- Is it true that the Roman Catholic Church believes that a person isn't saved until after their life on earth is finished? The reason I ask that is because I think it means much in our conversation here. If a person cannot receive salvation until after death, then the grace-aided works you speak of are a condition of salvation. Am I wrong in assuming this?
In the Protestant faith, we believe that we are saved, while also in the process of being saved. We are saved from the bondage of sin now, our sins having been forgiven, and are being saved from the wrath that is yet to come (Romans 5:9)
I think I also remember reading that no one can say they have assurance of salvation in the tradition of the RCC. Is this correct as well?
Catholics believe that, by God's grace, we can enter into friendship with the Lord and receive the forgiveness of our sin. We have absolute certitude that, if we were to die in this state of righteousness, then heaven would be ours. But, we also believe that, because of free will and the concupiscence that comes with our fallen nature, this same person can choose to sin against God so grievously that he destroys the divine life within him. Because of this radical possibility, there can really be no absolute certitude of final perseverence, or of remaining in that state of friendship with God for one's entire life.
Note that this doesn't mean that Catholics live in fear. Such mortal sins are generally rare, and they are usually the end result of a long and steady decline deeper and deeper into sin, as man continues to indulge certain unhealthy desires. People don't just wake up one day and commit mortal sins. Instead, they slip and stumble with everyday vices as they strive each day to grow closer to the Lord, to be obedient to Him and to discern His will. When the Catholic falls, he simply returns with a contrite heart to the Lord, who forgives him and restores him to his former state of righteousness. When, by God's grace, he succeeds in doing God's will, the divine life within him increases and his attachment to sin decreases, to the point where certain sins no longer have the same luring appeal that they once did.
As you said, this is a process, and as long as the Catholic continues this process of striving for the Lord and always seeking God's grace, then he can have a "moral certitude" that he will persevere. In other words, he has good reason to believe that he will stand before the Lord one day with his grace and faith in tact. This certitude increases as he gains mastery over himself and his fleshly desires and he gains freedom from his attachment to the various sins that used to tempt him and cause him to fall. His hope is that, by God's grace, he will not only be cleansed of all sin, but even all attachment to sin, and he will grow closer and closer to God to the point of achieving eternal bliss with Him in heaven.
Note, the prevailing Catholic virtue is not fear, or guilt. It is hope: hope in the Cross, hope in the resurrection, hope in God's grace to bring us into eternal beatitude with His Son.