From a reader:
Can non-Catholics who die outside formal union with the Church be saved? I’ve had the statements of the Council of Florence pointed to as proof to interpret extra ecclesiam nulla salus. This seems to contradict what’s said in the modern CCC, and in Lumen Gentium. Basically, if none are saved outside formal union with the Church, then what would be the point of masses for dead Protestants?
Yes, non-Catholics who die outside formal union with the Church can be saved.
St. Augustine dealt with a similar question concerning the non-baptized. He explained that God, who is all-powerful, can do anything in this regard that it pleased Him to do. God can save whom it pleases Him to save. We cannot say that God cannot. Augustine admitted that the non-baptized could possibly be saved, but He didn’t know how God did that, so important is the need for baptism.
Non-Catholics can be saved. Most non-Catholic Protestants are validly baptized. By that baptism they belong in some way to Christ’s Mystic Body, the Church. I don’t know how this works according to God’s plan. People must stand before God and be judged, and God cannot be fooled. He will, with the person who dies, judge the mind and heart and there will be no room for self-deception.
I think it must be very hard indeed to come to salvation without the advantages God offered in His Church. Very hard indeed. I quail at the idea of it, as a matter of fact, and I am less than optimistic. I am hopeful for people and desire their salvation, but… how that is worked out is a mystery.
Any way you look at it, however, if a person is saved she is saved because of the merits of Christ’s Sacrifice mediated through the Church He founded. There is no other way of salvation, whether a person ever heard of the Catholic Church or not.
Think of the advantages we have as Catholics. We have sure membership in the Church Christ gave us, without the doubts that come from vague or imagined membership. We have all the sacraments that Christ established as the ordinary means of our salvation. We have the clear teaching of the Church, who teaches and governs with Christ’s authority. We have the possibility of knowing with certainty that we belong to this Church because we have a visible reference point in our Holy Father, Successor of Peter, who points us to the Head of the Church, Christ Himself. Who would hold themselves away from that, once they know about it?
We also affirm with Lumen gentium that any person who rejects the Catholic Church knowing that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, that person cannot be saved. The Church does not say in an absolute and entirely exclusive way that non-Catholics cannot be saved.
Let’s see Lumen gentium:
14. This Sacred Council wishes to turn its attention firstly to the Catholic faithful. Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.
Yet, for many people, they do not know who and what the Church is, usually through no fault of their own. Woe to anyone who is responsible for a person leaving the Church from disillusionment or lies or sin or scandal or who is an obstacle to their entering.
Your question comes back to the issue of Masses for dead Protestants and you call into questions Masses – prayers – said so that God will be merciful to them.
No prayer we offer to God asking for mercy for the living or the dead is in vain. We propose and God will dispose. Also, I cannot fathom a Christian who will not ask God in His mercy to give graces to those who are formally separated from the Church. What sort of spiritual stinginess or pride is that?