QUAERITUR: Masses for dead Protestants

From a reader:

I was reading your post regarding “Masses for things instead of for people”. I remeber reading The Prophecies of Anne Catherine Emmerich, and reading this: ‘more Protestant souls stayed in Purgatory the longest not because they were worse than anyone else, but because so few people prayed for the repose of their souls or offered up Masses for their soul.’

Since both my parents were Protestant, would it be permissible to have a Mass said for them? I mentioned this to one priest who used to be at our parish and he didn’t seem too keen on the idea, although he never gave a direct ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Yes!  It is not only permissible, it is laudable to pray for the dead, Catholic, non-Catholic, Christian, non-Christian.

It is a work of mercy to pray for the dead.

People don’t have to be Catholic for us to pray for them…. early and often.

Also, this is not about having a funeral for non-Catholics.  That is a different matter.

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  1. Pater OSB says:

    I have often offered Mass for non-Catholics, whether my own friends and family or those of others. Sometimes in a condolence card I’ll let the next of kin [often non-Catholic as well] know that I have done/will do so – and it is always appreciated. I would dare to say that in addition to being a work of mercy [which is more important] offering Mass for the repose of anyone’s soul is also a truly ecumenical act.

  2. Patrick901 says:

    They offer mass for Elvis Presley every year in Memphis on the anniversary of his death.

  3. Elizabeth D says:

    After one of the homeless men we served in a St Vincent de Paul program passed away (on the porch of a Lutheran church, after running out of days at the homeless shelter, his story touched many people’s consciences in our community), I wrote to the Carthusians in Vermont (http://transfiguration.chartreux.org/) to request a Mass for his soul. His name is Eric Manley, he seems to have been a Protestant, and I believe he is in heaven now. However, I have never had Masses said for my grandparents, one pair of them Protestant (my Grandma still living) and one pair Catholic. It would be right to. I do try to pray every day for deceased relatives and ancestors (together with the dead of the Carmelite Order, deceased benefactors and their loved ones, and deceased of the poor and marginalized) in the intercessions of Evening Prayer where the last intercession is always for the dead.

    p.s. I do not believe the Mass of a Carthusian is “more infinitely powerful” than the Mass of, say, a diocesan priest, or even of a diocesan priest who isn’t in the state of grace!

  4. DavidJ says:

    Why in the world would someone _not_ pray for someone else? How hard-hearted!

  5. Mariana says:

    We have to pray for protestants in Purgatory all the more as their families certainly will have been told (if they’ve asked a pastor) that it isn’t even permissible to pray for the dead! I’m a former Lutheran, and I asked. The answer was that, because there is nothing further to be done for them, we may not pray for them!

    The Orthodox don’t believe in Purgatory, either.

    So it’s a great work of mercy to pray for all those who no-one prays for.

    And pity the poor bereaved who may not even pray for their dead because their pastors forbid it.

  6. Francis says:

    seriously, Father? Offering Mass for non-Catholics? well, it beats me. A bit of explaining please.

  7. Francis: Really? That needs explanation? Do non-Catholics not have souls? Do they not need prayers? If you would cloth or feed a non-Catholic as a work of mercy, if you would instruct a non-Catholic about the faith, if you would give alms for the sake of helping non-Catholics, why would you not pray for them? Why would you not have Masses said for them?

  8. Mary Bruno says:

    I’ve wondered the same thing, but I have had Masses said for my mother in law (who died prior to our marriage, but I and her son were engaged before her death) and I’ve had Masses said for my non-Catholic husband with the father’s day intentions. I’ve never known/never asked if it was permissible, but I had wondered. I think we wonder because non-Catholics cannot participate in Holy Communion or Reconcilliation, etc.

  9. Francis says:

    Even for a muslim? Once, i heard mass was offered for a muslim, and i felt confused. Anyway, yes, works of mercy- then, Mass is a Supreme Work of Mercy…thank you. I should get some proper catechising.

  10. Supertradmum says:


    There are modern theologians who are Orthodox, just as there are some Catholic theologians, who do not believe in Purgatory, but the Orthodox Church believes in praying for the dead. There are many prayers for the dead in Orthodoxy, and may I quote an Orthodox website.

    http://www.orthodox.net/articles/about-prayer-for-the-dead.html “Some of the confusion might occur in that most Protestant confessions teach that the judgment after death determines the eternal state of the soul. Not so, according to the Tradition and teaching of the Orthodox Faith. The particular judgment immediately after death only determines the state and “residence” of the soul in the spiritual world and that judgment is based on who our spiritual “friends” are. Do we have more converse with angels or demons? Do we devote ourselves more to the saints or to sinners? Are we attached to the world or to the Kingdom of God? Do we act like Satan or Christ? Whatever we are like, there we are placed in the spiritual world. And the demons are diligent in attempting to demonstrate that we are tied to them and not to Christ and so any and every unconfessed sin, no matter how seemingly small and insignificant is brought out by them as accusations against us and the angels on the other hand counter this accusation by a description of our righteous deeds which indicate our change of heart and life. But do not confuse this particular judgment and temporary disposition with the eternal disposition of the soul to be determined at the Great Judgment. Then, the soul being reunited with the body thanks to the general resurrection, each person will be judged by God Who sees within either the spark of grace or none and those who have that spark will be brought into the Kingdom of God and those who do not will be cast into outer darkness – finally and eternally. So you see that when we pray for the departed, we do so knowing that the final judgment has not yet occurred and while we don’t know what the exact needs of the departed are, we can simply lift them up to God calling out for His mercy.

  11. catholicmidwest says:

    To lionize them, or make them out to be on the fast-track to heaven, no, of course not. Because more than likely, they are not. But to simply pray for them in a one-by-one fashion family-by-family, of course that would be okay. Everyone should have someone praying for them.

  12. Geoffrey says:

    I am very please to hear this but need to learn more! I seem to recall reading that while anyone can pray for the dead, Masses are only said for Catholics who died in communion with the Church. Was this pre-Vatican II? I’ll have to check my “The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described” by Fortescue. How does this figure in with the late Senator Ted Kennedy, and the uproar that he received a Catholic funeral because of his public anti-life stance? Is there a difference between Funeral Mass and a regular Mass for the Dead?

    Very intrigued… but very confused!

  13. Belinda says:

    Aren’t priests in some religious orders (e. g. the Dominicans) obliged to say Mass periodically for their deceased family members and benefactors? Obviously many of these people will have been Protestant or non-Christian.

  14. samgr says:

    Not only were masses offered for the repose of the soul of my Jewish father, but when he died 50-odd years ago he was buried with a requiem high mass. As the pastor told my mother, “He was a better Catholic than many of the baptized people in the parish.”

  15. catholicmidwest says:

    We have to be careful here. Having a Catholic funeral is quite different from being prayed for in a Catholic mass vs. having a mass said for a person vs. being prayed for by a Catholic in general. Father, what does canon law actually say?

  16. ALL: This is not about having a Catholic funeral for non-Catholics.

  17. Daniel Latinus says:

    I do remember once reading that a medieval Pope told the pagan Bulgarians that they could not pray for their deceased ancestors. However I am told that in Africa today, they often pray for their ancestors “who had righteous hearts”. I understand a similar practice exists among Chinese Catholics today. It seems a Christian way to direct the reverence many cultures have for their forebears.

    I once read that deceased non-Catholics could not be prayed for in a public way, i.e., they could not be named in the Mass intention, but they could be prayed for as a special intention.

    The most recent edition of the Order for Christian Funerals specifically permits according Catholic rites provided the deceased “would not have opposed receiving Christian burial.”

    During World War II, the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow promulgated special rites for the burial of non-christians.

    Father Walter Ciszek, SJ, a victim of Soviet persecution, recounted in With God in Russia that when he visited Lenin’s tomb, Fr. Ciszek prayed for the tyrant, saying, “after all he was a man.” (And if Lenin benefited from Fr. Ciszek’s prayers, he should be eternally grateful.)

    Personally, I have to side with Fr. Ciszek. No prayer is ever wasted. And of course, our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II prayed for the souls of deceased non-Catholics.

  18. matt1618 says:

    It is clear from canon 901 of the ’83 Code, “A priest is free to apply the Mass for anyone, living or dead.” But, there is one caveat from the Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, issued by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (Mar 25, 1993): “A priest may accept a Mass offering [“stipend”] for the intention of anyone, whether living or deceased, Catholic or non-Catholic. However, ancient Christian liturgical and ecclesiological tradition permits the specific mention in the Eucharistic Prayer only of the names of persons who are in full communion with the Church celebrating the Eucharist (121).” – referring to the Commemoration of the Dead in Eucharistic Prayer I and the special forms added for Masses for the dead in E.P. II and III. No mention is made if E.P. IV is used.

  19. Daniel Latinus says:

    Sorry, Father Z, our posts must have crossed.

  20. Patikins says:

    I think Father Z. has addressed the issue of funerals for non-Catholics in the past. It is permissible as long as it does not cause scandal. My non-Catholic grandmother was given a Catholic funeral and burial.

    An aunt, a cousin (mother and son, the son died first) and a friend of the family were all buried without any funeral though all were baptized Catholics. I figured that they needed the prayers as much as anyone. I’ve also had masses said for a relative who expressly said she did not want masses said for her.

  21. Patikins says:

    Sorry, Fr. Z. I should have refreshed before posting.

  22. Geoffrey says:

    Oh! For some reason I was automatically thinking Mass for the Dead / Funeral Mass as the same thing, since the texts in the Missals are often the same. Now, can a non-Catholic have a Mass for the Dead said for them, or are we talking about any non-Requiem Mass but with the intention of praying for a deceased non-Catholic? Such as in the Eucharistic Prayer or General Intercessions?

  23. catholicmidwest says:

    I think this topic is just about having the intention for a mass stated for somebody like my friend’s mother, who wasn’t Catholic but for whom I’d like someone to pray, since I hope she’s in purgatory or prayed into heaven somehow by now. I loved her but she was ignorant about religion and I didn’t become Catholic until after she died, so I couldn’t tell her what I had found. I have known so many people in my life like that who are now gone. The document Dominus Iesus was a comfort to me, even though many people didn’t find it that way. I’m happy to let God decide.

    Perhaps this thread could also refer to me saying her name in daily masses when petitions are requested, or praying for her myself during mass, yes?

  24. catholicmidwest says:

    And to be faithful to Dominus Iesus, this is not just about my feelings. I’m sure of the power of the merits of the Church and that everyone who comes to heaven does so by the merits of the Church and the salvific act of Christ. I’m willing to trust that. I trust that for myself as well.

  25. oremus says:

    Extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

  26. Eric says:

    Our priest touched on this just a few weeks ago in a homily. He was explaining the proper procedure for having masses said. He said that one should not offer masses for non-Catholics (dead or alive)out of respect for their wishes. They chose not to be Catholic.

    I assumed he meant that if they wanted masses said for them they would have chosen to be Catholic.
    I don’t think he was reffering to praying for their soul just , as Matt618 mentioned, using their name in the Eucharistic prayer.
    I will have to ask him for a clarification.

  27. I am glad that this topic came up. It was my general impression that one could have Masses said for non-Catholics, but it’s better to have backup like this.

  28. Stvsmith2009 says:

    Thank you, Father Z!

  29. robtbrown says:


    IMHO, there has been too much emphasis on teaching Purgatory by referring to it as punishment. The first thing to know about Purgatory is that its existence makes sense. Dr Johnson summarizes it well: “the generality of mankind are neither so obstinately wicked to deserve everlasting punishment, nor so good as to merit being admitted into the society of blessed spirits . . . God (allows) a middle state, where they may be purified . . . ”

    Understanding such an approach lands us in the lap of the virtue of Hope, which is manifest in Purgatory–the soul doesn’t yet have the Beatific Vision but hopes for it.

    When my father (a born again agnostic) was within days of his death, I ran into a couple, longtime friends of my parents. They said, “Well, he’s going to a better place.” I replied, “We don’t know that.” They were stunned, but the incident demonstrates that once Purgatory is discarded by a believer, what is left is Presumption (“he’s in a better place”), which is a vice against Hope. For non-believers, of course, the tendency is toward Despair, also a vice against Hope.

  30. Norah says:

    A hypothetical: Joe is a fallen away Catholic but he always has a Mass said for the repose of his mum’s soul in November.

    Is that Mass effacious Joe’s mum since Joe doesn’t attend Mass and thus is not in the state of grace?

  31. bookworm says:

    “Well, he’s going to a better place.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong but since souls in purgatory are saved — they KNOW they are going to heaven, even though it might take a while and require some effort/suffering on their part — isn’t purgatory still a “better place” than this world? I believe one of the medieval mystics (can’t recall whom right at the moment) said that the worst day in purgatory was still better than the best day on earth. That might be hard to believe for those of us who were brought up on the “fires” of purgatory and images of it as basically a temporary hell, but it makes sense to me. And it’s not a “modern” or unprecedented invention: read Dante’s Purgatorio sometime.

    “Is the Mass (for) Joe’s mum effacious since Joe doesn’t attend Mass and thus is not in the state of grace?”

    I don’t see why it wouldn’t, as long as it was a valid Mass offered by a priest in good standing.

  32. MargaretC says:

    Hello, Father,

    Thanks to your post on this subject, I have requested masses for the souls of my grandparents, all of whom were staunch Baptists.

  33. gloriainexcelsis says:

    Iknow this isn’t about funerals for protestants, but this is about a “teaching” moment. A couple of years ago the protestant husband of one of St. Stephen’s, Sacramento, parishioners was killed in a tragic accident. The funeral was held at the funeral home. Our pastor presided. The attendees consisted of a lot of protestants, as well as the many Catholic friends of the widow. Father gave a wonderful homily in which our beliefs were tenderly made known. Catholic prayers for the deceased were said. Our schola and choir were there and, if I recall correctly sang the Dies Irae and other appropriate hymns. Prayers for the dead were on the program which was handed out, as well as the usual holy cards. No celebration of life stories were told. The gathering in the church hall later was the time for reminiscenses. The widow has a Mass offered each year on the anniversary for the soul of her husband. As I said, it was a “teaching” moment.

  34. If somebody is fallen away but still goes to the trouble to have Mass said for someone else, or if somebody isn’t even Catholic but has Mass said for a friend anyway, I believe that must be very pleasing to God as an act of charity. Obviously God would rather they become faithful Catholics; but I think He receives very generously any attempt by such people to do the right thing. And naturally, the person for whom Mass is said probably prays very fervently for them.

  35. Mariana says:


    Thank you for your correction!

  36. Thank you very much for this post, Father. I am good friends with a woman whose husband died last week. She is Catholic. All eleven of their chilren are Catholic. The deceased never became a Catholic.

    His youngest son is a seminarian at the FSSP seminary in Nebraska, so on Saturday, November 6, we are having a Requiem Mass said at my parish for the repose of the soul of the deceased (EF, complete with black vestments). Some question came up as to whether this was licit since the deceased was not Catholic, to which the priest replied, “Of course it’s licit!” Deo Gratias.

  37. PaterAugustinus says:

    Just wanted to give some clarification, with regards to a statement by Mariana, above.

    The Orthodox Church’s belief about the afterlife is essentially the same as what we see in the West, before the precise categorizations of Scholastic theology developed the notion of a full-blown Purgatory.

    We believe that, shortly after death, the soul begins a journey towards God and the particular judgment. This is often described in imagery of the Tollhouses, where demons attempt to exact a “toll” from the ascending soul – which, if it is unable to pay (symbolically meaning that it was too devoted to the particular sin being examined at that station), it may be detained and taken to Hades. The Saints pray for the soul, and those on Earth pray for the soul, and the Guardian Angel prays for the soul, and God’s mercy aids the soul. Those souls who are sufficiently detached from the world are amongst the righteous and saintly dead, and they immediately take their place in Abraham’s Bosom to await the final Resurrection and Last Judgment. In the interim, they have a forestaste of bliss with the other Hallows, and enjoy a more intimate relationship with the Trinity, the Lord’s Mother and the Blessed Angels, who dwell in Heaven properly-so-called. Various Western sources – like St. Adamnan’s life of St. Columba and St. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History – also relate how the souls of the departed are tested by the demons during ascent from the Earth.

    The souls which are detained in Hades, suffer a forestaste of Eternal Torment. If they are never released from Hades before judgment, this forestaste of torment will be translated into an eternal experience of the real thing… which may God forbid in all of our cases, the Saints helping us.

    The sufferings in Hades can have a purgative effect, if the soul has some sympathy with God. This purgative effect is amplified and assisted by prayers and almsgiving of the living on behalf of the soul, the intercession of the Saints in Heaven (especially the Formidable Mother of God), and most of all by the celebration of the Eucharist in their memory. Eventually, this can have the effect of releasing the soul from Hades and the forestaste of Damnation, and translating it to Abraham’s Bosom to await the Resurrection with the Just.

    While the Orthodox Church believes that the celebration of the Eucharist brings refreshment to all souls in Hades – Christian or otherwise – and, while we believe that prayers may be offered for all souls in Hades, we believe that when commemorating specific persons in the celebration of the Eucharist, that person must have been a full communicant of the Church in this life, since we believe celebration of the Eucharist for a departed soul essentially helps it to receive the Eucharist, according to its ability, in Hades. When I assisted at altar in the Eastern Rite, the names for the departed to be commemorated at the Liturgy are read during the Proskomide. The names of non-Orthodox may not be read during this time – or, if they are read, the reader must read them apart from the Proskomide table, as a way of recognizing that they did not die as a communicant of the Church, and so we do not presume to treat them as a communicant of the Church in the afterlife, either. In the Western Rite, we do not commemorate the names of the non-Orthodox in the Canon’s prayer for the departed, though the Bidding Prayers before the Offertory (or before the Mass) may make mention of them generally or specifically. But, as St. Augustine says, God can do what He pleases in this matter. We observe these customs not because we definitely affirm that the non-Orthodox souls are being deprived of the benefit of the Mass, but because it is fitting that we not be presumptuous in treating them as communicants, and simply leave it to God’s mercy.

    So, the Orthodox do not believe in Purgatory, but we clearly do believe in prayer for dead, and in the reality of a purgative experience for various departed souls in Hades, facilitated by prayers, alms and the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in a manner profitable towards their ultimate salvation. Our Tradition is very similar in almost all essential respects, to that of Catholicism. We differ chiefly in the terminology of Purgatory and associated concepts (Indulgences, temporal vs. eternal punishment, etc.), and in the belief that Mass may be offered for non-Orthodox Christians. We believe in praying for them, and we believe in the beneficial effect of the Mass on the souls of the dead, generally. But, we do not offer the Liturgy specifically for any non-communicant of the Church.

  38. q7swallows says:

    In light of the Golden Rule, if I were a poor soul whose life in time had ended–no matter what denomination I was–I know I would be eternally grateful for any prayers for my ultimate salvation. No pun intended.

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