Can Catholics Talk to the Dead?

This week, as we remember All Souls Day and All Saints Day, we contemplate the journey to our eternal home in Heaven and those souls who have gone before us.

By: Therese Bermpohl, Director, Office for Family Life
Several years ago, a Catholic friend asked me about the Church’s teaching on mediums – those who act as an intermediaries between the living and the dead. She was curious about a TV personality from New York who claimed to communicate with the dead, called the Long Island Medium (LIM). She was intrigued by the way the LIM would approach strangers and seemingly relay accurate and intimate details about their deceased loved ones.

My curiosity got the better of me, so I tuned in for a few episodes. I watched, as she relayed “messages from the dead” to random people on the streets and to others who were expressly invited for group “readings.” In all cases, she revealed particulars that only those people whom she addressed could have known. For example, she said things like: “Your mom is proud of you.” “She wants you to go on.” “She doesn’t blame you.” Even the eyes of the skeptics filled with tears as she conveyed the private details about their beloved deceased.

In a particularly telling episode, the LIM “helped” a woman to get in contact with her daughter who had died many years ago at the tender age of two. The woman, now a grandmother, was there with her grown daughter and her daughter’s little girl. The grandmother was Catholic and appeared to have some reservations about being there, but the LIM masterfully smoothed over the grandmother’s misgivings by telling her that her deceased loved one was standing behind her making the sign of the cross. She then assured her by saying that she, too, was Catholic. I braced myself for what was coming next because it was such an obvious set-up and then the bombshell dropped. The LIM informed everyone that the granddaughter (in attendance) has the spirit of the grandmother’s deceased two-year-old daughter. This, explained the medium, was a rare gift from God. The family reacted with tears of joy. I reacted by shouting at the TV, specifically at the grandmother, “Your daughter was not reincarnated! As a Catholic, you should know that every human person is unique and unrepeatable. There is no such thing as reincarnation. Stop crying and get out of there before she does any further damage!”

Something happens when we lose a loved one: the powerful bond of love remains, and we seek some sort of continued connection. My heart goes out to these vulnerable people looking for assurances from their deceased loved ones. But, what are they really getting when they pursue the services of a medium? The Church makes it clear that attempts to conjure the dead are dangerous business. The Catechism teaches:

“All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future.[48] Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone…” (CCC, 2116).

We can never be sure of who or what is actually being conjured. Is it the ghost of someone we dearly loved or one of the fallen angels? Here is something to keep in mind when tempted to go to a medium, fortune teller or the like: Demons exist and their goal is to destroy that which is most precious to God – us! They seek our ruin and to con us into doing things that are contrary to God and His divine law and distract us from Eternal Life. This is not to say that God never allows the dead to speak to the living nor to say that we cannot communicate with them, but how we go about maintaining and deepening this communion with them is key.

We all feel a yearning for those beloved ones who have passed. This longing to speak, to embrace, to commune with them must find proper and holy expression lest we are tempted to a deluded, impatient, and dangerous seeking. Our prayer life, private and communal, offers ample opportunities to express our longing for communion with our dearly departed. The fading practice of visiting the grave of a loved one where memories of each family member could be shared and prayers uttered for their peaceful repose. This ancient practice truly does offer comfort to the family members left behind as well as a sense of communion.

There is an even more efficacious practice that the Church holds out to each of us. The practice of having a Mass offered for a deceased loved one and making a point to attend that Mass is a real balm on the wound of the separation. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, when the veil between heaven and earth is thinned, the whole body of Christ is blessed – the Triumphant ones, the Suffering ones and the Militant ones. At Mass, we place on the altar into the hands of the High Priest all our intentions, longings, needs and in particular our deceased loved ones. What a powerful opportunity to be in communion with and pray for – with the Source of all Love – those souls who mean so much to us. Our Catholic faith does not steal from us such tender longing to be together with our deceased loved ones; it directs it, orders it and makes it holy.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.

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