM »
I think that it was mentioned in the last Lutheran Roman Catholic Dialogue by the LCMS delegates. At least, they stated that Liturgies published by the LCMS do not include the commendation.

I have always used it and consider it a beautiful testimony to the hope of eternal life. I fail to understand how someone might be "uneasy" with it.

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Pr. JOHN HANNAH, STS

RPG

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Re: Praying for the dead?
« Reply #4 on: June 25, 2014, 06:19:52 PM »
If anyone asks what is the use of such prayers, consider “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 blessed 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.

This is the same way that I have typically explained it, when it has come up occasionally around here. 

As my own teacher explained it to me: "We Lutherans do indeed pray for the dead, but typically for a very short window of time.  More specifically, the time between death and the committal.  In the time that follows the committal, if we are troubled or are having difficulty believing our Lord's promise to those who have died in Him, then we seek out a preacher to speak our Lord's promise to us again.  And again and again and again."
The Rev. Ryan P. Gage
Eureka, SD

JMK

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Re: Praying for the dead?
« Reply #5 on: June 25, 2014, 06:26:53 PM »
There is a bit of a mystery involved in prayer. For example, why should we pray for people to convert when it is all God's work anyway? Can we add to the power of the means of grace? On the other hand, could it be that our prayers for other people to convert might speed up the process - e.g. the elect might more likely get converted while they are still young?

Likewise, I think of the elegant prayer, "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." I don't think the prayer is analogous to praying for daily bread. Rather, I view the prayer in a non-efficacious manner, similar to cheering on one's favorite team in the comfort of one's living room while watching TV. If it makes you feel good, than do it. Prayers for the dead, like cheering on one's favorite team from afar, stimulates "honor" and "appreciation."

Norman Teigen

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Re: Praying for the dead?
« Reply #6 on: June 25, 2014, 06:50:06 PM »
Thank you all for these several posts.  We have been faced with the sudden death of a friend and we find your words to be of comfort.
Norman Teigen

pearson

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Re: Praying for the dead?
« Reply #7 on: June 26, 2014, 03:24:06 AM »

Rather, I view the prayer in a non-efficacious manner, similar to cheering on one's favorite team in the comfort of one's living room while watching TV. If it makes you feel good, than do it.


Ah, yes -- "If it makes you feel good": the authentic American religion.

Tom Pearson

GalRevRedux

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Re: Praying for the dead?
« Reply #8 on: June 26, 2014, 07:19:04 AM »

Rather, I view the prayer in a non-efficacious manner, similar to cheering on one's favorite team in the comfort of one's living room while watching TV. If it makes you feel good, than do it.


Ah, yes -- "If it makes you feel good": the authentic American religion.

Tom Pearson

Yeah, because heaven forbid we should make grieving people feel better with words of comfort and commendation of their loved one into the hands of our loving God. ::)

Geesh.
A pastor of the North American Lutheran Church.

Pr. Luke Zimmerman

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Re: Praying for the dead?
« Reply #9 on: June 26, 2014, 10:47:04 AM »
I recall hearing a stray comment or two like what the original poster noted after using the commendation prayer.

Pr. Hannah is correct: the commendation prayer is not in the LCMS funeral rites in Lutheran Worship or Lutheran Service Book. Neither is it present in the Lutheran Church of Australia's agenda, Church Rites.

That said, the commendation prayer is identical to what one prays with the dying Christian. But there are times when even pastors aren't able to perform the Commendation of the Dying. And most of the attendees at a funeral, including fellow parishioners, aren't present when the Commendation of the Dying takes place.

I would lean towards the view that using the commendation prayer at the funeral gives the assembly of believers the opportunity to hear what would have been prayed at the time of their fellow believer's death. It also gives another confession of faith that the assembly of believers makes: the prayer is rooted in the baptismal identity of the deceased, the redemption that the deceased received from Jesus, and in the hope of everlasting life.

One more item about prayers/statements in funeral rites.... I absolutely love the way that the Australian Lutheran funeral rite ends with its statement before leaving the church with the body of the deceased: "In sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, we take the body of our brother/sister in Christ to its last resting place." It gives a powerful confession of the resurrection to all who are present at that funeral. I've inserted that into the funeral rites that I conduct as an LCMS pastor.
Pr. Luke Zimmerman
Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church -- Mechanicsburg, PA

peterm

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Re: Praying for the dead?
« Reply #10 on: June 26, 2014, 10:55:10 AM »
I think there is a distinct difference between praying a prayer to commend the recently departed loved one to the care of the Almighty asking that God recognize a sheep of your own fold and a sinner of your redeeming, and praying for the dead after that point
Rev. Peter Morlock- ELCA pastor serving two congregations in WIS

pearson

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Re: Praying for the dead?
« Reply #11 on: June 26, 2014, 11:20:30 AM »



Rather, I view the prayer in a non-efficacious manner, similar to cheering on one's favorite team in the comfort of one's living room while watching TV. If it makes you feel good, than do it.


Ah, yes -- "If it makes you feel good": the authentic American religion.


Yeah, because heaven forbid we should make grieving people feel better with words of comfort and commendation of their loved one into the hands of our loving God. ::)

Geesh.


One of us has grossly misread Johannes Andreas Quenstedt's comment, Pastor (and it may have been me).  I reacted to Quenstedt's suggestion that such prayers were "non-efficacious" (i. e., that they have no genuine effect), and may be justified as an act of self-indulgence ("if it makes you feel good") on the part of the person offering the prayer ("similar to cheering on one's favorite team in the comfort of one's living room," etc).  I read nothing in Quenstedt's comment that had anything remotely to do with appropriate pastoral care toward the grieving.

That's how Quenstedt's recommendation came across to me.

Tom Pearson

Richard Johnson

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Re: Praying for the dead?
« Reply #12 on: June 26, 2014, 01:54:05 PM »
That's how it sounded to me, too, Tom.

But I wonder if the issue here might be "what do we mean by 'praying for' anyone"? I know one typical understanding of that phrase is that we have some knowledge of what some individual's needs are, and so we beseech God to address that need (as if God doesn't already know that person's need!). So we pray that Bill will be healed of his illness, that Sandy will be comforted in her grief, that Joe will find a new job. With that understanding, "praying for the dead" doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, since I don't have much of a clue what "the dead" might need (beyond the beautiful and salutary words of the commendation prayer, "Acknowledge, we beseech you . . .").

But if we understand "praying for" someone rather as "remembering that person before God," without any necessary compulsion to tell God what we think he should do for them, then it seems to me that what we are doing is affirming our mutual dependence on God, our shared community in God, our shared love of God and of one another. And if that's what "praying for" someone might mean, then why not pray for the dead? Isn't that what St. Monica had in mind when she asked her son to "remember me before the altar of God"?
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS

carlvehse

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Re: Praying for the dead?
« Reply #13 on: June 26, 2014, 03:34:58 PM »
We might wish to 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)

In case any confusion results from taking an excerpt out of context, here is the complete para 94-95 excerpt from Ap.XXIV (XII), Of the Mass:
Quote
94] Now, as regards the adversaries' citing the Fathers concerning the offering for the dead, we know that the ancients speak of prayer for the dead, which we do not prohibit; but we disapprove of the application ex opere operato of the Lord's Supper on behalf of the dead. Neither do the ancients favor the adversaries concerning the opus operatum. And even though they have the testimonies especially of Gregory or the moderns, 95] we oppose to them the most clear and certain Scriptures. And there is a great diversity among the Fathers. They were men, and could err and be deceived. Although if they would now become alive again, and would see their sayings assigned as pretexts for the notorious falsehoods which the adversaries teach concerning the opus operatum, they would interpret themselves far differently.

Also there is SA.II.II.11-12:
Quote
11] In addition to all this, this dragon's tail, [I mean] the Mass, has begotten a numerous vermin-brood of manifold idolatries.

12] First, purgatory. Here they carried their trade into purgatory by masses for souls, and vigils, and weekly, monthly, and yearly celebrations of obsequies, and finally by the Common Week and All Souls' Day, by soul-baths so that the Mass is used almost alone for the dead, although Christ has instituted the Sacrament alone for the living. Therefore purgatory, and every solemnity, rite, and commerce connected with it, is to be regarded as nothing but a specter of the devil. For it conflicts with the chief article [which teaches] that only Christ, and not the works of men, are to help [set free] souls. Not to mention the fact that nothing has been [divinely] commanded or enjoined upon us concerning the dead. Therefore all this may be safely omitted, even if it were no error and idolatry. [Emphasis added]

And for additional clarification, Luther states in  A Sermon by Martin Luther; taken from his Church Postil, 1522-23 (para 28):   
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28. The fourth question is: Shall we pray for the dead; since here in the Gospel there is no intermediate state between Abraham’s bosom and hell, and those in Abraham’s bosom do not need it, and it does not help those in perdition. We have no command from God to pray for the dead; therefore no one sins by not praying for them; for what God does not bid or forbid us to do, in that no one can sin. Yet, on the other hand, since God has not permitted us to know, how it is with the souls of the departed and we must continue uninformed, as to how he deals with them, we will not and cannot restrain them, nor count it as sin, if they pray for the dead. For we are ever certain from the Gospel, that many have been raised from the dead, who, we must confess, did not receive nor did they have their final sentence; and likewise we are not assured of any other, that he has his final sentence.

29. Now since it is uncertain and no one knows, whether final judgment has been passed upon these souls, it is not sin if you pray for them; but in this way, that you let it rest in uncertainty and speak thus: Dear God, if the departed souls be in a state that they may yet be helped, then I pray that thou wouldst be gracious. And when you have thus prayed once or twice, then let it be sufficient and commend them unto God. For God has promised that when we pray to him for anything he would hear us. Therefore when you have prayed once or twice, you should believe that your prayer is answered, and there let it rest, lest you tempt God and mistrust him. [Emphasis added]

Thus it should be no surprise that the Explanation of Luther's Small Catechism states:
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201. For whom should we pray?
We should pray for ourselves and for all other people, even for our enemies, but not for the souls of the dead.

The phrase, "should... not," forms no command, but rather is a recommendation that is consistent with the view of Martin Luther and the Lutheran Confessions.

Weedon

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Re: Praying for the dead?
« Reply #14 on: June 26, 2014, 03:47:39 PM »
Indeed, Luther does not prohibit it (but more importantly, our Symbols do not prohibit it). In his Confession Concerning Christ's Supper (1528), the Reformer wrote:

As for the dead, since Scripture gives us no information on the subject, I regard it as no sin to pray with free devotion in this or some similar fashion: “Dear God, if this soul is in a condition accessible to mercy, be thou gracious to it.” And when this has been done once or twice, let it suffice. For vigils and requiem masses and yearly celebrations of requiems are useless, and are merely the devil’s annual fair. Nor have we anything in Scripture concerning purgatory. It too was certainly fabricated by goblins. Therefore, I maintain it is not necessary to believe in it; although all things are possible to God, and he could very well allow souls to be tormented after their departure from the body. But he has caused nothing of this to be spoken or written, therefore he does not wish to have it believed, either. I know of a purgatory, however, in another way, but it would not be proper to teach anything about it in the church, nor on the other hand, to deal with it by means of endowments or vigils.

AE 37:369