When reading through the death columns of a newspaper it is common to find the phrase 'Rest in Peace' or RIP at the end of some of the entries. It can be seen on gravestones, occasionally as a newspaper headline when a celebrity died and now frequently on social media when showing our sympathy. Whilst the phrase has been traditionally associated with purely Roman Catholic epitaphs it is now not uncommon for professing Christians to also use it. What then are the origins of 'Rest in Peace', what does it mean, and is it a suitable statement for a Christian to use on the occasion of a death?
In its English form the phrase has only been commonly found on gravestones since the 18th century, generally on those gravestones belonging to Roman Catholics. Its has however existed for longer than that, being a translation of the Latin words 'Requiescat in pace'. Those words form part of the Roman Catholic burial liturgy, and appear several times in the Requiem Mass, this being the reason that so often it has been found inscribed upon Roman Catholic gravestones. 'Requiscat in pace' was a offered prayer to God, in the hope that the soul of the deceased person would find peace in the next life. It simple terms it was a prayer for the dead.
The link with such a practice as praying for the dead should immediately alert us to the unscriptural meaning of 'Rest in Peace'. The praying for the dead as so commonly practiced in the Roman Catholic Church is inextricably linked with the doctrine of purgatory, and the belief that their prayers can continue to be of benefit to those who have died. A prayer from the Liturgy of Hours includes these words and is described as a partial indulgence for souls in purgatory. (The wealth that the false notion of purgatory generates for the Church of Rome is such that it is never likely to dismiss it!) The Bible however knows of no such place as purgatory, but teaches that at their death the souls of believers immediately pass into glory, and those who have rejected Christ go to the eternal torments of hell.
Our prayers are of benefit to no-one once they have passed from this scene of time, indeed King David upon the sickness of his child prayed and waited upon the Lord, yet when the child died he arose and left off his praying. Although we may say it innocently, and with good intentions, to wish someone to rest in peace in but a prayer for the dead, nothing but Romish superstition. The redeemed do not need our prayers, and the lost can no longer benefit from them once they have passed from us. How much better it would be if we prayed more for them whilst we still can! Let us keep from the superstition of Rome and stay faithful to the truth of God's word.