"When I was a Catholic, sometimes people would ask me about praying to Mary and the saints. I used to say that I was just asking them to pray for me, like I would ask a friend. But there is a difference. When I talk to my friends, I am talking to people who are alive--not people who have died. The Bible tells us that we should not communicate with dead people, that we should not seek the dead on behalf of the living. (Isaiah 8:19; Deuteronomy 18:11-12)
So what I said was misleading. However, I didn’t realize it at the time."
Catechism Catholic Church:
954 The three states of the Church. "When the Lord comes in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to him. But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating 'in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is"':492
All of us, however, in varying degrees and in different ways share in the same charity towards God and our neighbors, and we all sing the one hymn of glory to our God. All, indeed, who are of Christ and who have his Spirit form one Church and in Christ cleave together.493
955 "So it is that the union of the wayfarers with the brethren who sleep in the peace of Christ is in no way interrupted, but on the contrary, according to the constant faith of the Church, this union is reinforced by an exchange of spiritual goods."494 LG 49
956 The intercession of the saints. "Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped."495 1 tim 2-5
Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life.496
I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth.497
957 Communion with the saints. "It is not merely by the title of example that we cherish the memory of those in heaven; we seek, rather, that by this devotion to the exercise of fraternal charity the union of the whole Church in the Spirit may be strengthened. Exactly as Christian communion among our fellow pilgrims brings us closer to Christ, so our communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom as from its fountain and head issues all grace, and the life of the People of God itself"498: LG 50; cf. Eph 4:1-6.
We worship Christ as God's Son; we love the martyrs as the Lord's disciples and imitators, and rightly so because of their matchless devotion towards their king and master. May we also be their companions and fellow disciples!499
958 Communion with the dead. "In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and 'because it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins' she offers her suffrages for them."500 Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.
959 In the one family of God. "For if we continue to love one another and to join in praising the Most Holy Trinity - all of us who are sons of God and form one family in Christ - we will be faithful to the deepest vocation of the Church."501
Lumen Gentium 49 and 50:
49. Until the Lord shall come in His majesty, and all the angels with Him (266) and death being destroyed, all things are subject to Him,(277) some of His disciples are exiles on earth, some having died are purified, and others are in glory beholding "clearly God Himself triune and one, as He is";(1*) but all in various ways and degrees are in communion in the same charity of God and neighbor and all sing the same hymn of glory to our God. For all who are in Christ, having His Spirit, form one Church and cleave together in Him.(268) Therefore the union of the wayfarers with the brethren who have gone to sleep in the peace of Christ is not in the least weakened or interrupted, but on the contrary, according to the perpetual faith of the Church, is strengthened by communication of spiritual goods.(2*) For by reason of the fact that those in heaven are more closely united with Christ, they establish the whole Church more firmly in holiness, lend nobility to the worship which the Church offers to God here on earth and in many ways contribute to its greater edification.(269)(3*) For after they have been received into their heavenly home and are present to the Lord,(270) through Him and with Him and in Him they do not cease to intercede with the Father for us,(4*) showing forth the merits which they won on earth through the one Mediator between God and man,(271) serving God in all things and filling up in their flesh those things which are lacking of the sufferings of Christ for His Body which is the Church.(272)(5*) Thus by their brotherly interest our weakness is greatly strengthened.
50. Fully conscious of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the pilgrim Church from the very first ages of the Christian religion has cultivated with great piety the memory of the dead,(6*) and "because it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins",(273) also offers suffrages for them. The Church has always believed that the apostles and Christ's martyrs who had given the supreme witness of faith and charity by the shedding of their blood, are closely joined with us in Christ, and she has always venerated them with special devotion, together with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the holy angels.(7*) The Church has piously implored the aid of their intercession. To these were soon added also those who had more closely imitated Christ's virginity and poverty,(8*) and finally others whom the outstanding practice of the Christian virtues (9*) and the divine charisms recommended to the pious devotion and imitation of the faithful.(10*)
When we look at the lives of those who have faithfully followed Christ, we are inspired with a new reason for seeking the City that is to come (274) and at the same time we are shown a most safe path by which among the vicissitudes of this world, in keeping with the state in life and condition proper to each of us, we will be able to arrive at perfect union with Christ, that is, perfect holiness. (11*) In the lives of those who, sharing in our humanity, are however more perfectly transformed into the image of Christ,(275) God vividly manifests His presence and His face to men. He speaks to us in them, and gives us a sign of His Kingdom,(12*) to which we are strongly drawn, having so great a cloud of witnesses over us (276) and such a witness to the truth of the Gospel.
Nor is it by the title of example only that we cherish the memory of those in heaven, but still more in order that the union of the whole Church may be strengthened in the Spirit by the practice of fraternal charity.(277) For just as Christian communion among wayfarers brings us closer to Christ, so our companionship with the saints joins us to Christ, from Whom as from its Fountain and Head issues every grace and the very life of the people of God.(13*) It is supremely fitting, therefore, that we love those friends and coheirs of Jesus Christ, who are also our brothers and extraordinary benefactors, that we render due thanks to God for them (14*) and "suppliantly invoke them and have recourse to their prayers, their power and help in obtaining benefits from God through His Son, Jesus Christ, who is our Redeemer and Saviour."(15*) For every genuine testimony of love shown by us to those in heaven, by its very nature tends toward and terminates in Christ who is the "crown of all saints,"(16*) and through Him, in God Who is wonderful in his saints and is magnified in them.(17*)
Our union with the Church in heaven is put into effect in its noblest manner especially in the sacred Liturgy, wherein the power of the Holy Spirit acts upon us through sacramental signs. Then, with combined rejoicing we celebrate together the praise of the divine majesty;(18*) then all those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (278) who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ and gathered together into one Church, with one song of praise magnify the one and triune God. Celebrating the Eucharistic sacrifice therefore, we are most closely united to the Church in heaven in communion with and venerating the memory first of all of the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, of Blessed Joseph and the blessed apostles and martyrs and of all the saints.(19*)
Pope JP II on praying for the dead and asking their intercession.
A. Arguments from Scripture
Omitting some passages in the Old Testament which are sometimes invoked, but which are too vague and uncertain in their reference to be urged in proof (v.g. Tobias, iv, 18; Ecclus., vii, 37; etc.), it is enough to notice here the classical passage in II Machabees, xii, 40-46. When Judas and his men came to take away for burial the bodies of their brethren who had fallen in the battle against Gorgias, "they found under the coats of the slain some of the donaries of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbiddeth to the Jews: so that all plainly saw, that for this cause they were slain. Then they all blessed the just judgment of the Lord, who had discovered the things that were hidden. And so betaking themselves to prayers, they besought him, that the sin which had ben committed might be forgotten...And making a gathering, he [Judas] sent twelve [al. two] drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection (for if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead), and because he considered that they who had fallen asleep in godliness, had great grace laid up for them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins." For Catholics who accept this book as canonical, this passage leaves nothing to be desired. The inspired author expressly approves Judas's action in this particular case, and recommends in general terms the practice of prayers for the dead. There is no contradiction in the particular case between the conviction that a sin had been committed, calling down the penalty of death, and the hope that the sinners had nevertheless died in godliness -- an opportunity for penance had intervened.
But even for those who deny the inspired authority of this book, unequivocal evidence is here furnished of the faith and practice of the Jewish Church in the second century B.C. -- that is to say, of the orthodox Church, for the sect of the Sadducees denied the resurrection (and, by implication at least, the general doctrine of immortality), and it would seem from the argument of which the author introduces in his narrative that he had Sadducean adversaries in mind. The act of Judas and his men in praying for their deceased comrades is represented as if it were a matter of course; nor is there anything to suggest that the procuring of sacrifices for the dead was a novel or exceptional thing; from which it is fair to conclude that the practice -- both private and liturgical -- goes back beyond the time of Judas, but how far we cannot say. It is reasonable also to assume, in the absence of positive proof to the contrary, that this practice was maintained in later times, and that Christ and the Apostles were familiar with it; and whatever other evidence is available from Talmudic and other sources strongly confirms this assumption, if it does not absolutely prove it as a fact (see, v.g., Luckock, "After Death", v, pp. 50 sq.). This is worth noting because it helps us to understand the true significance of Christ's silence on the subject -- if it be held on the incomplete evidence of the Gospels that He was indeed altogether silent -- and justifies us in regarding the Christian practice as an inheritance from orthodox Judaism.
We have said that there is no clear and explicit Scriptural text in favour of prayers for the dead, except the above text of II Machabees. Yet there are one or two sayings of Christ recorded by the Evangelists, which are most naturally interpreted as containing an implicit reference to a purgatorial state after death; and in St. Paul's Epistles a passage of similar import occurs, and one or two other passages that bear directly on the question of prayers for the dead. When Christ promises forgiveness for all sins that a man may commit except the sin against the Holy Ghost, which "shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world nor in the world to come" (Matthew 12:31-32), is the concluding phrase nothing more than a periphrastic equivalent for "never"? Or, if Christ meant to emphasize the distinction of worlds, is "the world to come" to be understood, not of the life after death, but of the Messianic age on earth as imagined and expected by the Jews? Both interpretations have been proposed; but the second is far-fetched and decidedly improbable (cf. Mark 3:29); while the first, though admissible, is less obvious and less natural than that which allows the implied question at least to remain: May sins be forgiven in the world to come? Christ's hearers believed in this possibility, and, had He Himself wished to deny it, He would hardly have used a form of expression which they would naturally take to be a tacit admission of their belief. Precisely the same argument applies to the words of Christ regarding the debtor who is cast into prison, from which he shall not go out till he has paid the last farthing (Luke 12:59).
Passing over the well-known passage, 1 Corinthians 3:14 sq., on which an argument for purgatory may be based, attention may be called to another curious text in the same Epistle (15:29), where St. Paul argues thus in favour of the resurrection: "Otherwise what shall they do that are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not again at all? Why are they then baptized form them?" Even assuming that the practice here referred to was superstitious, and that St. Paul merely uses it as the basis of an argumentum ad hominem, the passage at least furnishes historical evidence of the prevalence at the time of belief in the efficacy of works for the dead; and the Apostle's reserve in not reprobating this particular practice is more readily intelligible if we suppose him to have recognized the truth of the principle of which it was merely an abuse. But it is probable that the practice in question was something in itself legitimate, and to which the Apostle gives his tacit approbation. In his Second Epistle to Timothy (1:16-18; 4:19) St. Paul speaks of Onesiphorus in a way that seems obviously to imply that the latter was already dead: "The Lord give mercy to the house of Onesiphorus" -- as to a family in need of consolation. Then, after mention of loyal services rendered by him to the imprisoned Apostle at Rome, comes the prayer for Onesiphorus himself, "The Lord grant unto him to find mercy of the Lord in that day" (the day of judgment); finally, in the salutation, "the household of Onesiphorus" is mentioned once more, without mention of the man himself. The question is, what had become of him? Was he dead, as one would naturally infer from what St. Paul writes? Or had he for any other cause become separated permanently from his family, so that prayer for them should take account of present needs while prayers for him looked forward to the day of judgment? Or could it be that he was still at Rome when the Apostle wrote, or gone elsewhere for a prolonged absence from home? The first is by far the easiest and most natural hypothesis; and if it be admitted, we have here an instance of prayer by the Apostle for the soul of a deceased benefactor.