What Does Covenant Mean?

Dear Catholic Exchange:

What is the Catholic understanding of the term covenant?


Dear Roberta,

Peace in Christ! A good definition of “covenant” is found in Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopedia: Revised Edition, (ed. Rev. Peter M.J. Stravinskas). We won’t quote the entire entry, but the following three sentences provide a beginning definition:

A solemn promise, fortified by an oath, concerning future action. The oath might be expressed in words or in a symbolic action…. Both the Sinai covenant and the covenant in Christ’s blood brought into being a People of God and called for complete surrender to God in response to His love (p. 289).

A covenant is more than a mere impersonal contract, in which two parties agree to an exchange of goods and services. A covenant binds persons together beyond the mere contractual agreement. Marriage is a prime example. While marriage has “contractual” elements and promises, it is a covenant that binds two persons together. Marriage obviously binds two persons in a unique way, but all covenants bind persons together in some way.

The New Covenant in Christ binds together God to His people with a future promise of redemption. It also binds God’s People to one another (cf. Ephesians 2:11-22).

There are many aspects to the concept of covenant. Scott Hahn has probably written and spoken the most extensively on the covenant from a Catholic perspective. Two earlier tape series by Dr. Hahn that would be helpful are Growth by Oath and Salvation History, published by St. Joseph Communications. His book A Father Who Keeps His Promises and the newer Swear to God: The Promise and Power of the Sacraments are also suggested. The former is an overview of the development of covenant history, culminating in Christ and the Catholic Church. Swear to God is about the role of the seven sacraments as covenant oaths through which God fulfills His covenant promises. The tapes and books can be ordered from Benedictus Books at 1-888-316-2640. Members of Catholics United for the Faith receive a ten percent discount from Benedictus.

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David E. Utsler

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