Saturday, September 30, 2006

Grace and Merit

Regina Angelorum

The "classical Protestant" position on merit might be summarized as, "All is grace, therefore there is no merit." To someone who accepts this view, Catholic talk about merit on the part of human persons can seem like a denial of God's free (unearned) gift of grace. Thus the vehemence with which the idea of human merit is sometimes attacked.

But does Catholic talk of human merit actually amount to a denial of the unearned character of grace?"

426. What is merit?

In general merit refers to the right to recompense for a good deed. With regard to God, we of ourselves are not able to merit anything, having received everything freely from him. However, God gives us the possibility of acquiring merit through union with the love of Christ, who is the source of our merits before God. The merits for good works, therefore must be attributed in the first place to the grace of God and then to the free will of man.

- Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

So, we can see that in the Catholic understanding merit is not something one earns on one's own, but has its source in Christ. How does that work?

2008 The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man's free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man's merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.

- Catechism of the Catholic Church

The "merit" that Catholics speak of, then, isn't absolute, but relative. It is like the merit of a child who helps his father clean up toys scattered all over the yard so that it can be mown. Does the child really deserve (absolutely merit) a treat for helping? Of course not. And yet the father, in his grace, freely chooses to associate the child with the father's work, and the merits that derive from it, including the ability to purchase ice cream.

This earned/unearned character of relative merit is most dramatically brought into relief by the case of the Immaculate Conception. The doctrine proclaims that in the first moment of her conception, before she had ever done anything either good or evil, God Chose to associate Mary most deeply with the work of her son and His Son, Jesus Christ, granting her the grace of freedom from the taint of original sin. Mary's association with her son's work of salvation, especially in her unconditional "Yes" to the will of God at the Annunciation, is the source of her merits. And yet these merits themselves are gifts of grace.

The Catholic position might be summarized as, "All is grace, and only therefore is there merit."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Passover & Eucharist

The following quotations are taken from the Passover Haggadah, New Revised Edition by Rabbi Nathan Goldberg and from the Roman Missal. I found the parallels interesting

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.

- Blessing before each cup of wine in the Passover

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through you goodness we have this wine of offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink. Blessed be God forever.

- Blessing of the wine before consecration

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

- Blessing before eating the Matzah (unleavened bread)

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread of offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life. Bless be God forever.

- Blessing of the host (unleavened bread) before consecration

It is our duty, therefore, to thank and to praise, to glorify and to extol Him Who performed all these wonders for our ancestors and for us. He took us out from slavery to freedom, from sorrow to joy, from mourning to festivity, from darkness to great light, and from bondage to redemption. Let us, therefore, sing before Him a new song. Halleluyah. Praise the Lord.

- Recited before a psalm of praise in the Passover

Father, it is our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks through yor beloved Son, Jesus Christ. He is thw Word through whom you made the universe, the Savior you sent to redeem us. By the power of the Holy Spirit he took flesh and was born of the Virgin mary. For our sake he opened his arms on the cross; he put an end to death and revealed the resurrection. In this he fulfilled you will and won for you a holy people. And so we join the angels and the saints in proclaiming your glory as we say:

- Recited before the "Holy, holy, holy" in the Mass (varies according to the text used)