“Tucked at the end of a hotly debated passage in Lumen Gentium about the Church’s role in salvation comes one sentence that has not received as much attention. What follows the statement that “all the Church’s children” have received their holy Catholic faith not from merit, but from “the special grace of Christ,” is the most harrowing line of Vatican II:
“If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged. (LG 14)”
These words are worth pondering deeply as we approach Good Friday and Easter this week.
Given that we begin each Mass acknowledging that we have greatly sinned “in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and what I have failed to do” – those words “not saved. . .more severely judged” – cut to the heart. They soberly remind us that we Catholic pilgrims are all working out our salvation “with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12) And this salvation is, for each of us, not guaranteed.
Lumen Gentium 14 has been criticized for softening the Church’s language concerning the salvation of non-Catholics. That issue aside – and contrary to the widespread impression that the Council made salvation seem easy for almost everyone – the same paragraph turns up the heat on the Church’s own children.
The preliminary schema known as de Ecclesia, from which Lumen Gentium was hammered out, stated the same truth, but without the same bite: “It is not enough to be a member of the Church or be related to it by desire; it is further required that a person die in the state of grace, united with God by faith, hope, and charity.”
The Catholic faith is the greatest gift a person can receive in this life, for it is the certain path to eternal life. But Lumen Gentium twice cautions these blessed recipients. First, Catholics do not earn this gift, so we ought not boast of ourselves, as if we are superior achievers. Second, every one of us who has received this gift will have to reckon it upon our death.
“Everyone to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.” (Luke 12:48)
By spelling out more fervently the perils on the way to salvation, Vatican II put a new wrinkle…
Read it all… (by David G Bonagura, Jr. The Catholic Thing)
— The New Oxford Review Exchange on Whether Vatican II Was Necessary