Back when I attended Catholic grammar school from 1961 to 1970, the nuns were quite clear about the church’s teaching on how a person could possibly attain Heaven. Yes, the church’s sacraments were important, but it was mostly about obeying the Ten Commandments (impossible!) and church rules. Merit was THE KEY to attaining Heaven. The emphasis was on merit, merit, and more merit.
Merit has since became somewhat of “stepchild” word within Catholicism. Is that development an ecumenical accommodation to Protestant sensibilities? I’ve even had Catholics who don’t know their own religion send in comments to this blog angrily insisting that Catholics are not attempting to merit their salvation. Yes, Catholics are absolutely still taught that they must merit their salvation as per the paragraph below and others similar to it in their catechism:
“Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2010
However, the emphasis these days is much more on the supposed graces received via the sacraments, which are alleged to enable a person to hopefully merit their salvation.
Our sister at Biblical Beginnings recently came across an excellent example of the era when I grew up when the Catholic church was much less circumspect about the role of merit in Catholic theology. There was actually a board game called “Merit: The Catholic Game,” which was designed by Edward J. Agnew in 1962 and sold by Educational Research Corp.
I did a little research on the internet and found that the game was somewhat based on Monopoly, but with Catholic themes:
“In “Merit,” two to four players work to build the six key properties (Church , Convent, Seminary, Catholic Charities, School and Foreign Missions) while maintaining their level of merits (700 points) and obtaining six of the seven sacraments. The first player to return home with the required six sacraments and at least 700 merit points after the six properties are built wins the game. The question deck is filled with pre-Vatican II trivia, but also has cards that offer the player a chance to advance via deeds rather than answers (e.g., a card that allows the player to go to any square if they promise to say the rosary).” See the article here.
So, “Merit” was a board game aimed at a Catholic audience, which unabashedly reinforced the teachings of the Catholic church, that its members needed to merit their salvation through the sacraments and obedience/good works.
I’m so grateful to the Lord for leading me out of works-righteousness Roman Catholicism and revealing to me the Good News! Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone! Won’t you repent of your sin and accept Jesus Christ as your Savior by faith alone, also? Nowadays, merit is “somewhat” downplayed as a prime element of Roman salvation theology, but if you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig, and, yes, merit is STILL the bottom line for Roman Catholics.
Postscript: It’s quite ironic that Matthew 18:3 appears on the cover of this game: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (NABRE). The simple, saving, childlike faith in Jesus Christ as Savior that the verse refers to is the antithesis of complex Roman legalism and ritualism.