The Catholic Church has always prayed for the dead, basing the practice on passages from the Bible and from the Church's earliest traditions. Every liturgical celebration in the Roman Catholic Church has an Opening Prayer. In the majority of Masses, it is a prayer of petition that asks God for a particular virtue. The Opening Prayer for the Mass of Christian Burial petitions God to accept the deceased into Heaven. Although the prayers are formulaic, there is some flexibility to choose an Opening Prayer that is specific to the deceased, such as a child, someone who was elderly or someone who was married.
General Prayer for the Dead
The Catholic Church's Prayers for the Dead are all rooted in the theological virtue of hope. Because we cannot know the state of another person’s soul at the moment of death, the Church—firm in the hope of Christ’s saving grace for all sinners—errs on the side of grace, and hopes for that person's salvation.
God of faithfulness, in your wisdom you have called your servant [Name] out of this world; release him/her from the bonds of sin, and welcome him/her into your presence, so that he/she may enjoy eternal light and peace and be raised up in glory with all your saints. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Another General Prayer for the Dead
Celebrants of Catholic Funeral Masses are advised not to eulogize the deceased, but rather to affirm the Church's teachings about death and salvation. Such an approach is not detached from the reality that the deceased's loved ones are experiencing. Rather, the approach maintains the tension between presuming upon God's grace and receiving the salvation that the Scriptures promise.
Into your hands, O Lord, we humbly entrust our brother/sister [Name]. In this life you embraced him/her with your tender love; deliver him/her now from every evil and bid him/her enter eternal rest. The old order has passed away: welcome him/her then into paradise, where there will be no sorrow, no weeping nor pain, but the fullness of peace and joy with your Son and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.
A Young Person
One of the most tragic experiences in this life is the death of a child. This Opening Prayer acknowledges not only deep grief, but also a deeper belief in loving providence. The prayer does not attempt to reconcile the two extremes, but rather, it sets the death of a child against the backdrop of a loving God.
Lord God, source and destiny of our lives, in your loving providence you gave us [Name] to grow in wisdom, age, and grace. Now you have called him/her to yourself. As we grieve over the loss of one so young, we seek to understand your purpose. Draw him/her to yourself and give him/her full stature in Christ. May he/she stand with all the angels and saints who know your love and praise your saving will. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
One Who Has Died After a Long Illness
For deaths that occur after a lengthy illness, there is an Opening Prayer that acknowledges the suffering of the deceased.
Most faithful God, lively is the courage of those who hope in you. Your servant [Name] suffered greatly but placed his/her trust in your mercy. Confident that the petition of those who mourn pierces the clouds and finds an answer, we beg you, give rest to [Name]. Do not remember his/her sins but look upon his/her sufferings and grant him/her refreshment, light, and peace. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images