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Sophia Ilongga wrote:

Hi, guys —

As a Catholic, I'm just wondering:

  • Why does the Church have a tradition of praying 9 days for the dead after the passing of someone who has been buried?
  • What is the significance of 40 days after the death of this person?
  • Is there any biblical basis for this practice or have we just connect this to Genesis 50:3-10?



  { Why does the Church have this tradition for praying for those who have passed and why 9 and 40? }

John replied:

Hi Sophia,

In a nut shell. Nine days make up what we call a Novena. It comes from the nine days in which the Apostles and Mary prayed in the Upper Room between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday for the out pouring of the Holy Spirit.

Over time, it became a tradition that many devotions would include nine (9) days of prayer.

The 40 days has it's roots in Scripture as well. Over and over we see the number 40.

  • It rained for 40 days and 40 nights when the Lord destroyed man except for Noah and his family.
  • The Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the desert.
  • There is a small t tradition that Jesus fasted for 40 days when he went into the wilderness and was later tempted by Satan.

Forty (40) years is number associated with a generation but in the ancient Hebrew understanding, 40 weeks was the period of gestation from conception to birth. It's actually between 36 and 39 but in the Hebrew tradition it was 40.

So likewise on a spiritual level, when we see the number 40 symbolizing a period of gestation, or preparation, from the time when something is conceived until it is birthed.

It's just a tradition. Lent lasts 40 days — again, this is linked to the tradition that Jesus fasted for 40 days in preparation for His earthly ministry but not too many realize the meaning and why we repeatedly see 40 periods of time recurring in the Scriptures.


Mike replied:

Hi, Sophia —

You said:

  • Why does the Church have a tradition of praying 9 days for the dead after the passing of someone who has been buried?

Because the Church teaches that many, though not all, saved, justified souls can pass from this life to their Particular Judgment with remaining self-love. Hebrews and Revelation tells us that for us to be one with the Lord we have to be totally purified as He, Himself, is All Holy. (Hebrews 12:29; Revelation 21:27).

This is why the Church has always catechized on the Holy Hospital of Heaven, Purgatory.
It's a teaching that needs to be talked about more from the pulpit based on:

  • what it is, and
  • what it is not.

This posting should help:

Hope this helps,


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