Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 27: The Sacraments, Part 3: The Eucharist

The definition which St. Augustine gives of the eucharist as “sacramentum pietatis, signum unitatis, vinculum caritatis”(St. Augustine, In Ioannis Evangelium Tractatus, 26, 13: CCL 36, 266) clearly illustrates the effects of personal sanctification (pietas) and community reconciliation (unitas and caritas) which derive from the very essence of the eucharistic mystery as an unbloody renewal of the sacrifice of the cross, the source of salvation and of reconciliation for all people.

Previously I was unfamiliar with that term vinculum caritatis. My understanding is that this expresses “binding/tie of charity/love.” The sense is that not only is our participation in the Eucharist a sacrament and sign, it is also a means of binding the believer to the very person of Christ in his desired action in the world. Through the sacramental life, especially the Eucharist, we express a charity and/or love of others as a choice, a willingness to bind ourselves and our actions to the methodology of the Savior. When our actions to not align with Christ, there is the opportunity for penance and reconciliation–with God and with others.

A considerable citation from St Paul VI:

However, it must be remembered that the church, guided by faith in this great sacrament, teaches that no Christian who is conscious of grave sin can receive the eucharist before having obtained God’s forgiveness. This we read in the instruction Eucharisticum Mysterium which, duly approved by Paul VI, fully confirms the teaching of the Council of Trent: “The eucharist is to be offered to the faithful also ‘as a remedy, which frees us from daily faults and preserves us from mortal sin’ and they are to be shown the fitting way of using the penitential parts of the liturgy of the Mass. The person who wishes to receive holy communion is to be reminded of the precept: Let a (person) examine himself” (1 Cor 11:28).

The original context of this quote: rich Christians abusing the sacrament in the common assembly with the poor. It was a later development to apply it to all serious sin, a tendency that leans more heavily on public sinfulness, naturally. One rarely sees clergy abstain, though they would plead to be under the obligation of making an act of perfect contrition:

And the church’s custom shows that such an examination is necessary, because no one who is conscious of being in mortal sin, however contrite (she or) he may believe himself to be, is to approach the holy eucharist without having first made a sacramental confession. If this person finds (her or) himself in need and has no means of going to confession, (she or) he should first make an act of perfect contrition.”(Eucharisticum Mysterium 35)

All that said, God’s grace may well be at work for people who come to Mass, and perhaps even receiving the Eucharist.

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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