There are many references in the O.T. to serve as the symbolic representation of the prayer for the departed.
(a) Ruth 2:20: “Blessed be he by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead”
(b) 1 Sam. 28: Saul consults the departed Samuel. Specially1. Sam. 28:19 is reminiscent of the living state of the departed.
(c) Deuteronomy (Dt). 34:8 and Number 20:29 speak about the mourning for the dead.
(d) Exodus 28:21 speak about Aaron’s breastplate with the names of the twelve sons of Jacob. This breastplate was also a means of remembrance of the heads of the twelve tribes.
(e) 2 Maccabees 12:45 - mentions about the atonement for the sins of the departed.
(f) Dt. 26:14, refers to an offering to the dead.
(g) Prayer for the departed is seen in many deuterocanonical books. Eg. Ecclesiastics XlVI. 11, Baruck III.iv. Enoch CIII iv etc.
The evidences from the Catacombs (burial place of early Christian martyrs) and the ancient Christian epitaphs support the practice of praying for the faithful departed, in the ancient days itself.
After scrutinizing many evidences and arguments in relation to the practice of praying for the departed, an impartial writer makes the following conclusion.”From at least the second century A.D., the monumental inscriptions in the catacombs, the great Fathers of the Church and the earliest surviving Liturgies of all parts of the Church, agree with one voice in sanctioning and teaching the duty of intercession on the part of the living for the departed. Even the earliest allusions to this practice speak of it as an undisputed matter.” (s.c. Gayford. The Future State, Rivingtons, London, 1903, p. 57).
To the objection that this practice is not ordered to be observed in the N.T., we would answer that, this practice is approved by so many references in the N.T., (already seen). For many practices in the Church, we won’t find and “order” or a “commandment” in the N.T. Also, are all the practices among the Protestants, explicitly commanded in the N.T. Where is the commandment for carrying a Bible to the Prayer meeting? Nowhere. But nobody would object to this practice since the Bible indirectly approves it and since it is not against the Biblical faith. The same is the justification that we give for many of the noble practices in the Church.
Invocation of Saints
i. We have already seen that the departed are still in the Church with loving concern for those who are in the earth. Also, as members of the Church, they and we should pray for each other. The departed saints are also participating in this responsibility of prayer and intercession. Their prayer would be more benefited for “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and His ears toward their cry” Psalm 34:15.
ii. There is a difference between their mediator-ship and that of Jesus Christ who is the only mediator between God and men 1 Tim 2:5. The departed saints are mediators between Christ and men. They would not in any way affect Christ’s unique mediator-ship. Jesus has already approved the value of the intercessions of the disciples Jn 14:13. He gives an authority and appointment to the apostles.
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” John 15:16
This special grace and right was a charisma for the building up of the Church. Hence, can we deny such a grace, to those who lived a righteous life close to Christ, and to those who were appointed by him for the leadership in the Church?
“The prayer of the righteous man has great power in its effects” James 5:16 (b). Since the departed saints are still in the Church, would they stop praying for us? Not at all. Rev. 7:15
iii. If such a mediation of the saints is unbiblical, we would have to say that even the mutual prayer of the believers is unbiblical, because a certain ‘mediation’ is involved there too. The invocation value of the saints does not in any way limit our possibility and responsibility to pray directly. Also, we never teach that the saints are perfect and do not require our prayer. Actually, they also need our prayer, and as a Church, we are praying for them at every occasion of worship.
iv. In the early Church, there was the practice of reverently remembering the death of the saintly leaders. This is supported by such passages as Heb. 13:7 and by such early documents as “Martyrdom of Polycarp.” The death anniversary of the saints became special occasion for the prayer through them and for them.