The phrase repose of the soul is used in Catholicism to refer to the eternal rest a person experiences once he or she enters heaven to be with God. A traditional blessing offered by Catholic priests over a dying person contains these words: “When, therefore, your soul shall depart from your body, may the resplendent multitude of the angels meet you: may the court of the apostles receive you: may the triumphant army of glorious martyrs come out to welcome you: may the splendid company of confessors clad in their white robes encompass you: may the choir of joyful virgins receive you: and may you meet with a blessed repose in the bosom of the patriarchs.”
Roman Catholics pray for the departed that their souls would find repose. Prayers for the dead are based on the Catholic teaching that most people do not go directly to heaven or hell but to purgatory, where they must suffer for their unforgiven sins. When a person is “purged” or purified of all his sins, he is allowed to enter heaven, where he finds repose of the soul. Prayers for a deceased loved one to know the repose of the soul are offered commonly at Sunday Masses, at the vigil for the deceased, and at the funeral Mass.
The term repose of the soul, taken at face value, does reflect biblical truth. The word repose means “to lie or be at rest” or “to be peacefully calm or still.” It is true heaven is a place of repose—Lazarus was “comforted” in paradise (Luke 16:25). Where Catholic doctrine goes astray is in teaching that repose of the soul must be merited after death. The Bible teaches that Jesus has already paid for our sins and there remains no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1). According to Scripture, we are saved by grace and are secure in our position in Christ: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4–6).
A true Christian—someone who trusts in Christ alone for salvation—already has repose of the soul; he is at peace with God before he gets to heaven, before the death of the body. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. . . . Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). In Romans 5:1 we are promised that, “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Catholic teaching of purgatory and prayer for the dead is not biblical. Repose of the soul, the product of saving faith in Christ, is something to be sought on this side of death. Once a person is dead, there is no more that can be done for that soul. Either that deceased person is in eternal judgment or experiencing eternal life with the Lord. Our prayers or actions will not change the situation of a person once he or she dies.