Funeral Lectionary: 2 Maccabees 12:43-46

With Mel Gibson and some Jewish leaders feuding on filmmaking, I thought it slightly opportune to look at a favorite Catholic passage from one of the books of Maccabees.

A note before we get into it … these books are sometimes referred to as “apocryphal” or as part of the “Apocrypha.” Some Scripture scholars would object to this term. “Apocrypha” refers to a writing that is partly or wholly secret–something only shown or revealed to those on the inside. Clearly, this isn’t the case with the books of Maccabees. Though not part of the Jewish canon of Scripture, they are in no way hidden from good Jews. Or Christians. Indeed, the stories are well-known among people with a basic literacy of the Bible or of Jewish history. “Deuterocanonical” is the preferred term.

2 Maccabees relates the story of a surprisingly successful uprising in response to the tightening grip of foreign oppression. Almost two centuries before Christ preached, Judas Maccabeus was praised for his piety and his thoughtfulness for the dead:

Judas the ruler of Israel
  then took up a collection among all his soldiers,
  amounting to two thousand silver drachmas,
  which he sent to Jerusalem
  to provide for an expiatory sacrifice.

In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way,
  inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view;
  for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again,
  it would have been useless and foolish
  to pray for them in death.

But if he did this
  with a view to the splendid reward
  that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness,
  it was a holy and pious thought.

Thus he made atonement for the dead
  that they might be freed from this sin.

This passage is part of the theological justification for praying for the dead, and is valued among Catholics, especially those traditionally-minded. As such, these verses are more of an “instruction” or a comfort to the grieving. Do loved ones need the encouragement to pray for the deceased? This would be a good choice. Do they want traditional Catholic teaching on purgatory reinforced? This passage is associated with that doctrine.

I don’t find people choose this reading very often at all. I struggle to remember one instance in twenty-plus years of ministry. Any comments on this Scripture or on the use of this for a funeral? Have you heard it recently?

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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22 Responses to Funeral Lectionary: 2 Maccabees 12:43-46

  1. Liam says:

    I think it’s most likely to be chosen by people who appreciate the resonance of the struggle behind the reading. And there are people who die whose lives would have that resonance.

  2. Dick Martin says:

    Atonement in the scriptures is only made by Jesus Christ alone. He was the propitiation (complete appeasement or satisfaction) for our sins. Hebrews 10:10,12,17,18. Once; for All; forever. If we could have made atonement for ourselves Jesus wouldn’t have had too. Scripture say’s that God made Jesus who knew no sin too be made sin for us that we could be made the righteousness of God in Him. No other effects of sin need atoned for. Thank you Jesus. Dick martin

    • Todd says:

      Atonement is an Old Testament practice. As believers we certainly believe in the essential role of Jesus Christ in salvation. But the Christian tradition of praying for the dead is not quite the same thing as what the author of the Hebrews was talking about in describing the actions of Christ. Apples and oranges, here, my friend.

  3. Patti.RCIA says:

    I am going to use this reading at my daughter’s funeral Mass. She was depressed and took her own life. Please pray for her immortal soul and my family. Her name is Jude, named for St. Jude Thaddaeus.

  4. Dick Martin says:

    In Paul’s writing to the Hebrews, which is in the New Testament ( New means New not Old) Testament means God’s present WILL for dealing with Man today. New replaces the Old.
    Hebrews 8:13
    In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. Salvation is not found in the old Testament. Old testament Saints were saved by faith believing in the coming of a Savior. Today we are saved by Faith in Jesus who has come and made provision for those that believe.
    Hebrews 10:1-4
    For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect.
    For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins.
    But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.
    For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.
    Hebrews 10:11-14
    And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.
    But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God,
    from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.
    For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. Jesus offered Himself for All Sin For those who would receive His free Gift. If you have done this you have done what is the ONLY requirement to enter you eternal rest. This is why Maccabees is not included in the Bible. It contradicts what the bible teaches. If you believe prayers for the Dead are effectual then Jesus died in vain. If you are IN HIM you have no sin, because He paid it ALL. Love in Jesus Dick Martin

  5. Dick Martin says:

    The whole history of the Catholics is Reading between the scriptures as Liam states in his response. Then Todd’s States is His reply Apples differ to Oranges. The reason their is a difference is that the scriptures should never be contradicted by Tradition. Hebrews is written to Christian. No one was ever Justified by the LAW. (see above reply) The difference between your belief is that you can pray for the dead. this is not taught in scripture. If praying for the dead had any effect on salvation for one dead person, Jesus wouldn’t have had to come. We have all sinned and come up short of salvation.” Nothing”, you or any one can do can save you. Scripture say’s when you die then the Judgement. Your spirit must be born from above. Death ends you free will to choose. Love in Jesus, Dick.

  6. Todd says:

    I think you misunderstand, Dick. People don’t pray for the dead to save them. We pray for them because we love them, and we want to express that love to God. The same would be true of prayers for a living person. I pray for my daughter and wife, for example, to experience God’s daily graces and blessings. I don’t pray to save them. Their salvation is in the hands of Christ.

  7. Dick Martin says:

    Todd, Jesus said “it is finished”; He has done all that is to be done. The Gift He is delivering to you is free. when it comes ( SEEK and you will find, KNOCK and the door will be opened ASK and you shall receive. ) You have to open the door and receive it with your heart. Don’t leave it on the porch. You can know you have Eternal Life in this life because nothing you can do to can qualify you. God only accepts Jesus as payment. look up the word ” Propitiation”; it means to appease. God is completely satisfied. No one can come to the Father except thru Jesus. When it comes to Salvation each individual has to receive for them selves. Jesus provided ALL the merit you will ever need. A dead person receives nothing from the living. What you do on this side of the grave will excuse you or accuse you. You must get it right. Praying for your dead Loved ones to tell them you love them is too late. You should have loved them enough when they were alive to have shared Jesus with them. Don’t rely on the Church to get you into Heaven–it won’t happen. You ONLY are responsible for your salvation and you can greatly influence your Children, Family and Friends. This is how it works. We are to be witnesses to the whole world. This is all from the scriptures. Tradition will not stand the test at Judgment… This is true. Love, Dick.

    • Todd says:

      As is often true in conversations that go nowhere, one person seems to lack comprehension of the other’s words.

      When I shop for groceries for my family, I don’t affect their eternal salvation either. But I still do it. Why do you suppose that is? Is praying for other people. living or dead, any different?

  8. Dick Martin says:

    Todd ; As I said my comments are all from the word. If this conversation is going nowhere you must lack comprehension or understanding what God is trying to tell you.
    1 Corinthians 1:18
    For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Praying for the living is a good thing. Praying for the dead has no effect.
    Hebrews 4:12-13
    For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
    And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. Try to comprehend God’s Word. Love in Jesus, Dick

    • Liam says:


      Your attempt to proof-text your point as dispositive is not dispositive for Catholic and Orthodox Christians. Yours is a relatively modern approach in Christian history, alien as an exclusive approach to the Christian bishops who in Late Antiquity determined which texts belonged and which didn’t; Christians had generations of teachings under their belt before there was a canonical Christian bible. The practice of Christian prayer for – and with (that cloud of witnesses) – the souls of those who had departed mortal life (the “dead” in the realm of time and space; but even they have immortal souls outside time and space) antedates the finalization of the Christian bible. Even those purgatory-detesting Puritans couldn’t expunge all traces of prayer for the dead from their funeral practices; their sense overcame their logic in that regard (as Chesterton remarked, mad men have lost everything except their reason).

      • Dick Martin says:

        Hebrews 4:12- Proves my point . You have mention proof-texting before . It’s called quoting the Bible. The Infallible Word, the only place TRUTH can be found . I notice you stand firm on the teaching of men who contradict God Himself. There is no modern approach to Christian history All scripture is the same from the beginning to the End. Paul wrote most of the New Testament and it is not New . Means the same Now as Then. You quote teachers and the hierarchy of a Church who has disregarded God and His Instruction. The great cloud of witnesses are those who were on the right Train when it pulled out of the station. the rest were on the Black train that Jonny Cash told us about in his song. He is one of the Great cloud of witnesses. As far as the dead are concerned there is no Time and Space in eternity. Heaven and Hell have no clocks. It’s either, eternal bliss or eternal agony. The bible says EVERY knee will bow to Jesus and you will feel His Love and see His beauty and then you will be cast into outer Darkness and you will be eternally separated from the one you have fallen in love with. That will be the AGONY …Be on the right Train. The Devil has a deceiving Train that looks like the one Heaven bound. A priest when I was in grade school always said , “there will be the weeping and gnashing of teeth”. Love in Jesus Dick.

  9. Todd says:

    Luke 11:5-13 contains the Lord’s advice on persistence in prayer, as well as his promise that the Father isn’t confined to human expectations. There’s no mention of exemptions for those beyond the grave. The key passage is:

    “… because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives …”

    I pray for you, Dick, and it has no effect on your salvation, but the Father indeed hears my prayers for openness to the whole of Christian tradition. I can also pray for my deceased father, and likewise, I cannot effect his salvation. But God, who is not bound by human time, can also hear me, especially when I persist in asking for his good.

    Your attempt to cite Scriptures is done from a human perspective, not a divine one. But you do have the persistence angle down pat. You just have to apply it to your prayer life. Take the Patriarch Abraham as your guide (Genesis 18:16-33).

    The bottom line for the Christian believer: ask. We can always ask. No harm, but much good in that.

    • Liam says:

      Todd, to elaborate: the traditional Christian understanding of petitionary prayer is that God invites us to join our agency in time and space to his will outside time and space.

    • Dick Martin says:

      Praying for the dead is not a biblical concept. Our prayers have no bearing on someone once he or she has died. The reality is that, at the point of death, one’s eternal destiny is confirmed. Either he is saved through faith in Christ and is in heaven where he is experiencing rest and joy in God’s presence, or he is in torment in hell. The story of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar provides us with a vivid illustration of this truth. Jesus plainly used this story to teach that after death the unrighteous are eternally separated from God, that they remember their rejection of the gospel, that they are in torment, and that their condition cannot be remedied (Luke 16:19-31).

      Often, people who have lost a loved one are encouraged to pray for those who have passed away and for their families. Of course, we should pray for those grieving, but for the dead, no. No one should ever believe that someone may be able to pray for him, thereby effecting some kind of favorable outcome, after he has died. The Bible teaches that the eternal state of mankind is determined by our actions during our lives on earth. “The soul who sins is the one who will die. . . . The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him” (Ezekiel 18:20).

      The writer to the Hebrews tells us, “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Here we understand that no change in one’s spiritual condition can be made following his death—either by himself or through the efforts of others. If it is useless to pray for the living, who are committing “a sin that leads to death” (1 John 5:16), i.e., continual sin without seeking God’s forgiveness, how could prayer for those who are already dead benefit them, since there is no post-mortem plan of salvation?

      The point is that each of us has but one life, and we are responsible for how we live that life. Others may influence our choices, but ultimately we must give an account for the choices we make. Once life is over, there are no more choices to be made; we have no choice but to face judgment. The prayers of others may express their desires, but they won’t change the outcome. The time to pray for a person is while he or she lives and there is still the possibility of his or her heart, attitudes, and behavior being changed (Romans 2:3-9).

      It is natural to have a desire to pray in times of pain, suffering, and loss of loved ones and friends, but we know the boundaries of valid prayer as revealed in the Bible. The Bible is the only official prayer manual, and it teaches that prayers for the dead are futile. Yet we find the practice of praying for the dead observed in certain areas of “Christendom.” Roman Catholic theology, for example, allows for prayers both to the dead and on behalf of them. But even Catholic authorities admit that there is no explicit authorization for prayers on behalf of the dead in the sixty-six books of canonical Scripture. Instead, they appeal to the Apocrypha (2 Maccabees 12:46), church tradition, the decree of the Council of Trent, etc., to defend the practice.

      The Bible teaches that those who have yielded to the Savior’s will (Hebrews 5:8-9) enter directly and immediately into the presence of the Lord after death (Luke 23:43; Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:6, 8). What need, then, do they have for the prayers of people on the earth? While we sympathize with those who have lost dear ones, we must bear in mind that “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). While the context refers to the gospel age as a whole, the verse is fitting for any individual who is unprepared to face the inevitable—death and the judgment that follows (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:26; Hebrews 9:27). Death is final, and after that, no amount of praying will avail a person of the salvation he has rejected in life. I was where you are at one time. I settled my destiny. I plead that you do the same. Love in Jesus Dick

      Read more:

      Read more:

  10. Todd says:

    “Praying for the dead is not a biblical concept.”

    Apparently it is, according to the author of 2 Maccabees.

    And nowhere in the Bible does it say that prayers for another person are ever in vain. Jesus suggested otherwise: simply ask, ask, and ask: insist that God hear.

    And remember my friend, we don’t pray for the dead to save them. We pray to intercede on their behalf with God. Our prayers have no effect on saving anybody–only Christ saves.

    • Dick Martin says:

      It is stated in the latest Catechism No. 1032; A quote by the Church that Maccabeus made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.
      You state that you don’t pray for dead to save them. the Church quoted atonement was made for the dead. You should look up what Atonement means. Also the Church states that deliverance was made for their sin. Sin can never enter Heaven , not even the slightest sin. You are correct when you say that Jesus Saves. His sacrifice is the only payment for your SIN.
      Romans 10:9-11
      that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
      For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
      If you confess with you mouth you receive Salvation.
      If you believe in your heart you receive Righteousness.
      So God’s Plan is to Receive Jesus before Death. This is then a statement of Faith. Faith is believing in God’s word about the unseen, not after you’re Faith becomes Sight. Righteousness in the ability to stand on Jesus substitutionary work of his Death for your Perfection.
      Do This Today. Love in Jesus Dick

      • Todd says:

        Dick, my friend: you are reading and doing your research.

        What most Catholics believe, and what I believe is that we can ask God to have mercy on other people, living and dead. God is free to listen to us or to disregard our petitions. It happens for the living, I’m sure it happens with the dead.

        To be sure, I don’t have iron-clad, rational evidence that my prayers for anybody or anything are in any way helpful. But I continue to pray for people because I think it’s important to focus on other people rather than myself.

        I’m sure it offends a few of my Protestant sisters and brothers, but I don’t focus my prayers on *my* own self. God knows what I want before I speak it, so I confine most all of my intercessory praying for others, including the dead.

        As I said before, God is timeless, and at this “moment” is experiencing the faith or lack thereof of people who, in this universe, are considered dead. If it helps, God’s ear is getting my prayers before people have died.

        So I’m sticking with 2 Maccabees here: praying for the dead is good, useful, and an act of love and charity. I’ll encourage others to do so. And, my friend, there’s nothing you or any other skeptic on this point can do about it. You’d rather pray for the living? Fine. You should be lauded for doing so. Lots of Christians pray for deceased loved ones, and if it helps them, so much the better.

      • Dick Martin says:

        Todd; Faith can’t be applied to you life or prayers if you Don’t know the will of God. Only if you know the will of God can your prayers be effective. Prayers for the dead is not useful, Not good, etc. God applies Judgment to this who don’t qualify for mercy. Mercy is only applied to those who have the righteousness of God; who have accepted Jesus. read what you need to do to enter Heaven in my last statement. the scripture says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, ( God made Jesus Who knew no sin, to be sin for us that we could be the Righteousness of Christ. When you accept this Truth you enter directly into Heaven by receiving MERCY. Without Righteousness you receive Judgment. Gospel of John 9:31– Do you know God only hears the prayers of a righteous person. Jesus paid the penalty for Sinners to become Righteous in God’s sight. Sinners W/O Jesus remain Sinners and are condemned already. Believe it. Love in Jesus — Dick

  11. Dick Martin says:

    In times of great crisis, people cry out to God in prayer. While this is understandable, prayers for the dead are both futile, and contrary to biblical truth. Since the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, our nation has been plunged into a deeply “religious” mood. The parallel of this “praying posture” has not been observed in our beloved America since Pearl Harbor was bombed – almost sixty years ago. This disposition is encouraging; and one, we hope, that will not be short-lived. Our hearts cannot but anguish with those who are suffering such soul-tearing losses. Some children have lost one or both parents; husbands and wives have been robbed of loving mates; others will never see brother or sister again. To describe these separations as “painful” is an egregious understatement. The caring soul is wholly sympathetic to the tears of damaged family members. It is most difficult to be critical of sincere people in a time of such distress. But we must, with genuine compassion, call attention to a glaring error that has manifested itself repeatedly – and occasionally on the part of Christians who ought to know better. Not infrequently of late, the public has been encouraged to “pray for those whose lives were lost, and for their families.” For those grieving families – yes. Certainly so. For the dead, no. Is this a heartless admonition? It is not. It is spiritual reality. No one should entertain the illusion that someone may be able to pray for him, effecting some beneficial result, after he is dead. While it is natural to have the inclination to pray in times of acute distress, the only thing one really knows about the parameters of valid prayer is that which is revealed in the Bible. The Scriptures constitute the only legitimate prayer manual. And there is ample evidence in that sacred volume that prayers for the dead are not only futile, the practice is antagonistic to certain aspects of divine truth – in spite of the fact that this pagan practice is common in certain circles of “Christendom.” For example, Roman Catholic theology allows for prayers both to the dead, and on behalf of them. But reflect upon the following points. 1. Even Catholic authorities concede that there is no explicit authorization for prayers on behalf of the dead in the sixty-six books of canonical Scripture. Roman authorities appeal to the Apocrypha (2 Macabees 12:46), church tradition (late second century and onward), the decree of the Council of Trent (Session xxv), etc., but there is no valid biblical defense to be made for the practice (see Donald Attwater, A Catholic Dictionary, New York: Macmillan, 1961, p. 137). It is only from a few passages, not relevant to the issue, that unwarranted inferences are drawn. 2. The Scriptures teach that those who have yielded to the Savior’s will (Heb. 5:8-9), enter directly and immediately into the presence of the Lord (Lk. 23:43; Phil. 1:23; 2 Cor. 5:6,8). What need, then, do they have for the prayers of people upon the earth? 3. In the parable of the virgins (Mt. 25:1ff), there is the clear lesson that after those “virgins” went to “sleep” (v. 5 – signifying death; cf. Dan. 12:2; 1 Thes. 4:13ff), there was no further opportunity for preparation (the “door was shut” v. 10). The lesson then is taught that only those who had made adequate, personal preparation would meet the “bridegroom” in that condition. The implications of this illustration are firmly opposed to the notion of praying for the dead. 4. When Jesus related the details regarding the selfish rich man, and the righteous beggar, Lazarus, (Lk. 16:19ff), he affirmed that a “great gulf” stood between the abode of the unrighteous and the righteous (v. 26). This “gulf” is permanently “fixed” (this is the force of the perfect tense verb), and there is no crossing from one side to the other. How, therefore, could prayers from the living alter the destiny of the lost? 5. “. . . [I]t is appointed to men once to die, and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). There is no indication that a change in one’s spiritual condition can be made following his death – either by himself, or through the efforts of others. 6. If it is useless to pray for the living, who are committing “sin unto death” (1 Jn. 5:16), i.e., sin continued – without seeking relief in conformity to God’s law of pardon, how could prayer for those who are dead already avail – since there is no post-mortem plan of salvation? And so, while we truly sympathize with those who have lost dear ones, we would do well to be reminded of the biblical admonition – “. . . behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). While this language, in context, refers to the gospel age as a whole, the phraseology is not inappropriate for the individual who, in an unprepared condition, faces that inevitable enemy – death (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:26; Heb. 9:27). You have to be saved by Faith; is the assurance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen. Assurance and evidence come by the word. not by tradition. God’s word takes first place over all truth. ask the Father to reveal truth to you. Love in Jesus,Dick.

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