There is a word which keeps occurring in the new translation of the Missal. That word is “MERIT”. It is a word which concerns me because it is easy to think, “I deserve”. “I  have been good and merit salvation – I have earned it!.”  it can also imply that some people are bad and will not merit anything. It seems to imply that God will reward the good or even that God must reward the good. And so I should spend my life earning merit points.

When i was in the boy scouts I earned “Merit” badges. I proved that I could plan and cook a meal on a camp fire, and earned my “cooks” badge.

This comes from a medieval theology. As Richard McBrien wrote in “Catholicism”, Ch14. (This is what that theology teaches) “By his passion Christ merited all the gifts of grace  and glory for humankind. He rendered more than adequate reparation from sin and therefore satisfied the “vindictive justice” of God. The resurrection and exaltation of Christ were mentioned in these Christologies, but their redemptive significance remained unclear. Indeed what Christ accomplished through his passion was taken as fully sufficient for our salvation. A marked change in this approach was signaled by the publication of Catholic scholar Francis X Durwell’s”The Resurrection” (1960) This book argued that the resurrection was the center, not an adjunct of Christ’s redemptive work.”

If we cencentrate on Christ’s death on the cross “meriting” salvation, then there is little room for Resurrection. And the Resurrection was part of the sacrifice of Jesus, in fact it is the fulfilment of the sacrifice of Jesus. “Jesus was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross. And for this God raised him on high and gave him the name wich is above all other names.” Phil. ch.2.

The fact is the whole life, death and resurrection was the sacrifice of Jesus and it was not to satisfy a vengeful God, but to fulfil God’s act of love forgiving those who did not merit mercy!

So when you see the word “merit” in the prayers, be careful how you understand it – and don’t forget God’s loving mercy shown in and through Jesus Christ.