Roman Catholic Church
In the West there is ample evidence of the custom of praying for the dead in the inscriptions of the catacombs, with their constant prayers for the peace and refreshment of the souls of the departed and in the early liturgies, which commonly contain commemorations of the dead; and Tertullian, Cyprian and other early Western Fathers witness to the regular practice of praying for the dead.
The West felt that it was inappropriate to pray "for" the martyrs, since they were believed to be in no need of such prayers. Theoretically, too, prayer for those in hell (understood as the abode of the eternally lost) would be useless, but since there is no certainty that any particular person is in hell understood in that sense, prayers were and are offered for all the dead, except for those believed to be in heaven. These are prayed to, not for. Thus, prayers were and are offered for all those in Hades, a word that refers to the abode of the dead who are not known to be in heaven, but that is sometimes rendered as "hell". With the development of the doctrine of purgatory, the dead prayed for were spoken of as being in purgatory and, in view of the certainty that by the process of purification and with the help of the prayers of the faithful they were destined for heaven, they were referred to as the "holy souls".
Limits were placed on public offering of Mass for the unbaptised and notorious sinners, but prayers and even Mass in private could be said for them. The present Code of Canon Law states that, unless the person concerned gave some signs of repentance before death, no form of funeral Mass may be offered for notorious apostates, heretics and schismatics; those who for anti-Christian motives chose that their bodies be cremated; and other manifest sinners to whom a Church funeral could not be granted without public scandal to the faithful.
On the other hand, "provided their own minister is not available, baptised persons belonging to a non-catholic Church or ecclesial community may, in accordance with the prudent judgement of the local Ordinary, be allowed Church funeral rites, unless it is established that they did not wish this."
During the slaughter of the First World War, Pope Benedict XV on 10 August 1915, allowed all priests everywhere to say three Masses on All Souls' Day. The two extra Masses were in no way to benefit the priest himself: one was to be offered for all the faithful departed, the other for the Pope's intentions, which at that time were presumed to be for all the victims of that war. The permission remains.
Each Eucharistic Prayer of the Order of Mass has a prayer for the departed.
The Church of England's 1549 Book of the Common Prayer still had prayer for the dead, as (in the Communion Service): "We commend into thy mercy all other thy servants, which are departed hence from us with the sign of faith and now do rest in the sleep of peace: grant unto them, we beseech thee, thy mercy and everlasting peace." But since 1552 the Book of Common Prayer has no express prayers for the dead, and the practice is denounced in the Homily "On Prayer" (part 3). Nonjurors included prayers for the dead, a practice that spread within the Church of England in the mid-nineteenth century, and was authorized in 1900 for forces serving in South Africa and since then in other forms of service. Many jurisdictions and parishes of the Anglo-Catholic tradition continue to practice prayer for the dead, including offering the Sunday liturgy for the peace of named departed Christians and the keeping of All Soul's Day.
 Protestant churches
The sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation continued at first the traditional custom of praying for the dead, but before long came to denounce it, partly because they believed it to be without biblical foundation, partly through their rejection of the doctrine of purgatory and the practices associated with it. Prayer for the dead is still avoided by those of marked Evangelical belief.
 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church)
The LDS Church has a number of sacred ordinances and rituals that are performed for the dead. The chief amongst these are baptism for the dead and the sealing of the dead to families. These practices are based upon multiple New Testament scriptures, some of which are 1 Corinthians 15:29-32, Matthew 16:19
Question: "What does the Bible say about praying to / speaking to the dead?"
Answer: Praying to the dead is strictly forbidden in the Bible. Deuteronomy 18:11 tells us that anyone who “consults with the dead” is “detestable to the Lord.” The story of Saul consulting a medium to bring up the spirit of the dead Samuel resulted in his death “because he was unfaithful to the LORD; he did not keep the word of the LORD and even consulted a medium for guidance” (1 Samuel 28:1-25; 1 Chronicles 10:13-14). Clearly, God has declared that such things are not to be done.
Consider the characteristics of God. God is omnipresent—everywhere at once—and is capable of hearing every prayer in the world (Psalm 139:7-12). A human being, on the other hand, does not possess this attribute. Also, God is the only one with the power to answer prayer. In this regard, God is omnipotent—all powerful (Revelation 19:6). Certainly this is an attribute a human being—dead or alive—does not possess. Finally, God is omniscient—He knows everything (Psalm 147:4-5). Even before we pray, God knows our genuine needs and knows them better than we do. Not only does He know our needs, but He answers our prayers according to His perfect will.
So, in order for a dead person to receive prayers, the dead individual has to hear the prayer, possess the power to answer it, and know how to answer it in a way that is best for the individual praying. Only God hears and answers prayer because of His perfect essence. This perfect essence includes what some theologians call “immanence.” Immanence is the doctrine that affirms God is directly involved with the affairs of mankind (1 Timothy 6:14-15), which includes answering prayer.
Even after a person dies, God is still involved with that person and his destination. Hebrews 9:27 says so: “…Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” If a person dies in Christ, he goes to heaven to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:1-9, especially verse 8); if a person dies in his sin, he goes to hell, and eventually everyone in hell will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15).
A person suffering in agony will not be able to hear or answer a prayer, nor will a person who is living in heavenly bliss with God. If we pray to someone and they are in eternal agony, should we expect them to be able to hear and answer our prayers? Likewise, a person in heaven has no concern for that which is on earth, so should we expect him to be concerned for my temporal problems? God has provided His Son, Jesus Christ, to be the mediator between man and God (1 Timothy 2:5). Since Jesus Christ is the mediator between the two parties, we can go through Jesus to God. Since we can go through the Son of God, why would we want to go through a sinful dead individual, especially when doing so risks the wrath of God?
Prayers for the Faithful Departed
Prayer for the dead is one of the greatest acts of charity we can perform. Our prayers help them during their time in Purgatory, so that they can enter more quickly into the fullness of heaven. These prayers are especially suited for offering a novena on behalf of the dead, or for praying during those seasons of the year (November, in the Western Church; Lent, in the Eastern Church) designated by the Church as times of fervent prayer for the faithful departed.
The De Profundis is a penitential psalm that is sung as part of vespers (evening prayer) and in commemorations of the dead. It is also a good psalm to express our sorrow as we prepare for the Sacrament of Confession.
Prayer for Mercy on the Souls in Purgatory
While we know that all who are in Purgatory will enter into Heaven, we are still bound by charity to try to lessen the suffering of the Holy Souls through our prayers and deeds. While our first responsibility is to those people we have known, it is important to remember in our prayers those souls who are most forsaken.
Article reprinted from Cross†Way Issue Autumn 2007 No. 106 (C)opyright Church Society; material may be used for non-profit purposes provided that the source is acknowledged and the text is not altered.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH PRAYING FOR THE DEAD? By David Phillips
Many of the argument against praying for the dead were well set out by Church Association in some of the Tracts produced in the 19th Century, a summary of which accompanies this article. However, many at the time and since tried to argue that whilst they did not believe in purgatory they still felt it was right to pray for the dead since it clearly has strong roots in tradition. Many prominent early Christians, such as Augustine, said they prayed for the dead and they clearly did not believe in purgatory. Even though Scripture does not commend the practice, should we still pray for the dead on the basis of tradition? We cannot ignore later history as if it never happened.
The practice of praying for the dead naturally implies that we can influence the present state of those who are dead. This in turn developed over time into the full-blown medieval theology of purgatory. It has not been argued that prayer can spring the lost from hell but it does spring from a failure to believe the heart of the gospel message. We are justified by faith in Christ, and stand or fall on this as is abundantly plain from passages such as John 3.18 and Mark 16.16. If, as came to be taught, our salvation depends in part upon our works, and our own righteousness then naturally we are left wondering about those who die with some faith, but apparently lacking in righteousness.
The doctrine of purgatory thus follows; some who have died in faith are nevertheless not yet pure when they die and thus there is a period of purification. This all makes logical sense if you fail to believe the basic fact that we are made righteous through faith in Christ, that His righteousness becomes our righteousness (what the reformers came to call - alien righteousness - it is not our own in origin).
In a time of great corruption the medieval Church turned this error into a means of gain; there was money to be made. It was taught that a mass said on behalf of a dead person (or a living for that matter) would help purify their soul, therefore the rich could endow chapels, churches and priests to perform this service both for dead relatives and for themselves when they died. It was taught that the saints, who had sufficient righteousness to go straight to heaven, also had some merit in reserve. This treasury of merit could be unlocked by the Church, and documents to this effect, called indulgences, could be bought. Thus sin was full grown, and it was against this gross teaching that the Reformers protested. All this shows the folly of building on something which has no basis in Scripture and goes against what Scripture teaches. Later history shows that tradition cannot justify this practice.
But it also makes no sense to pray for the dead. Augustine was a clear and lucid theologian but he prayed for his mother Veronica and when he tried to explain why his argument lacked all clarity.
The reason for his prayer was not reason, but sentiment and this is so often the case. People feel that they should pray for lost loved ones or even those, like Diana, whom they had never known.
Whilst we can understand how in grief people might think like this, it is not something to encourage because it is to foster a lie, we cannot influence the state of those who die. Moreover if people think they can, then they have missed the heart of the gospel. We should not deceive people but gently and firmly teach them the right path.
Reformed Christians are perfectly content to thank and praise God for those who have gone before in the faith. We thank God for loved ones whom in his grace and goodness He has brought into our path, and we thank God for those individuals who maybe long dead but who nevertheless have been a help and inspiration to us. But this too is turned on its head by some. They will argue that
speaking to God is prayer. Therefore thanking God for those who have died is prayer. So there is nothing wrong in prayer for the dead. This is a deceitful argument, but sadly it is used. The distinction of ‘thanks for’ and ‘prayer for’ seems lost and therefore sometimes for clarity it is necessary to state plainly that intercession for the dead is wrong.
The other common argument deployed is that we should pray for the dead because we are all part of the Communion of the Saints. It is even argued that protestants have lost sight of this concept and don’t pray for the dead because of some deficiency in our idea of the Church. But this too is a specious argument. We do have fellowship with those in glory, but it is a different fellowship to
those on earth. Those who have gone before are a cloud of witnesses, it is their example of faith that spurs us on. We are neither told to pray for them, nor that they pray for us. Rather it is faith that is set before us in Hebrews 11.
In all these arguments we need to return to Scripture. We believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, that it teaches us all things necessary for salvation (Article 6). Yet in all Scripture there is nothing that would make us think that prayer for the dead is necessary. Some would argue that though Scripture is silent we can justify the practice on the basis of tradition or reason. But both tradition and reason show us the contrary. It is not a neutral issue on which we are free to decide, rather prayer for the dead undermines the very heart of the gospel, that we are justified by faith in Christ alone.
David Phillips is General Secretary of Church Society.