"Would you say there is absolutely no de fide requirement for the Catholic faithful to believe that the dead cannot be prayed out of hell until after the final judgment?"
I am not a competent Catholic theologian, but I will offer an opinion.
First, it should not be assumed, willy nilly, that the dogmatic definitions of the 2nd century, post-schism Latin Church may be directly addressed to the authentic teachings of the Eastern Church. The Latin definitions were formulated within a Western
context and addressed Western
disputes, specifically, the question whether the just are given to enjoy the Beatific Vision immediately upon death.
Second, Mary Lanser appears to be correct that the Catholic teaching on the particular judgment does not yet enjoy irreformable, de fide
status; but I would certainly say that it enjoys a high level of theological authority, as well evidenced by the already cited passages from the Catholic Catechism, as well as Benedict XVI's encyclical Spe Salvi
: "With death, our life-choice becomes definitive--our life stands before the judge."
Third, what does appear to possess definitive, irreformable status within Catholic theology is the dogmatic claim that "The souls of the just which in the moment of death are free from all guilt of sin and punishment for sin, enter into Heaven" (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma
, p. 476). In other words, they do not have to wait in some ante-chamber before they are given to enjoy the bliss and joy of the vision of God; they are given this bliss and joy immediately upon death.
This dogmatic claim, however, must not be construed as denying in any way the ecumenical belief that the joy of the Blessed only achieves fullness at the Final Resurrection, when the souls of the just are raised into transformed bodily existence.
Fourth, as for the question whether the Catholic Church denies Fr Ambrose's opinion that the dead may be prayed out of Hell, I think it would be premature to make any definitive judgments at this time. I suspect that the question "May the Church pray a mortal sinner out of Hell?" simply does not make sense within the Latin model of the Last Things, whereas it does seem to make sense within the Eastern model of the Last Things. Many contemporary theologians, both Western and Eastern, are aware of the inherent difficulties in comparing what appear at first glance to be conflicting symbolic theological models. We are, after all, talking about eschatological realities that transcend our present temporal experience. Our language is necessarily metaphorical and analogical. It would be naive to think of the intermediate state as an extension of historical time in which we are given fresh opportunities to repent of our sins and turn to God. We need to be cautious about making snap judgments about these mysteries.
Fifth, while Fr Ambrose's opinion on "praying people out of Hell" certainly enjoys the support of some Eastern theologians (Archbishop Hilarion perhaps being the most prominent), it must also be noted that Eastern opinion on this question is by no means settled. In other threads on this forum I have cited Eastern opinions that would appear, on first reading, to contradict or at least qualify Fr Ambrose's assertions. I am not making a polemical point but simply identifying the diversity of opinion within Orthodoxy itself on the topic being discussed. Neither Catholicism nor Orthodoxy is as monolithic and uniform as internet apologists like to present them.
Finally, as Mary rightly points out, Catholic teaching on the particular judgment must be understood within the hope of the Church that all will be saved. In the words of the Catechism: "The Church prays that no one should be lost." Many prayers from both the Eastern and Western liturgical tradition express this hope. The truth of these prayers are not denied, and cannot be denied, by the medieval dogmatic definitions being discussed in this thread. Dogmatic definitions do not stand on their own; they must be interpreted within the whole of the Faith.
Here it is appropriate to recall the Christmas play written by St Therese of Lisieux
, an acknowledged Doctor of the Latin Church. The angels gather around the crib, and the Angel of the Last Judgment reminds all of the wrath of God to be revealed at the Great Assize. In response the Angel of the Holy Face requests of the child mercy for all sinners, to which Christ replies, "I will listen to your request: every soul will find forgiveness." The Angel of the Last Judgment objects: "Do you forget, Jesus, that the sinner must be punished; do you forget, in your exceeding love, that the number of the godless is endless? At the time of judgment, I want to punish the crimes, to destroy all the ungrateful; my sword is ready, well will I know how to avenge you!" Christ rebukes the angel with these words: "Beautiful angel, lower your sword. It is not for you to judge the nature that I desired to set in being and to redeem. I myself am the Judge of the world, and my name is Jesus."
The final word is the eschatological word of mercy. The final word is the incarnate and crucified Jesus. I trust that on this truth both Western and Eastern Christian may heartily agree.