28 October 2013

Can only Christians be saved?

Over at The New Liturgical Movement, Peter Kwasniewski raising some interesting questions regarding the formulation of the text of prayers for the dead as used in the universal prayer (which are also known as the General Intercessions, the Prayer of the Faithful, or the Petitions).

He suggests that "if one examines liturgical formulae to see how Catholics pray for the dead, one is struck by the specificity of intention, the delimited subject of these prayers—namely, baptized Christians."  However, if one consults the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, one finds that the petition for the dead - or the faithful departed, as he suggests - is not found among the intentions enumerated.  One finds instead this:
It is desirable that there usually be such a form of prayer in Masses celebrated with the people, so that petitions may be offered for holy Church, for those who govern with authority over us, for those weighed down by various needs, for all humanity, and for the salvation of the whole world.
The series of intentions is usually to be:
a) for the needs of the Church;
b) for public authorities and the salvation of the whole world;
c) for those burdened by any kind of difficulty;
d) for the local community.
Nevertheless, in any particular celebration, such as a Confirmation, a Marriage, or at a Funeral, the series of intentions may be concerned more closely with the particular occasion (69-70).
There are liturgical prayers for the dead, such as those found in the Order of Christians Funerals, but Mr. Kwasniewski primarily concerns himself with the universal prayer.  Strictly speaking, though, the petition for the faithful departed is not required.

Even so, I don't find this aspect of his argument troubling, but his claim that "those who are not Christian when they die cannot be saved" is simply not in accord with the teaching of the Church.

The Second Vatican Council clearly taught:
Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life (Lumen Gentium, 16).
That being said, there is a difference between those who explicitly reject the Gospel and those to whom the Gospel has not been preached:
Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door.Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it (Lumen Gentium, 14).
In Dominus Iesus, the Church sought to clarify this teaching and addressed the uniqueness of the Jesus Christ and the necessity of the Church:
With respect to the way in which the salvific grace of God — which is always given by means of Christ in the Spirit and has a mysterious relationship to the Church — comes to individual non-Christians, the Second Vatican Council limited itself to the statement that God bestows it “in ways known to himself” (Ad Gentes, 7).  Theologians are seeking to understand this question more fully.  Their work is to be encouraged, since it is certainly useful for understanding better God's salvific plan and the ways in which it is accomplished. However, from what has been stated above about the mediation of Jesus Christ and the “unique and special relationship” (Redemptoris Missio, 18) which the Church has with the kingdom of God among men — which in substance is the universal kingdom of Christ the Saviour — it is clear that it would be contrary to the faith to consider the Church as one way of salvation alongside those constituted by the other religions, seen as complementary to the Church or substantially equivalent to her, even if these are said to be converging with the Church toward the eschatological kingdom of God (21).
It is therefore possible for those who are not Christians when they die to be saved, although in ways known only to God.  This does not, however, mean that Church should not evangelize the world; indeed, every Christian has a solemn duty to strive to lead others to Jesus Christ and bring them into the fold of the Church there to receive the fulness of the means of salvation.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you; I read his post this morning and thought about commenting this evening, but you've said it all here.