Q: Thank you for this blog and for all your good work writing and teaching.
On the recent holy day we prayed at Mass, “Almighty ever-living God… grant, we pray, that, always attentive to the things that are above, we may merit to be sharers in her glory….
Yet at Office of Readings the same day, we read from St. Paul to the Ephesians, “This was to show for all ages to come, through his goodness towards us in Christ Jesus, how infinitely rich he is in grace. Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit.
How is the collect prayer for the Assumption of the Blessed Mother—and all the many other prayers that have “merit” as their verb— anything by Pelagian?
I know I have brought this up before. Does this bother no one else but me? Abundant use of the word “merit” in the present translation of the Roman Missal seems to present a distortion of Catholic belief (expressed with such emphasis in the reading for the day from the Office of Readings). Are there efforts going on to eliminate this language? Could an ordinary Catholic join any effort to clean up this language? And does “merit” appear in ancient Latin prayers, and does it have the same implications in Latin and in other languages that it has in common, spoken English?
This really bothers me—I think this is actually very important for the formation and prayer of the people of God. I cannot see how it is anything other than miscommunication of the message of Christ spoken at “the source and summit.”
Thank you for listening to all our liturgy questions and for your thoughtful responses!
Q: Regarding “merit”, I’ve treated this at some length in my book In These or Similar Words. The Catechism says “the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful” (2008). In Catholicspeak, “merit” is something bestowed on us, not something we earn. The English word “get” better carries the sense of the Latin mereor. Or “be made worthy.”
ICEL worked very hard at translating that word with care, and 11 conferences of bishops approved its work, but the Vatican changed it and inserted the word “merit”. In my view, it’s the wrong word in English for the reasons you mention. It sounds like “earn”, which is not at all what it means in Latin.