Bro. Peter Dimond
It’s a dogma that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. All who die as non-Catholics go to Hell. Therefore, prayers may not be offered for people who die as non-Catholics. If a person was a non-Catholic or a heretic during life, unless there is evidence of a conversion to the true faith in the external forum, the person is considered to have died as he or she lived (i.e. as a non-Catholic and outside the Church). Therefore prayers may not be offered for a person who, based on the last available evidence, was a non-Catholic or a heretic on the hope that there was a conversion in that person’s final days. Prayers may only be offered for people who die with the true faith. Here are some quotes that reiterate the Church’s teaching that Catholics may not pray for (or consider among the faithful departed) those who die as non-Catholics or without the true faith.
Pope St. Gregory the Great, Moralia, Book 34: “There is, therefore, the same reason for not praying then for men condemned to eternal fire, as there is now for not praying for the devil and his angels who have been consigned to eternal punishment. And this is now the reason for holy men not praying for unbelieving and ungodly men who are dead; for they are unwilling that the merit of their prayer should be set aside, in that presence of the righteous Judge, in behalf of those whom they know to be already consigned to eternal punishment.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Suppl. Q. 71, A. 5. “Gregory says (Moralia xxxiv): There is the same reason for not praying then (namely after the judgment day) for men condemned to everlasting fire, as there is now for not praying for the devil and his angels who are sentenced to eternal punishment, and for this reason the saints do not pray for dead unbelieving and wicked men, because, forsooth, knowing them to be already condemned to eternal punishment, they shrink from pleading for them by the merit of their prayers…”
St. Thomas also cites St. Augustine, who taught the same:
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Suppl. Q. 71, A. 5: “Further, the text (iv. Sent. D. 45) quotes the words of Augustine (De Verb. Apost. Serm. xxxii): ‘If a man depart this life without the faith that works by charity and its sacraments, in vain do his friends have recourse to such acts of kindness [prayers and suffrages for him].’ Now all the damned come under that head. Therefore suffrages profit them not.”
In articulating this principle (i.e. that prayer may only be offered for those who have died as true Christians, not for heretics and non-Catholics), Pope St. Gregory II also says that offerings are not permitted for those who die as true Christians (i.e. Catholics) but in a clear state of sin. Thus, to pray for a deceased person, he or she must have possessed the true Catholic faith and not died in mortal sin.
Pope St. Gregory II (circa A.D. 731): “You ask for advice on the lawfulness of making offerings for the dead. The teaching of the Church is this – that every man should make offerings for those who died as true Christians [Catholics]… But he is not allowed to do so for those who die in a state of sin even if they were Christians.”
In the following quote, St. Francis Xavier speaks of a pagan privateer who died on their ship. He says that “by his own hand [he] cast his soul into Hell”, and he repeats the principle that prayers must not be offered for people who die outside the true faith.
St. Francis Xavier, Nov. 5, 1549: “The corsair who commanded our vessel died here at Cagoxima. He did his work for us, on the whole, as we wished… He himself chose to die in his own superstitions; he did not even leave us the power of rewarding him by that kindness which we can after death do to other friends who die in the profession of the Christian faith, in commending their souls to God, since the poor fellow by his own hand cast his soul into hell, where there is no redemption.”