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Bob Tuttle wrote:

Hi, guys —

Though I am not a Catholic I was in a recent conversation with a friend of mine who is a devout Roman Catholic. He said a few things that I did not understand. When I asked him to explain them, he told me to ask a priest. Since I do not know any priests, I thought I would ask you.

During the course of our conversation I made the comment that a person who lives a life of habitual, unrepentant sin will not go to Heaven, whether they are a Catholic or not. He says that Catholic's are able to have a Mass said for someone like that so they can enter Heaven if they are a Roman Catholic.

  • Is this true?

When I told him that I didn't think the Bible says this, he told me that I am not authorized to interpret the Scriptures.

  • What does he mean that I am not authorized to interpret the Scriptures?

My friend also told me that even though I think I am a Christian, if I refuse to be a part of the Roman Catholic Church, I cannot and will not go to Heaven.

  • Is this true?

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing back from you.

Sincerely,

Bob

  { Can an unrepentant Catholic be saved by a Mass and can I be saved if I refuse to be Catholic? }

John replied:

Hi Bob,

Either your friend doesn't understand Catholic doctrine or he doesn't know how to explain it.

If one dies in an unrepentant state of grave sin, they are indeed in peril of damnation. God's Mercy, of course, is far greater that we can fathom . . . but we must accept it.

Now, we believe that when we sin, we not only separate ourselves from God, but we also do damage to our own soul. In doing so we feed the flesh, our selfish desires, and our tendency to sin. In this life we are called to put to death the deeds of the flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit. See Romans 8. So thus far I think we both agree.

Catholics also understand that most of us won't die in state complete sanctification or purification so for those who die in a state of repentance but still have a not been completely transformed into the very image and likeness of God (Revelation 21:27), there is a purification. It is as actually the Presence of God Himself, who is a Consuming Fire (Hebrews 12:28-29), that burns away:

  • all the self love
  • all the selfishness, and
  • all the remaining desires to sin we have.

This is alluded to in 1 Corinthians 3:12-17. In centuries past, some in the Church have called this temporal punishment, the punishment of a father towards a son, for the son's own good, not the punishment of a judge who condemns him.

I prefer to look at this purification as a healing process. Yes, it is painful, but it also joyful. As all our self-love is burned away we take joy in the Lord drawing us closer to Him. This condition is normally referred to as Purgatory and is implied in several passages from the Scriptures. If you search our database, you can find several questions we've answered on this topic.

So the soul in Purgatory is a Christian and Purgatory is really the place we know as Heaven. It's just the process of being perfected, as souls are purified in the Lord's Presence. I like to call it the Holy Ghost Hospital . . . .where souls get healthy and experience a healing pain in the process. After all it's not easy to die to self so since they are Christians, we can, and do, pray for them. We offer Masses for them.

  • Why Masses?

Because the Mass is the (one and the same — Once and For All) Sacrifice of Calvary. We don't repeat the Sacrifice. Rather God who stands outside of time and sees all in the Eternal Present, and makes Calvary present to us at the Mass. So since Calvary is the only basis upon which we can be saved and then sanctified, we remember and offer a Mass for the Faithful Departed, much like we would pray for each other on Earth.

You see, Catholics believe the Church is One. That the Church in Heaven and in Purgatory, is one and same with the Church on Earth. There is no longer any separation between the living on Earth and those Alive in Christ in His Presence.

We can find language in the Scriptures regarding this. In Hebrews 12 and Revelation 5 as well as in several other Scriptures, especially in the 2 Maccabees. — which is an Old Testament book that Martin Luther ripped out of the Old Testament at the time of the Reformation. There, the language is quite explicit. We see Judas Maccabeus making sacrifice for the faithful departed. We also see in the Old Testament, the Prophet Jeremiah standing before God praying for Jerusalem. (Jeremiah 5:1)

But going back to your original question, your friend is a bit confused. I will say this much, we have no way of knowing if a sinner repented at his/her last breath so, yes, we still do pray for them and even offer Masses for them but they will only be effective if the person repented.

Now as for his statement about biblical interpretation, there again, he's a little off.

We as Catholics have relied on the Teaching authority of the Church throughout the ages, when it comes to Doctrine but only to the point and extent that it has been defined. A lot of times, the Church just sets up the equivalent of foul lines in between which, we are free hold various opinions. For the most part, the Church has not dogmatically interpreted the bulk of Scripture so Catholics are free to read and allow the Word of God to speak to them while also using the Church's Teaching as guide.

I hope that helps,

Warmly,

John

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