Praying for the Dead: A Solidarity of Hope

My heart goes to those whose loved ones have died in the recent fires in California, in their aftermath as well as in so many terrible acts of violence. Clearly, those of us who are close to these awful events cannot be indifferent and we must find ways to relieve the suffering of the living. But what about the plight of those who have died? Does our faith in Christ allow us to offer them relief and aid in their final journey to the House of the Father? If so, then we must pray for them, and for the friends and family that they have left behind.

We are implicated in each other’s mysterious journey to God, even after death. We believe this because of the resurrection of the Lord from the dead and the reality of the Church in which Christ has established. Christ’s own body and blood, soul and divinity are not remote from us, but given to us, even to the point that we nourish ourselves on Him and are made His members.

Hence, joined together in Him, in His Body, the Church, we go where the Risen Lord leads–and He always leads to a deeper solidarity, He in us and we in Him. Having blazed the trail from the valley of death to the Father’s House, He is the Way from the depths of sin to the highest heavens. He leads us from the visible to the invisible, from time to eternity, from what seems senseless to what is most meaningful. No one can thwart His purpose.

As members of His Body, we trod this trail by a communion of prayers. This solidarity of hope includes prayers of our own and also of those who pray for us, and every prayer echoes with the cry that lives in the Heart of Christ. Whether we live or die, no power in heaven or on earth or beneath this world can break this communion of prayer. Indeed, when we pray and when others pray for us–it is truly our Immortal Lord praying in us. Wherever there is a reason for hope,  no matter how difficult the journey, who will set limits on the desires of His Heart or circumscribe the love He bears for each soul, especially those whose last moments seem eclipsed by agony?

By a communion of prayer, we journey in Him with one another from the first moment of faith until we arrive at last in the light of glory. By the simplest movement of the heart and even the faintest effort to cling to Him, a happy ending awaits us even if in death everything seems engulfed meaninglessness. It is not a movement we ever make on our own, but it is our own decision nonetheless, even as myriads of hosts rush to protect it and help it realize its hope. Thus, at death, when we are no longer able to journey on our own, His prayer through the Church carries us onward.

Love requires many difficult purifications and painful healings before we can stand before the face of the One who loved us to the end. No unaided human effort can endure these trials of love. Yet, we never face these alone, but always in the Church with Christ’s gentle presence and His mighty prayer. Because He conquered death and because we are members of His Body, death cannot stand between us and the love of God. If Christ’s prayer has triumphed over sin and death, then when Christ prays through us in His Church for our brothers and sisters who have died, whatever He asks for on their behalf is heard and granted by the Father.

By this exquisite solidarity of prayer, the Bride of Christ knows the way to the Bridegroom in both life and death. She knows this path to love. She knows it by love and She knows it for love. She knows even as it disappears from our sight at the last moments of this life. Though we cannot see it, the Body of Christ knows the passage that crosses the very threshold of heaven. Christ Himself bridges this abyss. Therefore, the Bride of the Lamb dares to pray, even for those who have died, by prayer that participates in Christ’s own prayer. With a newness that this dying world cannot know, we who are bound together in the Church traverse with each soul the wounds of sin, covered by the blood of the Lamb and His own unvanquished hope, to enter the healing heart of the Trinity.

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Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

About Anthony Lilles

Anthony Lilles, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, completed his graduate and post-graduate studies in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas. He and his lovely wife, Agnes, are blessed with three children and live in California, where he is the Academic Dean, and Associate Professor of Theology, St. John’s Seminary, Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and Academic Advisor for Queen of Angels House of Priestly Formation for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. For over twenty years, Dr. Lilles worked for the Denver Archdiocese directing parish religious education, R.C.I.A. and youth ministry, as well as serving as Director of the Office of Liturgy for the Archdiocese and as Coordinator of Spiritual Formation for the permanent diaconate. In 1999, he became a founding faculty member of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary where he was Academic Dean for nine years and Associate Professor of Theology. He is a Board Member for the Society of Catholic Liturgy.

Dr. Lilles has provided graduate level courses on a variety of topics including the Eucharist, the Sacraments of Healing, Church History, Spiritual Theology, Spiritual Direction and on various classics of Catholic Spirituality. His expertise is in the spiritual doctrine of Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity and the Carmelite Doctors of the Church: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In 2012, Discerning Hearts published his book “Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer,” a compilation of discussions with seminarians, students, and contemplatives about the spiritual life. He collaborated with Dan Burke on the books “30 Days with Teresa of Avila” and Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Therese of Lisieux. And, his book “Fire from Above” was published in 2016. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute. He blogs at

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

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