Ask A Catholic: Spirits of the Dead?
What questions do you have about Catholicism? Submit them online, or fill out the form below.
By Mitch Finley
Do Catholics Believe in Spirits of the Dead?
Thanks for your question.
This may come as a surprise, but Catholics not only believe in spirits of the dead, but we take this idea far more seriously than do many other Christians and other believers. In fact, we believe in spirits of both the dead and the living. Catholics believe that each person is an “embodied spirit” to quote Karl Rahner SJ, regarded by many as the greatest Catholic theologian of the 20th century. This means that each person lives a life that transcends, or is deeper than time and space. Once our life in time and space comes to an end we “transition,” if you will, into what for lack of a better term we call “eternity” or “heaven.”
The implications of all this are many. For example, because we believe this, we believe that relationships between people have a dimension; a “spiritual” dimension, that is far deeper than just what meets the eye. The same is true of the relationship between human beings and the natural world, therefore we say that, for example, issues related to climate change are spiritual as well as physical.
Another example is the Catholic belief in “the communion of saints.” This refers to the community that is the Church, one that both includes and transcends time and space. Because this is so, we believe that we may—indeed should—pray to the saints, meaning those who now exist in “heaven,” asking for their prayers on our behalf.
Finally, all these examples relate to some words from the Apostles’ Creed, the oldest statement of Christian belief: “I believe in . . . the communion of saints . . .” And from the Nicene Creed: “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.”
I hope this will be of some help to you in understanding what Catholics believe about “spirits of the dead.”
Mitch Finley is the author of 30+ books on Roman Catholic theological topics and spirituality, all written to appeal to both non-academic and academic readers. Mitch holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Santa Clara University and an M.A. in Theology from Marquette University. He and Kathy Finley have been married since 1974 and are the parents of three grown sons. To learn more, visit his website.