Why and How to Pray for Deceased Loved Ones

November 1, 2012

Faith and Reasons

Photo/libertygrace0. Licensed under Creative Commons

A close friend’s unexpected death last year was devastating for me. As her casket was lowered into the ground on a spring afternoon, I felt she was gone forever.

She’s not gone though. Since her death I’ve frequently sensed her presence—in memories, through other people and most of all in prayer.

Praying for her soul is a natural continuation of our friendship because we prayed for each other when she was alive.

The Church teaches that believers remain connected—whether they’re in heaven, on earth or in purgatory, and that it is beneficial to pray for those who have died but are not canonized saints. Since this week we celebrate All Souls Day, here is a little background on the Nov. 2 feast day, some reasons to pray for your loved ones and prayers you can use, including the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

Praying for the Dead in the Early Church

Early Christians remembered and prayed for the dead, and the practice has continued since then. Different dioceses began adopting a formal feast day in the 11thcentury.

According to the Catechism, most of us who don’t merit hell yet still need purification before we can enter heaven will pass through a state the Church calls purgatory when we die. (CCC1030)  With our prayers we can help their loved ones’ souls move from purgatory to heaven.

There are several scriptural bases for praying for the dead. One of them is found in the second book of Maccabees, one of a series of books in Catholic bibles that the Church recognizes as the apocrypha. In the story of a military commander who offers prayers and sacrifice for his dead soldiers (2 Macc. 12:38-45), it is clear that the living can help the dead: “for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death.” (2 Macc. 12:44)

In Romans 8:37-39, St. Paul echoed this idea when he wrote that nothing can separate us, “neither life nor death” from the love of God.

The Divine Mercy and the Poor Souls

There are many ways to help your deceased loved ones. One way is by praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet for them. A chaplet is a series of prayers that can be prayed on rosary or other beads. This chaplet doesn’t just benefit the living and the dying. According to Dr. Robert Stackpole the chaplet’s power is based on the Passion of Christ by which He merited every saving and sanctifying grace for the world and on the prayer offered with sincere trust in the Divine Mercy.

How to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

Other chaplets for the Poor Souls in Purgatory:

The De Profundis is the penitential Psalm 130 (in some bibles Psalm 129) which is prayed as part of evening prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and also in commemorations of the dead. Each time you pray the De Profundis, you can receive a partial indulgence for yourself (the remission of a portion of punishment for sin).

More Ways to Pray

During November, there are more opportunities to help the Poor Souls by gaining indulgences that are only applicable to them.

  • Visit a Cemetery: obtain a partial indulgence by praying at a cemetery during November or a plenary indulgence for visiting a cemetery each day between Nov. 1 and Nov. 8.
  • Visit a Church or Public Oratory on Nov. 2: obtain a plenary indulgence after devoutly reciting the Our Father and the Creed.
  • Pray the Eternal Rest (Requiem aeternam): Obtain a partial indulgence year round, when reciting Requiem aeternam dona ei (eis), Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei (eis). Requiescat (-ant) in pace Amen. In English: Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them May they and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
  • Finally, here is an extensive list of prayers.
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About Susan Klemond

I'm a freelance writer who enjoys writing about the Catholic Faith, local issues and people. I love the challenge of learning about the Church and discovering the reasons behind her teachings.

View all posts by Susan Klemond
  • kathyschneeman

    Thanks for this information, Susan. Tomorrow some family and friends and I visit the grave of our friend who passed away 10 years ago Nov 2. This gives me some ideas for when we gather and then celebrate her life over food cooked with her recipes.

    • Susan

      That sounds like such a great way to remember a loved one. Is that an Irish custom? Have a blessed day.

  • tiolorf

    Hi Susan,

    At a Protestant Church that I attended in the ‘Cities a number of years ago, we had a Worship Service on the Sunday after All Hallow’s Eve where we intentionally remembered loved ones who had passed. People brought pictures and displayed them in the lobby with a note of explanation. The songs and the message were centered around helping us remember well their meaning in our lives. I looked forward to that service each year.

    Yesterday, I celebrated All Saints Day in my own way with my own rules . . . . I just remembered and prayed for family and friends who died or that I missed very much. Among them were Ray L and John S – they are strangely closer in my thoughts now that when I knew them when they were alive.

    I like your idea of intentionally visiting a cemetery and praying. I generally only visit by chance, say, on a walk with the family. I need to take more seriously the adage from Ecclesiastes (7:3) about the sad face being good for the heart.


    • Susan

      I think it’s healing to remember and pray for loved ones. It’s great that you do that, too. I’m glad we have the hope of being reunited with them. I heard recently that we will have eternity to grow in our relationships with those we love–without the sin and flaws that can get in the way now.
      I agree that visiting cemeteries is a good practice. I plan to visit my friend’s grave but while I’m there I try to pray for the other people whose graves I notice. As Catholics we believe they may also be praying for us from where they are.


    Is it a sin to pray to the Virgin Mary and other dead saints?

    Matthew 4:10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go Satan! For it is written,’ “You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’ ”

    Praying to any person or anything is worship.

    WORSHIP DEFINED: To revere, stressing the feeling of awe or devotion. Adoring reverence or regard.

    Any worship of anyone or anything other than God is sin.

    The Virgin Mary is not God nor does she have the power to grant petitions of prayer. If men could pray to dead saints and get them answered, then why not pray to saint Moses, saint John The Baptist, saint Abraham, saint Job, saint Enoch, saint The Thief on The Cross or any other dead saint?

    Dead people cannot hear your prayers and if they could they would not have the power to answer them.

    Prayer is worship and only God deserves our worship.

    God knows our every thought. God is aware of every sin we commit. God knows our every move.

    God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. Those are the attributes of God and what you would need in order to answer prayer.

    Neither the Virgin Mary, Moses, John The Baptist nor any other dead saint has the attributes of God. They cannot hear you nor can they answer YOUR PRAYERS.


    YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY CHRISTIAN BLOG. Google search >>> steve finnell a christian view

    • CommonSenseThoughts

      It think it is very disrespectful of you to make WRONGLY informed comments / statements on a Catholic site…and to bash our beliefs due to your lack of knowledge…and especially putting a limit on God!
      Our souls are ETERNAL from the moment of conception.
      God Breathes His Spirit of eternal life.
      Our body dies, but not our soul.
      All who pass away in the Lord, their souls are in Heaven…very much alive!…in God’s Presence.
      Therefore, Our Blessed Mother, the canonized saints, and our loved ones…who are saints too….are citizens of Heaven >>NOT dead!<>>>Catholics worship and serve ONLY God!<<<<
      We HONOR the holy souls, who are in favor with God…..who can and do pray for us. We are a community.
      You really need to join an RCIA program…where you will learn the Truth……and will also stop accusing others of sin!…for you do NOT have that right!
      The Holy Spirit is the ONLY ONE who can accuses of sin!

    • Kanwal Rahman

      In Islam it is the same thing although I am guilty of visiting shrines of ancient saints who came to India to preach Islam/The Unity of God, but I try to keep my prayers directed to God and pray for the saint’s soul and ask a favor in his name as he was a servant of God’s.

      • Debbie Parisi

        It’s not necessary to pray for saint’s souls since they are already in heaven with God. We ask them to pray for us and our loved ones (living and deceased), so we can be with Him, too.

    • Debbie Parisi

      So you have never prayed for a friend or loved one? That’s intercessory prayer. Christians of all stripes do it all the time. It’s the same thing that Catholics do when we ask Mary, the angels and saints to pray on our behalf (we are not worshipping them). As Christians, we believe in eternal life. We are alive in Christ, not dead in Him. So it makes perfect sense to ask those that are closest to Him to pray for us…especially His mother, who is right by His side in Heaven.

  • Check Shyong Quek

    I would really like to know if anyone out
    there has had the same experience as I did. I am a Christian and did not know
    and would not have believed this 40 day-visitation of the soul until my mum
    passed away in December last year. The first week or during the 9 days after
    her passing, there were signs that she came to visit me by unmistakable smells
    and fragrance. The first one was the unmistakable smell of my mother with her
    skin moisturizer; the second one was the same smell plus fragrance of a flower
    which I did not really know what kind of flower it was. The third time which
    lasted the longest, about 6 to 8 seconds was totally the fragrance of the
    flower which was a strong fragrance. The next day I went to my friend’s house
    and his friend who was staying with him got to know about this and went to my
    friend’s garden and brought back some flowers which is JASMINE and it was
    exactly 100% the fragrance I experienced the night before. After that, I am a
    total believer in this 40 day-visitation. My church actually forbids us to
    believe in all this and told us that the soul sleeps after death until
    resurrection day but now I Know this is not true – the soul does visit their
    loved-ones and give signs to try to comfort them. I am comforted by the signs
    but I am still in great agony because the loss is real in a physical sense
    where I could not see her physically anymore and I do not have the chance
    anymore to care for her, cook for her, wash her laundry, buy her favourite
    foods, etc.. And now that she is gone, I only realized that it was a privilege
    and enjoyment to serve her while she was alive because we enjoyed talking to
    each other very much and she was always there for me no matter what! And I will
    always remember that My Mother is the only person in the world that truly loves
    me unconditionally.

    • Kate

      Theses are signs from heaven letting you know that your mother is there and safe. They may or may not be from your mom (guardian angel), but they are definitely from The Lord. Even know your mother’s physical body is gone, her spirit is with you stronger than ever. Even death can not stop your mother’s love for you. Just put your faith in The Lord and He will provide you everything you need. You can also try praying the divine mercy to be relieved of your grief. God Bless

    • Marco Cell

      Hi, I am a christian too, probably the worst christian ever, the kind that doubt everything and all, had signs too when my dad passed away, he prayed hours each day and went to church 7 times a week, I think its a sign from heaven too so I beleive, god bless you all

  • Paul

    The church does not call it “apocrypha.” The church just calls it scripture. Apocrypha is a derogatory name which implies that it is not true. The book of Maccabees is just as scriptural and infallible as any other book in the bible. Only the enemies of the church have historically called those books “apocryphal.”

    • Jim

      Well said, well informed Catholic. It’s scary how many Catholics don’t have a clue about their faith. The reason being they are just too lazy to study it. It is the perpetually protesting Protestants who have down graded Sacred Scripture by self-declaring that Maccabees is not infallible scripture, but merely placed in the Holy Bible for personal edification or historical knowledge. It’s sort of like placing a steering wheel in an automobile as a mere decoration.

  • Varghese Abraham

    Dear my brothers/sisters,

    Did God/Holy Bible tell you tot observe Sunday as Lord’s day? or for that matter anything that we all do day to day? Simply No….then what? We are following certain customs and traditions passed on to us. Similarly, remembrance of our departed souls, seeking the intercession of our saints became inheritance.

    But we know that “departed soul’s are conscious”. that they can see,speak,feel etc. but physically they are not visible. Pls. see the following references: many people argue on this point because they are ignorant, rather stubborn. Pls. read:

    Mark 12:24, Matthew 22:29: Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God”

    Most of us speak or react to suit everyone’s convenience. But the Holy Book is very clear. Nowhere in the Bible, it says “we must pray for the departed souls or seek their intercessions”. At the same time no where in the Bible there is a restrictions on this.

    So what is there? What must we do? Study and Holy scriptures, and Holy Traditions of our forefathers and follow their footpaths.

    There are clear and precise indications in the Holy Bible that it was a tradition for pray for the departed souls and seek the intercessions of saints. I am quoting some, and will come up with more later on..

    For example,

    Deuteronomy 34:8: Israel mourning for Moses,
    Numbers 20:29-mourn for Joshua,
    1 Samuel 25:1-Mourning for Samuel,
    Genesis 50:10 Joseph Mourned for his father,
    Genesis 50:25-Joseph asked his sons to take his bones.
    Joshua 24:32- Joshua took Joseph’s Bones, and buried at Shechem.
    Hebrews 11:22 -By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelite and gave directions concerning his bones.
    Acts 7:16 -and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem,-
    Acts 8:2-mourn for Stephen

    Do you all think? they were simply weeping? NO..NO…they
    were with heavy hearts praying for the departed righteous souls.

    Now God remember the blood of his saints:

    Deut:21:1-9- scarifies for innocent bloodshed for what? (Rom; 12:19)let us pause and ask ourselves a question, though. Why was it that a town had to offer a sacrifice just because it was in the wrong place at the wrong time? Does righteous blood cry out for vengeance, and if this sacrifice were not done, would God have held a town responsible for the innocent blood found near there? According to the Bible, the answer appears to be yes. A town that did not care enough for innocent life to be able to sacrifice for it or swear to God their innocence in shedding innocent blood was not a town that God would view highly. Additionally, we have a consistent record within the Bible of righteous blood crying out for vengeance. Let us examine that record now.

    The departed saints are in conscious state, speaking to to God and speaking to them, although they are not in their physical state, but in spirit.:

    Revelation 6:9-11:(righteous cries in the presence of God) gives us another cry for vengeance from the blood of innocent martyrs: “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth.” Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.”

    Genesis 4:10-And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.

    What do you all think- his blood was crying? NO NO…it was his soul.

    Psalm 72:14-God thinks of the blood of his children- From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.

    Hebrews 11:4- By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.

    Psalm 9:12-For he who avenges blood is mindful of them; he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

    Job 24:12- From out of the city the dying groan, and the soul of the wounded cries for help; yet God charges no one with wrong .

    Finally Jesus, said “ whoever eats my body and drinks my blood shall never die, even if he dies, and those who believe in me shall never die, even if he dies.

    What more you all want….we live not only now, but forever.

    There are more to come, pls. respond with your findings.