No, the Mass has not gotten so liberal that celebrants or the congregation do the popular party dance on the way to the Eucharist, although some might believe that the Church wouldn’t necessarily think that a bad idea if it got people to fulfill their holy obligations more frequently. The Vatican has studied the religious concept of limbo for decades now in an attempt to either minimize it or eliminate it altogether, and the Globe & Mail reports that a blue-ribbon commission of theologians first formed by John Paul the Great on the question will recommend that Pope Benedict banish limbo from Catholic teachings:
In Latin, it means “the lip,” and for centuries devout Roman Catholics have tried to avoid thinking about its full meaning: the edge of hell, where those who have died without baptism — notably babies — are sent for eternity.
Now it seems that limbo, a place invented in the Middle Ages that soon became a well-known part of the architecture of the cosmos, is about to be struck from the theological blueprints as part of the Vatican’s lengthy renovation of its heavenly layout.
Its place, alongside such well-known medieval additions as the gates of heaven, the nine circles of hell, purgatory and the heavenly vestibule, has become increasingly shaky, and yesterday, the Italian media reported that an international commission of high-ranking theologians intends to advise Pope Benedict to banish the notion of limbo from all teachings of the Catholic catechism.
One of the reasons that limbo has been in, well, limbo is because the concept presents a stumbling block to Christian unity, especially for those who practice from a literal form of sola scriptura. After the Church could catch its breath when it emerged from four centuries of martydom and oppression, theologians presented many questions about the nature of the faith which challenged the thinking of Church elders. Among them: what happened to unbaptized babies at death? Instead of just leaving such questions up to God, distraught parents and theoretical thinkers wanted answers, and limbo came into being.
Limbo, it should be pointed out, differs from purgatory, another difficult but more scriptural-based concept of Roman Catholocism. Purgatory refers to the process of purification that has to take place between the death of a sinner and their entry into heaven. Misunderstood as a particular place in space and time, purgatory would at first appear to be an unmentioned third possible destination for the dead, but the Church teaches that all souls who enter heaven must necessarily experience purgatory to be cleansed of sinful impulses before final acceptance into the presence of the Lord. When I taught confirmation classes, I used to explain it to the teenagers as an extra rinse cycle in the washing machine … which may explain why I don’t teach confirmation classes any longer.
Purgatory as a concept would have also explained what happens to the unbaptized, and done so with much more elegance than the notion of limbo. I suspect that if limbo gets the heave-ho it deserves, the Church will probably emphasize purgatory as the merciful process that it is and the path of the unbaptized to reach heaven when judged deserving by the Lord — who, after all, makes the rules and the choices without consulting any of us on our opinion anyway.