Question: Do Episcopalians pray for the dead, or not?
This is the kind of question that can frustrate someone who is new to the Anglican tradition. Do we pray for the dead? I would answer that many do, others don’t, and perhaps some should. Our answer to the question can range from the very Catholic end of the spectrum all the way to the very Protestant end.
Throughout church history, wise theologians and pastors have stopped short of naming, defining, or insisting on what happens after death. Some churches have used the term “purgatory,” but such a term can be misleading in that it suggests a physical place, a kind of “holding place” between life here and life eternal. Others have preferred to think of this intermediate state as a way of being, a time or dimension between this life and the next. The belief or hope that there is a transition time after death comes less from theologians than it does from deep within the human heart. Prayers for the dead flow naturally out of love.
I pray for the dead. When someone dies, I pray for “the repose of their soul,” which is to pray that God would surround the person with love, light, laughter, and peace and that whatever happens between this life and the next, the person would know of God’s love and our intention for good, for healing, and for life. Sometimes I pray for the dead when I happen to think of someone, or when I see something that reminds me of the person, when I eat their favorite food, hear their favorite music, or even sense their presence in some way. I pray for their guidance, their strength, and their faith.
The Communion of Saints works like a symphony of love: the saints pray for us even as we pray for them. The feasts of All Saints and All Souls offer us particular times to pray for the dead and in some ways, the veil that separates us from those who have died seems thinnest this time of year. Whatever your belief or practice, I pray that Christ would comfort you in your prayers and your memories of all the faithful departed.