Divine services for the departed: a New Apostolic specialty

Three times a year, New Apostolic Christians celebrate a divine service in which they remember the departed. Unlike All Souls’ or All Saints’ Day—which are a day of prayer for the dead—this is a Sunday on which the sacraments are administered to the dead. What is behind this?

Photo: Daniel Rudolph, Congregation Berlin-Lichtenberg

In the Catechism of the New Apostolic Church it says, “Divine services for the departed take place three times a year, on the first Sunday of March, July, and November respectively. With this in mind, New Apostolic Christians also pray that souls who have died in an unredeemed state may find salvation in Christ” (Catechism 12.1.13).

The biblical foundation for this is God’s universal saving will. Jesus Christ is Lord of both the living and the dead (Romans 14: 9). History tells us that already in the congregation of Corinth, the living were baptized on behalf of the dead. This we can read in 1 Corinthians 15: 29. “This practice is continued in divine services for the departed conducted by the Chief Apostle and the District Apostles: in them, two ministers receive Holy Baptism with water, Holy Sealing, and Holy Communion on behalf of the dead. The sacraments are performed in the same manner as usual,” it says further in the Catechism. “In the other congregations, the departed are commemorated in a special prayer after the celebration of Holy Communion.”

Salvation through Christ

The core question, which all Churches pose, is: How is a transformation of souls possible in the afterlife? The Catechism answers this in that it says that those souls in the beyond who have never heard of the gospel, never experienced forgiveness of sins, and never received any sacraments are in a condition of remoteness from God. This can only be overcome by believing in Jesus Christ, accepting His merit, and receiving the sacraments. It is important, therefore, to intercede for unredeemed souls and to ask the Lord to help them. “The dead and the living in Christ comprise a single fellowship. Together they are part of the Lord’s work of redemption. In the beyond—as here—they will work in His mind, interceding with God for the unredeemed.” Redemption occurs solely through Jesus Christ.

The Chief Apostle in Berlin

Divine services for the departed have an important place in the New Apostolic calendar. On the preceding Sunday, the congregations prepare themselves for this in a special divine service. Compassion and sympathy are to move the believer’s heart to intercede for those who have died in an unredeemed state. On 1 March 2015 Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider will be in Berlin in Germany to celebrate the service for the departed. The evening before, there will be a concert in the Berlin-Lichtenberg church in order to attune the member’s hearts.

Historical aspects

The New Apostolic understanding of redemption for the departed developed in the Netherlands. Apostle Wilhelm Schwartz began to baptize and seal the living on behalf of the dead in 1872. In the late 1870s, Holy Communion for the departed started to be dispensed as well.

In the beginning, the dispensation of the sacraments for the dead was administered to one person who was designated through prophecy. Under Chief Apostle Niehaus, a woman and a man received the sacraments for the departed. Women received the sacraments for the female departed and men for the male departed. Since the 1930s, two ministers have been receiving the sacraments for the departed. For the longest time, the dispensation of sacraments for the departed took place once a year on the day after Christmas. In the 1950s, Chief Apostle Johann Gottfried Bischoff initiated the practice of three services for the departed a year.

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Peter Johanning
divine services for ministers