Why Do Catholics Communicate with the Dead? *


The eerie story of King Saul’s dealings with the medium at Endor illustrates the dangers of “necromancy”—the attempt to initiate communication with the dead (see 1 Sm 28:3-19). Saul himself had previously driven mediums out of the land, in keeping with God’s consistent warning to the Israelites against adopting this practice of their pagan neighbors. So grave was the crime of necromancy and so pernicious its consequences, that God actually prescribed the death penalty for it (see Lv 20:6, 27)


Why is the matter so serious? Because human beings cannot converse at will with the souls of the dead. When they attempt to do so, they often open themselves to diabolical deception.


On the other hand, God himself may at times permit a departed soul to appear to the living (this is called an “apparition”) and even to disclose things unknown to them. This would be true even in Saul’s case. If the apparition of the prophet Samuel was indeed genuine, it was not because the medium had any powers to summon the dead, but simply because God took the opportunity to rebuke the king through the otherworldly visitor he was seeking out.


The gospel accounts provide much clearer cases of departed souls’ being allowed by God (or even sent by God) to encounter the living. When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, while Peter, James, and John watched and listened, the departed Old Testament saints Moses and Elijah appeared and conversed with him (see Mt 17:1-9). After our Lord’s resurrection, a number of departed saints returned to Jerusalem “and appeared to many” (see Mt 27:52-53)


When Catholics talk about prayer to the saints, then or about apparitions of Mary or the other saints, they are not advocating necromancy. Asking for the saints’ intercession is not an attempt to conjure up the dead; it simply acknowledges that those who are in heaven, perfected in Christ, are able and willing to help us by God’s grace. After all: “He is not God of the dead but of the living” (Mk 12:27; see also “Why Do Catholics Pray to Saints and Angels?”


Other related scriptures: Dt 18:10-12; 2 Mc 15:11-16; Wis 3:1-6; Mk 9:2-8; Lk 9:28-36.


Catechism of the Catholic Church: 946-962; 2683


*Quoted from The New Catholic Answer Bible. Wichita, Kansas, Fireside Catholic Publishing, 2005. www.firesidecatholic.com


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