The_Seminarians.gif (7869 bytes)
Christ's Faithful People

  Communionis Notion

by Dean Perri


The Etymology of Communion

There have been many ideas concerning the notion of communion from within and without the Church. What is notion of communion and how does the Church understand her role in the world as an example and witness to her unity with the Trinity? Let us begin to look at the etymology of the word ‘communion’. The word communion comes from two Latin words ‘com’and ‘munus’. The word Munus is derived from the Sanscrit MU which means a tie, bond, or link. According to the ancient Romans, a munus was a public function, task or act that is performed by a citizen on behalf of the community for the community. These may include building roads, paying taxes, supplying food for the city, ect….The citizen is a member of the community by birth, nature or by some legal formality(adoption). Other Latin words that are derived from the root MU are :

MURUS---walls, they bind a community

IMMUNUS---a citizen is exempt from the munera

COMMUNUS---a group of citizens who do or perform the munera

SACER(related to MU)---set apart, outside the law, one who was cast outside the community and his goods were confiscated. You were also left to the gods.

The three Munera(Offices) of the Church(Community) are Teaching, Sanctifying and Governing. These offices are performed for the community, by a member of the community in the name of the community.(Clergy and Laity) Through Baptism, we participate in the Muneris Christi. Jesus is a citizen of the Trinitarian community who is entrusted to the mission of redemption in the name of Trinity. We are incorporated into His Redemptive mission by sharing in His life in the community.[1]

The Concept of Communion(Communionis Notion)

The purpose of the Document is to highlight the correct concept of communion in line with Vatican II, the 1985 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops and in conjunct with other Magisterial documents. The document presupposes that ultimately there is one basic ecclesiology, which certainly can be approached and worked out in different ways, depending on which of the various aspects are stressed or highlighted. These aspects have to be in harmony with various essential elements that are Catholic. One can choose various starting points and methodologies, but they must be in harmony with the tradition of the Church.(Biblical/Patristic) Cardinal Ratzinger said there are three proper criteria necessary to have an adequate interpretation of the CDF’s letter[2]:

1)The concept of communion must be seen in relation to other central notions of ecclesiology, such as "The People of God", "Body of Christ" and "Sacrament".

2)The concept of communion must be seen in relation to the Eucharist and Episcopate, thus defining precisely the meaning of the Church’s unity which is expressed in the mutual interiority between the Universal Church and the Particular Churches.

3)The concept of communion must be seen in relation to the bond between the Bishops and the Successor of Peter, who is the visible foundation of the Church’s unity, keeping in mind the concern and need for the ecumenical perspective.

The Church: A Mystery of Communion

The concept of communion lies at the heart of the Church’s self-understanding. This communion is a gift from God, which is a fruit of the Paschal mystery. Also this communion is directed towards its eschatological end— Union between the Trinity and each human person and mankind with itself. It is not a univocal idea, but it needs to be understood in light of the Biblical and Patristic traditions. There are two dimensions that considered among these traditions:

Vertical------------communion with the Trinity

Horizontal---------communion among men

The vertical and horizontal dimensions come together on the Cross of Jesus Christ, in whom both divinity and humanity are united. This relationship between God and man has been established in Christ, communicated through the sacraments and creates a spiritual solidarity among men and women as the mystical body of Christ, i.e. the ‘People of God’.[3]

This ecclesial communion is at the same time both visible and invisible. As an invisible reality, the communion among human beings is through the indwelling of Holy Spirit(also by relation to the Father and Son) by which we partake in the divine life. As a visible reality, we have communion in the teaching of the Apostles, in the sacraments and in the hierarchical order.[4] The visible and invisible elements of ecclesial communion are linked by Christ’s mission of Redemption, where he performed his 3 munera…Priest, Prophet and King. This communion constitutes the Church as the sacrament of Salvation. Since the Church is a sacrament and carries on the Redemptive mission of Christ, she is permanently open to all missionary and ecumenical endeavors in order to witness to the Gospel and make present the mystery of communion which she represents. Through Faith and Baptism we are brought into this ecclesial communion with has it root and center in the Holy Eucharist. It is the creative force and source of communion among the members of the Church, precisely because it unites each one of them with Christ Himself.[5]

The Church is the Body of Christ in which the Eucharist transforms its members.

Since this is true, the Church is a communion of Saints which contains all the members from the foundation of the Church until the future when Christ will come again in the Parousia. The communion of Saints designates two realities[6]:

1)The common visible sharing in the goods of Salvation(Holy Things, Sacraments)

2)The Eucharist, which is the source of the invisible communion among the sharers(Holy People, Saints)

We share a communion of faith with the Apostles and those who have gone before us. We share in a communion of charisms, which are used to build up the Church. We share a communion in charity, because we part of the same body. In one member suffers, then all suffer. Every sin harms this communion. The communion of saints includes those members who enjoy the beatific vision and have triumphed over the trials and sins of this life.[7] Also, it includes those members who are in purgatory(in via) that are on their way, through purification, to enjoy beatitude with the Trinity. Finally it includes those who are currently on earth as pilgrims as they strive towards their eschatological union with the Trinity. This communion tends toward a union of prayer amongst all its members. We seek, by intercessory devotions to the saints, to be more closely joined to Christ and to fix the Church more firmly in holiness.[8] We all spiritually united as the same body in charity through the Holy Spirit. Among all the saints, Mary enjoys a pre-eminent position.

The Universal Church and Particular Churches

The Universal Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. The universal Church is present and active amid the particular characteristics and the diversity of persons, groups, times and places. Among all these manifold particular expressions of the salvific presence of the Universal Church are found, from the time of the apostles, particular churches. The Universal Church becomes present in them with all her essential elements. The Particular Churches are constituted after the model of the Universal Church. The Universal Church is the Body of the Churches. The concept of communion can be applied analogously to the union existing among particular churches, and to see the universal Church as a communion of churches.[9]

There have been some problems on the visible level with what a particular church is because in some cases, the notion of the "People of God" has been subtly reduced. Because of this reduction, The "People of God" have assumed a popular sovereignty where the majority rules, which has led to the idea of self-sufficient churches and that the Universal Church is the sum of these individual particular churches. This unilateralistic notion has led to a weakness in the visible unity of the Universal Church. We see this in the Church’s History: East/West Schism, Protestant Reformation.[10]

What is the relationship between the particular churches and Universal Church? There is a mutual interiority of the particular churches with the Universal Church. In every particular church, the universal Church is truly present and active. This is why it can not be conceived that the Universal Church is the sum of the particular churches. The universal Church is ontologically and temporally prior to every particular church. There is a richness to these churches which enhances their worship of God. We are made in the image and likeness of God, yet we express our worship of God in the Universal Church based on our culture and the time we live in. In the Patristic tradition, the universal Church ontologically preceded creation and gives birth to the particular churches as her daughters. Temporally speaking, the Church is manifested on the day of Pentecost in the upper room. She is gathered around Mary and the Apostles. She receives her mission to go out to all the nations and begins to speak their tongues in order to witness to the Gospel.[11]

The Apostles first started their local churches which took on a particular character, but nonetheless were expressions of the one unique Church of Jesus Christ. They had arisen within and out of the Universal Church and gained their ecclesiality in her and from her. This relationship between the Universal Church and particular churches is a mystery.[12] Every member of the particular churches belongs to the Universal Church in an immediate way. We live and worship in the particular churches, yet our worship of God is part of the worship of the universal Church. No matter what particular church you attend to worship, you belong to every particular church because of the mystery of communion among them. This communion by its very nature is universal.[13]

Communion of the Churches, Eucharist and Episcopate

Unity or communion between the particular churches in the universal church is rooted not only in the same faith and in common Baptism, but above all in the Eucharist and the Episcopate.[14]

Although the Eucharist is offered in the particular churches, it is never a celebration of that community alone. By receiving this gift of salvation, the particular churches show that they participate in the true presence of the ONE HOLY CATHOLIC and APOSTOLIC Church. A misconception of unity on the behalf of some of the particular churches claim that wherever the Eucharist is celebrated, the totality of the Church is made present such that any other principle of unity is rendered inessential. There are some radical forms of the Church, such as some Protestant ecclesiologies that would go so far to say that gathering in Jesus’ name is the same as generating the Church. The assembly would have all the power within itself of the Church. They see them as independent and self-sufficient. It is not the assembly that makes the Church, rather the Church is rooted in the Eucharist. The oneness and indivisibility of the eucharistic body of the Lord implies the oneness of his mystical body, which is the one and indivisible Church.[15]

The unity of the Church is also rooted in the unity of Episcopate. The governing body comes from the Eucharistic character of the Church. The Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity of the Church. The unity of the Bishops amongst themselves as well as with the Roman Pontiff constitute the visible unity within the Church.[16] The bishops are a visible source and foundation of the unity of a particular church entrusted to his pastoral ministry. They have carried on the pastoral care of the Church through apostolic succession. The Roman Pontiff belongs to all the particular churches in their exterior and interior essence. The ministry of the successor of Peter as something interior to each particular Church is a necessary expression of that fundamental mutual interiority between the universal Church and the particular Church.[17] Christ instituted the Eucharist and episcopate together so that the sacrifice of the Eucharist could be propagated by the Bishops in union with one another for the sanctification and edification of the universal Church in the particular churches.[18]

Unity and Diversity in Ecclesial Communion

The Church involves a plurality and diversification, which does not obstruct unity, but rather confers upon it the character of communion. This diversity includes a diversity of ministries, charisms and forms of life and apostolate within each particular church and to the diversity of traditions in the liturgy and culture among the various particular churches. The fostering of diversity can enrich unity within the Universal Church. This is a work of the whole Church and must be done in charity, which is the bond of perfection. The Church is greater than the sum of its parts and we need to foster unity among the particular churches.[19] There are many lay and religious groups within the church that have specific pastoral tasks within the particular churches which promote the edification and building up of the churches from within, therefore they foster unity among other particular churches. It is through the grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit that this work is perfected.[20]

Ecclesial Communion and Ecumenism

The Church is joined in many ways to those who are Baptized and honored with the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity under the successor of Peter. The orthodox churches have very close bonds and have kept apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, but are separated from the see of Peter. Although this communion is imperfect, it would not take much to bring them into full communion with the Catholic faith. We are bonded very closely through the Eucharist and church becomes present in their celebration, so they are considered to be particular churches.[21] The dis-unity among the Protestant churches has caused a wound among the visible unity of the Universal Church, which is represented by the Successor of Peter. This wound is even deeper among those particular protestant churches that have not retained the apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist.[22]

The vocation of the Church, of all Christians, is to reach out to all people…rich + poor, those angry with the church, protestant churches, and all those who have not heard the Gospel in order to foster unity among the particular churches. This is to be carried out through prayer, penance, study, dialogue and collaboration so that the hearts of those may be transformed through the grace of God. Our personal witness of all our endeavors will have the greatest effect of showing God’s presence in our lives. May we lead the way through personal holiness and commitment in the work of Christ through the Church for the sanctification of her members and for ecclesial unity from within and without.[23]


"The Catechism of the Catholic Church", (English Translation) United States Catholic

Conference, Inc., Washington D.C., 1994.

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Communionis Notio, St. Paul Books and Media, (Rome: Italy, May 28, 1992).

Ratzinger, Joseph, "L’Osservatore Romano", (Vatican City: Europe, June 17, 1992).

Click here to goto CFP Home Page