Last week I was talking about Baptism and the necessity for Baptism for salvation. I would like to clarify a few points that may not have come across clearly.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), states that:
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. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are “reborn of water and the Spirit.” God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments. (CCC 1257).
So, for those of us who have had the Gospel proclaimed to us, Baptism is necessary, since Baptism is the acceptance of the salvation that Jesus won for us, through his death and resurrection. To refuse Baptism would be to refuse to accept the salvation which God offers us.
What about those who have never heard of Christ, or know little or nothing of Christianity; those of other faiths, or even atheists? Can they also go to heaven? The Catechism states:
Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all, the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery. “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 persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity. (CCC 1260)
In the fourth Eucharistic Prayer we pray, “...For those gathered here before you, your entire people and all who seek you with a sincere heart.”
In the Acts of the Apostles, when Peter was praying on the roof one day, he had a vision of something like a great sheet being let down from heaven, which was full of all kinds of birds and animals. Then he heard a voice say, “Get up Peter. Kill and eat,” (Acts 10: 11ff) to which Peter replied, “No Lord. I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The Lord replied to Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
Peter was then called to the house of a Roman centurion, who was a Gentile. It was unlawful for Jews to associate with Gentiles. Having reflected on the meaning of the vision, however, Peter later said to the other disciples, “I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism, but welcomes those from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”
What about children who have died without Baptism? The Catechism says:
As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. (CCC 1261)
Perhaps a good way to think of it is this: God has created us to be with him in heaven for all eternity and God will do everything to make that happen, bar forcing us. Ultimately, we have the freedom to choose or reject it.
God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments. (CCC 1257)