The word 'pray' is another example of this. It has come to imply worship, although the older original meaning was to make a request, or to entreat. When you look up the definition of a word in an unabridged dictionary, it lists the Catholic meaning as either "eccl" or "R. Cath" in the definition. The Catholic Church is so old, that it uses vocabulary which is now a bit antiquated.
What does the Catechism have to say about merit?
- You are glorified in the assembly of your Holy Ones, for in crowning their merits you are crowning your own gifts.
2006 The term "merit" refers in general to the recompense owed by a community or a society for the action of one of its members, experienced either as beneficial or harmful, deserving reward or punishment. Merit is relative to the virtue of justice, in conformity with the principle of equality which governs it.
2008 The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man's free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man's merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.
2009 Filial adoption, in making us partakers by grace in the divine nature, can bestow true merit on us as a result of God's gratuitous justice. This is our right by grace, the full right of love, making us "co-heirs" with Christ and worthy of obtaining "the promised inheritance of eternal life." The merits of our good works are gifts of the divine goodness. "Grace has gone before us; now we are given what is due. . . . Our merits are God's gifts."
2010 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. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God's wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.
2011 The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.
- After earth's exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone. . . . In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself.
What is necessary for salvation? God gives us the grace necessary for salvation. Then we turn to Him. Does He do everything? How much of our acceptance is work and how much is God? Can man initiate (semi-Pelagian) or is it only God? Are we co-operating with God, or not?
When we get to justification, is it imputed or infused? What type of grace are we talking here, sanctifying or actual?
To say that faith is simple is to oversimplify. There are a lot of possible variations, that that is why it seems complicated, and why we end up with so many beliefs among Christians.
To read the full section on justification in the Catechism, look here. But I will excerpt a few selections which show that we believed we are saved by God's grace.
Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy. Its purpose is the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life:
- But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.
#1999 The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification:
- Therefore if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself.
- Indeed we also work, but we are only collaborating with God who works, for his mercy has gone before us. It has gone before us so that we may be healed, and follows us so that once healed, we may be given life; it goes before us so that we may be called, and follows us so that we may be glorified; it goes before us so that we may live devoutly, and follows us so that we may always live with God: for without him we can do nothing.
- If at the end of your very good works . . ., you rested on the seventh day, it was to foretell by the voice of your book that at the end of our works, which are indeed "very good" since you have given them to us, we shall also rest in you on the sabbath of eternal life.
That was the section immediately before the Catechism begins to discuss merit. So we are back to that topic. There are two kinds of merit in Catholic doctrine, condign merit and congruous merit.
See Catholic Encyclopedia for more information, but here is what I feel is the important part:
Condign merit supposes an equality between service and return; it is measured by commutative justice (justitia commutativa), and thus gives a real claim to a reward. Congruous merit, owing to its inadequacy and the lack of intrinsic proportion between the service and the recompense, claims a reward only on the ground of equity.
Christian faith teaches us that the Incarnate Son of God by His death on the cross has in our stead fully satisfied God's anger at our sins, and thereby effected a reconciliation between the world and its Creator. Not, however, as though nothing were now left to be done by man, or as though he were now restored to the state of original innocence, whether he wills it or not; on the contrary, God and Christ demand of him that he make the fruits of the Sacrifice of the Cross his own by personal exertion and co-operation with grace, by justifying faith and the reception of baptism. It is a defined article of the Catholic Faith that man before, in, and after justification derives his whole capability of meriting and satisfying, as well as his actual merits and satisfactions, solely from the infinite treasure of merits which Christ gained for us on the Cross.
So, to the best of my understanding, God gives us the grace that we need to turn to him, and cooperate. It is through this free response that we might say we merit our salvation, which is due entirely to Christ. To avoid the prohibited word "merit" we might instead say "accept the free gift of salvation by our faith."
As I said before, this is about vocabulary.
Works are bad, but bearing fruits is good.
Accepting/believing is not an action, despite being a verb, because actions are works, which are bad.
Meriting salvation is bad, but obtaining or being giving a salvation after an action is good.
I believe we are expressing the same idea, but in different words.