Are the Deceased Aware of Those on Earth?
By Father Kenneth Doyle
Question: As a longtime practising Catholic, I would like to know whether the church has a position on whether those who are now in heaven can observe, and are aware of, how we are living our lives here on earth. Also, can we pray to our deceased loved ones for help and guidance in the same way that we pray to the saints?
Answer: As to your first question, the belief of the church is that the saints in heaven are, in fact, aware of us and of how we are living. From the earliest days of the church, Christians have prayed to the saints and asked them to petition the Lord on our behalf.
In the Book of Revelation (5:8), traditionally attributed to the apostle John, those in heaven are portrayed as interceding for us before the throne of God, holding bowls filled with incense and offering our own prayers to the Father. If they are aware of our prayers, they clearly must know what we are about.
Your second question is a bit more complicated. As for praying to deceased loved ones, we may not be certain whether they have yet merited heaven. If they are still in purgatory, we can surely pray for them – but can they pray for us? And here, theologians have differed.
St. Thomas Aquinas believed that the souls in purgatory were not yet in a position to intervene on our behalf. St. Robert Bellarmine, on the other hand, felt that these souls were already secure in their eventual salvation and therefore were in a favourable position to beg divine help for those of us still in earth.
If the deceased loved ones to whom we pray are already in heaven, then of course they can bring our prayers to the Lord.
So, to your question, I think that it does make sense to hope that they are already with God and to pray to them for help and guidance. I myself do this frequently — visit the graves of my parents and my sister and ask them to help me to live the way they taught me and to be a good priest.
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