Question: I would appreciate it if you would tell me what the official position of the Catholic Church is regarding the salvation of non-Catholics. Is baptism necessary for salvation?
-- Thomas Dennelly, West Islip, N.Y.
Answer: The most accessible presentation of the official position of the Church on the necessity of baptism is to be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The issue of the necessity of baptism for salvation is treated in Nos. 1257-1261.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus affirms that baptism is necessary for salvation (see Jn 3:5). He commands his disciples to go forth to bring the Gospel to all nations and to baptize in his name. This is why baptism is a central feature of the Christian life and is the impulse under which the Church promotes baptism in the world.
The Catechism states, "Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament." It continues: "The Church does not know of any means other than baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude" (No. 1257).
Does this mean that those who are not baptized cannot be saved? By no means. The Catechism states: "God has bound salvation to the sacrament of baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments."
What this means is spelled out in this way: "Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such a person would have desired baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity" (No. 1260). This is the basis on which the Church affirms that besides water baptism, there exists a "baptism of desire."
The official position of the Catholic Church on the matter of baptism contradicts the notion -- often strangely present even among Catholics -- that only those baptized by water can be saved. God is a generous God, and he wills all to be saved.
Not so homebound
Question: I have been asked to bring Communion to the homebound in our parish.
The only problem is that I have found out that some are not homebound. They are able to drive to the doctor, the grocery store, the library and restaurants, but they don't go to Mass. Isn't this situation wrong? What should I do?
-- Name and address withheld
Answer: I am inclined to agree with you that something is not quite right here. Bringing Communion to the sick and the elderly in their homes is a venerable tradition of the Church. With the introduction after the Second Vatican Council of extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, this apostolate has been greatly expanded.
However, being over a certain age does not, in itself, absolve one from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass. All those who are able are under the obligation to participate in the celebration of Sunday Mass in their local church.
If people are able to drive to the grocery store, the library or restaurants, then they should be able to drive to Mass.
Bringing holy Communion to people's homes should never be approached either by the recipients or the parish as a matter of convenience. If I were you, I would discuss this matter with your pastor or whoever is in charge of coordinating home visits in your parish.
Some means will probably have to be advised of inviting the elderly who are not homebound to attend Sunday Mass. Perhaps announcements in the parish bulletin would be a beginning.
Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.