St Augustine of Hippo on Prayer for the Dead

November is the month of profound Church unity. Not that between the Catholic Church and our separated brethren, but that between the Church Militant on earth, the Church Triumphant in heaven, and the Church Penitent in Purgatory.

Yesterday the Church Militant solemnly celebrated the great cloud of witnesses, both known and unknown to us, who stand before the Throne of God, the Church Triumphant united with Christ, its Head; as well, we called upon these, our fellows in heaven, to pray for us still struggling on the journey. Today the Church Militant recalls to mind and to prayer those who, having passed from this life, are being made ready to enter into the heavenly places, being made holy by God’s grace and the intercession of their brethren in heaven and on earth, so that they might attain to the holiness without which no one can see God (Hebrews 12:14).

This is the deepest unity of the Church – the visible with the invisible, the heavenly with the earthly, the perfected with the imperfect – all of whom together make up the great Mystical Body of Christ which is the Church, the Communion of Saints. November is the month the Church sets aside for us to to devote with renewed fervour our concern for this complete Church, beseeching our brethren in heaven to intercede for us and our brethren undergoing the pains of final sanctification. It is a wonderful example of the mysterious balance between the primacy of God’s grace and the necessity of our works in cooperation with that grace.

This is nothing new, nor repugnant to Scripture, despite the Reformers’ protests to the contrary. Just one witness among many is the great St Augustine. In one of his sermons we find encouragement for us to continue our spiritual works of mercy in praying for the dead, and giving alms for them as well (for of course, one day we shall be among them):

However, there is no doubt that the dead are helped by the prayers of holy Church, by the saving sacrifice, and by alms dispensed for their souls; these things are done that they may be more mercifully dealt with by the Lord than their sins deserve.

The whole Church observes the custom handed down by our fathers: that those who died within the fellowship of Christ’s body and blood should be prayed for when they are commemorated in their own place at the holy sacrifice, and that we should be reminded that this sacrifice is offered for them as well. When these acts of mercy are solemnly performed for their sake, who can doubt that we are truly giving them our support? The prayers we offer to God for them are not futile. We must not waver in our belief that they are profitable to the dead, to those of the dead at least who have lived in such a way before death that these things can be useful to them afterwards…

… people whose love for their dead is spiritual as well as physical should pay much greater, more careful and more earnest attention to those things – sacrifices, prayers, and almsgiving – which can assist them who though their bodies may be dead are still alive in the spirit.

(St Augustine, Sermon 172)


Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord,

and let perpetual light shine upon them.

May they rest in peace. Amen

PS I wrote about All Souls last year as well!

3 thoughts on “St Augustine of Hippo on Prayer for the Dead

  1. Very helpful, thank you Fr Hugh. I recently posted something at my blog on Sts Augustine and Monica wondering about this topic. Greetings from the Middle East. Pray for the salvation of Muslims here.


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