One of the controversial teachings of the Catholic Church is “Outside the Church there is no salvation”, or, in Latin, “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus”. It is controversial, yet completely true.
However, does that mean that everyone who is not visibly part of the Catholic Church is condemned to hell? No.
The Church recognizes three types of Baptism, which is the sacrament in which people join the Church (which removes Original Sin). The three types of Baptism are 1) Baptism of water (the standard Baptism), 2) Baptism of blood (those who die for Christ and His Church, despite not being baptized by water), and 3) Baptism of desire.
I am not the best at explaining Baptism of desire. However, while reading “Open Letter to Confused Catholics”, in the chapter on ecumenism in which Archbishop Lefebvre defends the traditional teachings of the Church on the necessity of being Catholic for salvation, His Excellency does a wonderful job of explaining Baptism of desire. Here is a part of it:
Does that mean that no Protestant, no Muslim, no Buddhist or animist will be saved? No, it would be a second error to think that. Those who cry for intolerance in interpreting St. Cyprian’s formula, “Outside the Church there is no salvation,” also reject the Creed, “I confess one baptism for the remission of sins,” and are insufficiently instructed as to what baptism is. There are three ways of receiving it: the baptism of water; the baptism of blood (that of the martyrs who confessed the faith while still catechumens) and baptism of desire.
Baptism of desire can be explicit. Many times in Africa I heard one of our catechumens say to me, “Father, baptize me straightaway because if I die before you come again, I shall go to hell.” I told him, “No, if you have no mortal sin on your conscience and if you desire baptism, then you already have the grace in you.”
The doctrine of the Church also recognizes implicit-baptism of desire. This consists in doing the will of God. God knows all men and He knows that amongst Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists and in the whole of humanity there are men of good will. They receive the grace of baptism without knowing it, but in an effective way. In this way they become part of the Church.
The error consists in thinking that they are saved by their religion. They are saved in their religion but not by it. There is no Buddhist church in heaven, no Protestant church. This is perhaps hard to accept, but it is the truth. I did not found the Church, but rather Our Lord the Son of God. As priests we must state the truth.
Reading about Baptism of desire this way, it seems simple. Yet somehow I am not the best at explaining it. Fortunately I do read a lot, and often come across those who are much more eloquent and explaining this than I am.
If you are interesting in Open Letter to Confused Catholics, it is available HERE.