Catholics Don't Know
Catholics donít know whether they are going to heaven or
not. This is because from the day that a Catholic is baptized until the
day he dies, he is on probation with God. Life is a trial during which
he must prove by his faith and obedience that he is worthy of heaven.
His eternal salvation hangs in the balance. Thatís what Catholics I
interviewed outside Saint Patrick Cathedral in New York City told me
when I asked them how they hoped to get to heaven.
"I hope to get to heaven," Julia, a Catholic woman
coming out of the Cathedral told me, "by leading a good life and
being honest with people."
Norman gave me a list of requirements to get to heaven:
". . . prayer, and perseverance, and by doing what the Catholic
Church teaches. Be honest. Do good. Go to confession. Go to church. And
treat your neighbors as good as you can."
Sharon, from New York State, also spoke of salvation as the
accomplishment of a list of activities: "Doing good works,
believing in Jesus Christ, trying to practice your beliefs and your
religion in your everyday life, doing things for humanity."
Joyce from Michigan summarized the requirements as:
"Follow your Ten Commandments . . . , live a good Christian life,
love for everyone."
Did these Catholics think that they could accomplish these
things well enough to get into heaven? Most admitted that they werenít
"Well, I got a lot of work to do," Ray, a Catholic
from Ohio, told me. "I hope to go to heaven when I die. I hope and
pray to God that I do. And if I donít, I know I did something I
shouldnít have done."
"I hope the good things I do on earth will sit well with
God and Heíll look favorably on it and take me into heaven," said
Fran, a Catholic from Seneca Falls, New York.
"If you did right youíll get there," another man
explained. "If you havenít done right by your Man, youíll get
your just rewards, maybe in hell, maybe in purgatory."
The Catholic belief that entrance into to heaven is the reward
for good works performed on earth is expressed at every Catholic
funeral. One of the suggested readings in the funeral liturgy is from
the book of Wisdom, part of the collection of books that the Catholic
Church claims is part of the Old Testament. With reference to the
deceased person, the minister reads: "Afflicted in a few things, in
many they shall be well rewarded: because God hath tried them, and found
them worthy of himself" (Wisdom 3:1-5).
The inspired Scriptures speak to the contrary. They say that
"there is no one righteous, not even one. . . . There is no one who
does good, not even one" (Romans 3:10-12). In the day of judgment,
God will find none worthy of Himself. It is only in Christ that we can
find acceptance before a holy God (Ephesians 1:3-8; Jude 24).
In Catholicism, the individual himself must stand before God
in judgment and be found worthy of eternal life. Entrance into heaven is
a merited reward. This is expressed throughout the funeral liturgy. For
example, there is a selection of 47 prayers provided to tailor the
funeral rite to the particular circumstances of the deceased. These
include prayers for the person who has died after a long illness, one
who died suddenly, an elderly person, a young person, a baptized child,
and a child who died before baptism. The minister chooses the prayer
that is most appropriate. If the deceased (weíll call him John) had
been a Catholic priest, the liturgy instructs the minister conducting
the funeral to pray:
Lord God, you chose our brother John to serve your people as a
priest and to share the joys and burdens of their lives. Look with
mercy on him and give him the reward of his labors, the fullness of
life promised to those who preach your holy Gospel. We ask this
through Christ our Lord. Amen. 1
This prayer asks God to give the deceased priest what he
deserves: "the reward of his labors." His recompense should be
"the fullness of life."
Should the deceased be even more deserving, a bishop, for
example, the liturgy instructs the minister to pray:
Almighty and merciful God, eternal Shepherd of your people, listen to
our prayers and grant that your servant, John, our bishop, to whom you
entrusted the care of this Church, may enter the joy of his eternal
Master, there to receive the rich reward of his labors. We ask this
through Christ our Lord. Amen.2
This is another give-him-what-he-deserves prayer. It asks God to
grant the deceased bishop entrance into heaven based on "his
The same kind of prayer is found in the funeral rite of a pope:
O God, from whom the just receive an unfailing reward, grant that
your servant John, our Pope, whom you made vicar of Peter and shepherd
of your Church, may rejoice forever in the vision of your glory, for he
was a faithful steward here on earth of the mysteries of your
forgiveness and grace. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.3
This prayer asks God to give the deceased pope the reward of
rejoicing forever "in the vision of your glory." The pope should
receive this privilege because he was "was a faithful steward here on
One might wonder what the writers of the liturgy would do if
called upon to compose a prayer for a deceased Catholic who was known by
all to be a poor lost sinner with no merits of his own. The funeral
liturgy actually provides one such prayer, prayer number 44. It is for the
person who has ended his life by his own hand. The Church considers
suicide to be a serious and potentially mortal sin that incurs eternal
punishment. Under the Code of Canon Law that was in effect until 1983, a
Catholic who committed suicide was denied a Church burial. Since then the
Church has taken a more sympathetic view and has lifted the ban.
Nevertheless, in composing a prayer for the one who has taken his own
life, the Church realized the deceased would have only one possible one
hope of salvation. And what might that be?
God, lover of souls, you hold dear what you have made and spare all
things, for they are yours. Look gently on your servant John, and by the
blood of the cross forgive his sins and failings.
Amazing! Prayer 44 drops all pretense that the deceased deserves
to go to heaven or has any claim to eternal life based upon his own
merits. Apparently even Rome realizes that the only hope of salvation for
a genuine sinner is to plead the blood of Christ, the biblical basis of
salvation. In the liturgy, however, Prayer 44 is the exception, not the
rule, for Rome fails to realize that we are all lost sinners, who must
trust Christ, and Him alone, if we are to be saved.
1. The Rites of the Catholic Church (New York: Pueblo Publishing Co.,
1990), vol. 1, pp. 1077-1078.
2. Ibid., p. 1076.
3. Ibid., p. 1076.
Adapted from Conversations with Catholics by James G.
McCarthy, Harvest House Publishers, © 1997.
Mr. Mike Gendron
Mr. Greg Durel
Carlos Tomas Knott
Copyright 2006, Ankerberg Theological Research Institute