We have a wonderful tradition in Christianity of praying for the souls of all the faithful departed. Notice that we pray for all the dead: “strengthen our hope that all our departed brothers and sisters will share in his resurrection.” We don’t separate the rich from the poor, or the black from the white, or the male from the female; we don’t leave out those who were criminals or had AIDS or were illiterate; we don’t give special prayer privilege to the powerful or the intellectual or the ecclesiastical.
We pray for them all. We wish them all eternal life.
What will it take for us to create a world in which we treat the living with as much respect and equality as we treat the dead? For having been created in the image of God, “who from one man has created the whole human race and made them live all over the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26), every person is called to one and the same goal, namely, God Himself.
Catholic practice of praying for those who have died is rooted in God’s revelation. In the Old Testament, the book of Maccabees tells the story of Judas Maccabeus, who lived in the second century before Christ. After a battle, it was discovered that some of his dead soldiers who were good men had sinned before their deaths. Judas Maccabeus then had prayers and sacrifices offered to God for these men.
‘Since the task had now become urgent, Judas and his companions went to gather up the bodies of the fallen and bury them with their kindred in their ancestral tombs. But under the tunic of each of the dead they found amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. So it was clear to all that this was why these men had fallen.They all therefore praised the ways of the Lord, the just judge who brings to light the things that are hidden. Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen.He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection in mind; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.’ (2 Macc 12:39-46)