Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 11: The Church, the Great Sacrament of Reconciliation

The classical definition of a Sacrament is a sign instituted by Christ to give grace. By calling disciples who were the first “members,” Jesus has, in a way instituted a sign to give grace. It’s not a strange thing to call the Church a sacrament. And so, John Paul II did to make a point:

11. The church has the mission of proclaiming this reconciliation and as it were of being its sacrament in the world. The church is the sacrament, that is to say, the sign and means of reconciliation in different ways which differ in value but which all come together to obtain what the divine initiative of mercy desires to grant to humanity.

The Church exists to fulfill this mission of Jesus and his desire to effect the reconciliation of humankind to the Father. One way we are a sign is by embracing our reconciliation with God and with one another:

She is a sacrament in the first place by her very existence as a reconciled community which witnesses to and represents in the world the work of Christ.

We also recount the narrative of salvation history for the benefit of those prepared to hear the Word:

She is also a sacrament through her service as the custodian and interpreter of sacred Scripture, which is the good news of reconciliation inasmuch as it tells each succeeding generation about God’s loving plan and shows to each generation the paths to universal reconciliation in Christ.

The Word is a means of God granting us grace, and certainly the Seven are as well:

Finally she is a sacrament by reason of the seven sacraments which, each in its own way, ” make the church. “(Cf St. Augustine, De Civitate Dei, XXII 17: CCL 48, 835f; St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III pars, q. 64, art. 2 ad tertium) For since they commemorate and renew Christ’s paschal mystery, all the sacraments are a source of life for the church and in the church’s hands they are means of conversion to God and of reconciliation among people.

There seems not to be a distinction between the sacraments in this context. At least there is no mention of “healing sacraments,” and drawing penance and anointing out as restoring the relationship between believer and God. They certainly do that, but the process of initiation is also a gesture of reconciling grace. Baptism forgives sin and confirmation is certainly linked closely there, at least in theory. The Eucharist is certainly an expression of forgiveness, reconciliation, and grace stemming from that. An interesting question for students might be: how do Orders and Matrimony express the saving action of reconciliation and penance?

This document is Copyright © 1984 – Libreria Editrice Vatican. The link on the Vatican site is here.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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