Questions Answered

Baptism of Jesus, by Guido Reni (1622-23).

Question: At the Easter Vigil, it is sometimes the practice that protestants are received into full ecclesiastical communion, and then receive Communion. Now, neophytes are baptized at the Vigil, with all their sins forgiven, but converts who were validly once baptized now seem to require the sacrament of penance prior to receiving the Eucharist. Am I missing something?

Answer: The Easter Vigil is the normal time the bishops of the United States have designated for the baptism of adults who wish to enter the Church through RCIA. This is fitting because of the nature of the Easter liturgy, and the ancient discipline of receiving catechumens into the Church at that time. For catechumens, the normal preparation time is a year, although for various reasons this can be abbreviated. They would be catechized as to the sacrament of reconciliation though they do not receive it before baptism because baptism forgives all sins, both Original and actual.

As for those already baptized, the statutes for RCIA state: “it is preferable that reception into full communion not take place at the Easter Vigil lest there be any confusion of such baptized Christians with the candidates for baptism, possible misunderstanding of, or even reflection upon, the sacrament of baptism celebrated in another Church or ecclesial community, or any perceived triumphalism in the liturgical welcome into the Catholic Eucharistic community” (RCIA U.S. Statute 33). This is because those who are validly baptized are already related to the Church, although not in full communion with her. Some bishops do permit the profession of faith at the Easter Vigil “for pastoral reasons.” The Church recognizes the baptism they received in these communities as valid.

The recommended practice is that after a fitting period of preparation, they make their profession of faith. They then can join the newly baptized to receive confirmation and the Eucharist. Normally their catechesis should not be as extended as those for the neophytes, who have never been baptized because they have presumably received some Christian formation in the other Christian contexts in which they were raised. This is especially true if they have been active members of these communities.

As to the sacrament of reconciliation, the requirement for these people is the same as that of Catholics. They must first be thoroughly catechized as to the nature of this sacrament, and the various specific sins contrary to the commandments. If they are conscious, after a thorough examination of conscience, of mortal sin, then they must confess before receiving confirmation and the Eucharist (RCIA, 482). Presumably, in the case you are inquiring about, such a confession will have already happened before the Easter Vigil.


Question: Did Vatican II change the teaching: “No salvation outside the Church?” What are Catholics to believe today?

Answer: The short answer to your question is that there has been no change in this teaching, though some theologians would like to suggest otherwise. There has been a change in the emphasis placed on this teaching. It is now positive instead of condemnatory. One can see this in the statement of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Reformulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his body” (846). However, to understand the nuances added to this statement by Vatican II, some distinctions are in order.

The identification of the Catholic Church with the community of salvation is explicit. This has not changed at all. This is because Christ founded the Church, and he gave to the Church all the means necessary to attain salvation through his body, especially in the sacraments and the hierarchy. God the Holy Trinity reveals himself to the world through mission. A mission of a person of the Trinity includes the interior relationship of the person within the Trinity to the other persons, and how this relationship is revealed to the human race in time.

The word “mission” comes from the Latin word “sent.” God the Father has no mission. He does the sending, he is not sent. The missions outside the Trinity reflect the Processions in God. For St. Thomas, a “mission” is a new manner of God existing in the world of creatures in time, reflecting the character of the relations within the persons in God in eternity. This new manner necessarily relates to our sanctification. The divine mission “includes the eternal procession, with the addition of a temporal effect” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, 42, 2, ad 3). The Father is not sent in mission because he is the First Principle and origin of the Son and the Holy Spirit. As the Father sends, the nature and action of the Son and the Holy Spirit in time reveal something hidden about the Father and his relation with the other two persons and their relations with each other. The Son, together with the Father, sends the Holy Spirit. Thus, the priority of origin is the source for the authority of the Son respecting the Holy Spirit. “… Whoever sends has an authority over the one sent. One must, then, say that the Son has authority in regard to the Holy Spirit: not, of course, that of being master or being great, but in accord with origin only” (Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles, IV, 24, n. 3607).

The Son and the Holy Spirit have both invisible and visible missions. These missions reveal the inner nature of the Trinity to us because they reflect the inner relations of the Persons in God. “Thus, the Son is said to be sent into the world inasmuch as he began to be in the world in a new way through the visible flesh he assumed. … He is also said to be sent to someone spiritually and invisibly inasmuch as he begins to dwell in him through the gift of wisdom” (Aquinas, Contra Errores, Graecorum, 1, c. 14). “Of course, the Holy Spirit visibly appeared; ‘as a dove’ (Mt 3:16) above Christ at his baptism, or ‘in tongues of fire’ (Acts 2:3) above the Apostles. And, granted that he did not become a dove or a fire as the Son became man, he nevertheless did appear in certain signs of his own visible appearance of this kind: thus, he also in a new kind of fashion—namely, visibly—was in the world” (Aquinas, SCG, IV, 23, n. 3594).

The purpose of all the missions of the Persons is the final invisible mission of the Holy Spirit, which is the sanctification of man. Since the Son sends the Holy Spirit because, together with the Father, he is the Principle of the Holy Spirit together with the Father (or if one prefers the orthodox terminology, the Father sends the Holy Spirit through the Son), the visible mission of the Son in time is absolutely necessary to the sanctification of souls.

This visible mission of the Son is the foundation of his mystical body, which is the Church. Full incorporation into this body has three necessary requirements often stated in various Church documents: “profession of faith, the sacraments, ecclesiastical government and communion—are joined in the visible structure of the Church of Christ, who rules over her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops” (CCC, 837).

One is required by the truth to be a fully incorporated member in order to participate in the redemption. However, this involves a moral profession of faith and baptism. Like all moral actions, this must be done freely, which means with full knowledge. One who knows that full communion requires these three elements, and still refuses to do so, cannot not be saved unless he is converted. “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).

Though the requirement to be in full communion with the Church is strict, the Council wanted to affirm strongly that, as a moral action, this must be done without coercion, and with knowledge. Morally, God never binds people to the impossible. If one has invincible ignorance about these facts, then one cannot be held responsible for his or her refusal to enter the Church. “This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church.” (CCC, 847)

Vatican II wished to affirm that there were many objective means in other religions which could lead people to fully enter the Church and, instead of condemning them, sought to use those means to lead them to do so. These people may be saved through invincible ignorance: “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those, too, may achieve eternal salvation” (CCC, 847; Lumen Gentium, 16). The attitude of a Catholic should be a passion to share in the mission of Christ through the new Evangelization so that these people can be fully informed.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

Please send your questions to:
Fr. Brian T. Mullady, O.P.
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Portland, OR 97232
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  1. Avatar Jim Foley says:

    This is a good reading of the Church’s current understanding of the topic, but it does not really answer the question. Anyone conversant with the Church’s pronouncements in the medieval and early modern period would recognize the palpable shift in doctrine which has occurred in the modern period. To take but one example here is the declaration of the Council of Florence on the same topic:
    “It firmly believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the catholic church, not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics, cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the catholic church before the end of their lives; that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is of such importance that only for those who abide in it do the church’s sacraments contribute to salvation and do fasts, almsgiving and other works of piety and practices of the Christian militia produce eternal rewards; and that nobody can be saved, no matter how much he has given away in alms and even if he has shed his blood in the name of Christ, unless he has persevered in the bosom and the unity of the catholic church.”
    By the twentieth century the theological understanding of this had shifted markedly. The Jesuit Leonard Feeney adhered to the literal understanding of the ancient decrees but was already a theological dinosaur in 1953 when he was excommunicated for not broadening his understanding of salvation outside the Church. Vatican II did not really mark a change in the Church’s understanding of this topic; it had incrementally occurred already over the previous half century.

  2. Avatar Dion Kendrick says:

    Frankly I think the statement of “no salvation outside the Church” still is true. It just occurs later. The Church is “domestic” (your home); militant (in the world) and triumphant (in heaven). When we pass to eternal life we go to hell, purgatory or heaven. Those in hell are lost. Those in heaven are saved. Those in purgatory (probably most of us) have to not only cleanse ourselves of our “attachments” but also have to accept the fact that the Church is the church of heaven; the Catholic Church founded by Christ. Some may have problems with serving in the Church Triumphant (Lucifer did) and choose not to serve. They can choose hell rather than acknowledge the triumphal nature of His church. Heaven is His Church.

    I might ask Fr. Mullady; does free will die with the corporeal body?

  3. Avatar Martin B. Drew says:

    Baptism received by a person whether at the Easter vigil or any other time o way removes all sin and places a person to be subject to the Tradition and canons of the Roman Catholic Church and Baptism need only be given once. . the Sacrament of reconciliation if needed may be used. Confirmation can follow. Yes outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation, ie the Catholic Church through Jesus and the Holy Spirit is the source of eternal salvation. God is complete and cannot be divided by man’s ideas ie tv evangelists, proteestantism, muslims, Islamism The 72 books of the Sacred Scripture is the Judge and Judger of all men.

  4. Avatar Martin B. Drew says:

    God created man with the image and likeness of God that is with the faculties of an intellect and will.. These faculties remain with man who uses them in ones life. Yet at ones death the faculties remain but the actions of the faculties cease