The Eucharist (Grk: Thanksgiving) is a term for the central Sacrament as celebrated among members of the older Christian churches, including Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox Christians, and some Protestants (most notably the Lutherans). The ceremony is also called the Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion, Communion, and The Lord's Supper. This act of worship in Christian churches re-enacts the Last Supper when Jesus served bread and wine, perhaps miraculously, to his disciples on the night before he was crucified.
Christians generally see it as obeying Christ's call to "Do this in remembrance of me" (see 1 Cor 11: 23-26). Different denominations present a range of interpretations of the meaning of the Eucharist. For some Protestant churches the bread and wine only symbolize the body and blood of an omnipresent Christ Jesus while other Protestants accept the real presence no less than the Catholic churches do. The Roman Catholic Church also believes that the bread and wine will be literally transformed into the body and blood of Jesus during the Mass (see transubstantiation). A few Christians don’t participate in any taking of the Communion elements because they feel no need for sacraments (sometimes termed "ordinances") at all.
The rite itself varies depending on which church, format and book of the Bible is being referenced. There has been some disagreement since the beginning of the Church. Some churches use wine in their Communion services, and some use grape juice. The Mormon church uses water.
The people in certain churches take the bread and wine while sitting in the pews; in others, they receive communion before the altar or holy table in the front of the church. The body of Christ has its own feast day known as Corpus Christi, and churches and other institutions can be dedicated to it instead of a saint; examples are Corpus Christi College in Cambridge and Corpus Christi, Texas.
Ancient writings about the Eucharist
The Didache ("the Teaching") - 1st Cent.
Chapter 9. The Eucharist. Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way. First, concerning the cup: We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David Thy servant, which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever.. And concerning the broken bread: We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.. But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, "Give not that which is holy to the dogs." Chapter 10. Prayer after Communion. But after you are filled, give thanks this way: We thank Thee, holy Father, for Thy holy name which You didst cause to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which You modest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Thou, Master almighty, didst create all things for Thy name's sake; You gavest food and drink to men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to Thee; but to us You didst freely give spiritual food and drink and life eternal through Thy Servant. Before all things we thank Thee that You are mighty; to Thee be the glory for ever. Remember, Lord, Thy Church, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in Thy love, and gather it from the four winds, sanctified for Thy kingdom which Thou have prepared for it; for Thine is the power and the glory for ever. Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the God (Son) of David! If any one is holy, let him come; if any one is not so, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen. But permit the prophets to make Thanksgiving as much as they desire.
Justin martyr 100 A.D. - 165 A.D. From the "First Apology" (Defense)
But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to genoito [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion. (Chapt. LXV - administration of the sacraments)
And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist = the Thanksgiving], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, "This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;" and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, "This is My blood;" and gave it to them alone... (Chapt. LXVl - of the Eucharist)
And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead...(Chapt.LXVll - weekly worship of the Christians)
Ignatius of Antioch (thought to be a disciple of the Apostle John) - martyred 117 A.D.
Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God... They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes." Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1
Irenaeus, 180 A.D. Against Heresies, 2,
We offer him what is his, and so we proclaim communion and unity and profess our belief in the resurrection of flesh and spirit. Just as bread from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread but the Eucharist, made up of two elements, one earthly and one heavenly, so also our bodies, in receiving the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, for they have the hope of resurrection.
This sacrament is rarely, if ever, referred to as the "Eucharist" in most Protestant churches. Among Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican churches the term is common. "Eucharist" comes from the Greek word meaning "giving thanks." The central theme is one of being grateful to God for His gift of His Son Jesus and for Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross for our sins. It also may be related to the the 3rd cup of wine drunk immediately after the Passover Seder dinner, although it is a matter of dispute among Christians whether or not Jesus followed this part of the Passover during his "Last Supper."
The following is the basic Eucharistic theology of the Catholic and Orthodox churces, East or West, Latin, Greek, or Aramaic:
The foreservice of the Eucharist consists mainly of Scripture readings according to a lectionary of Scripture. This practice came into the Church through the Synagogual reading of the Law of Moses (Torah) and the Prophets (Haftorah). Beginning with the early Church, the "memoires of the Apostles" or Gospels were added along with a recitation from the Psalms, as in the synagogues. In the era of the early Church, but no longer, those who had not yet been baptized left the building, and the Eucharist was celebrated by the baptized believers.
The pattern of the service follows certain "cues" preserved in the Gospels and elsewhere that provide Catholics a key to understanding those portions of Scripture. The pattern is fourfold:
- TAKING the bread and the wine (the produce of our labor and hence, often accompanied with the "Offerings" of our tithes and donations). In the Orthodox churches there is a prayerful Preparation of the bread and wine before they are brought to the altar.
- BLESSING the bread and wine. The blessing of God over the bread in Judaism sanctifies the bread taking it out of normal use, or, alternatively, bringing the "secular" into the arena of the divine. This Blessing is known as the Thanksgiving prayer proper.
- BREAKING or "Fraction" (meaning breaking). It both signifies that Jesus' body was broken for us on the hill of Calvary and is the start of the breaking and giving to all the people in the congregation.
- the COMMUNION (that is, the distribution of the blessed Bread and Wine to the congregation). The term "Communion" here is reserved for this particular part of the service. In the Roman Catholic Church the blessed bread is usually unleavened, as was the Matzah of the Passover, perpetuating the link with Jewish practice, and for convenience, is usually small wafers. In the Orthodox Church, the bread is a loaf of bread (intermingled with the wine in the Chalice), copying the symbolism of the Apostle Paul that as the loaf is one, so we who partake are one.
These churches believe that their Eucharists are not only a fulfillment and continuation of what the Lord did and commanded at the Last Supper, but also as a continuation and fulfillment of those events in the Gospels that portray this fourfold pattern and mention it. Christ took the bread and blessed it while looking to heaven. The miracle takes place. Also, the Lord was seen in the "breaking" of the bread at Emmaus.
In the Catholic and Orthodox Eucharist then, the priest takes the bread, and he follows that with a blessing. These churches believe that here the priest (who also gives the Word and pastors the people) stands in the place of Christ. That is, it is not the table of the priest or even of the people; it is the table of Christ. It is Christ who stretches out his hands to invite the people to the banquet. Christ Himself is the host of the banquet. This is the mind-set of the priest, who is termed "the Celebrant." Here is to be noted a double understanding of the priest. He also is believed to represent the people to the Lord. But the priest is not of the order of the Aaronic priesthood; Christ is understood to be that.
The Priest then says the Eucharistic prayer. He is representing all the people assembled. This is the Thanksgiving proper. Thanksgiving is made for Creation and sustenance and protection, but the core of the thanksgiving in all the liturgies is the giving by the Father of His Son, and for the willing sacrifice of Himself that Jesus performed. Then the prayer of thanksgiving settles on the words of Jesus spoken when he instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper. That is, Jesus commanded that something be done. He is recorded in the Gospel as saying, "Do this!...."
These churches stand apart from the rest of Christianity in believing that Jesus meant that he was giving his literal, physical self under the appearance of bread and wine. "This is my body which is given for you...This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the New Covenent which is poured out for you, and for many...." These words--when recited by the priest--are called the Words of Institution, and they are one of the two "essentials" of the Eucharist. One essential is the prayer of calling for the sanctifying Holy Spirit (the Invocation) upon both the elements of bread and wine that they will become, for the people, the body and blood of Jesus and, also, that the people will be made worthy to make a "fruitful" communion.
What takes place at the Eucharist is understood to be two-fold: one, there is a line of development of Old Testament teachings and, for the other, a certain view of the intent of the Gospels. The bread and the wine not only signify the willing sacrifice of the Lord for the sins of the whole world, a perception shared with most Protestant churches, but they are considered signs of the covenant, in Hebrew, Otot haBrit. Like the Signs of the Covenant in the Old Testament, they are primarily for the eyes of God. This differs from the approach of the Protestant churches of the Baptistic and Holiness traditions which understand the Lord's Ssupper to be merely "pedagogic", that is, a reminder to the people of what Christ has done for us on the cross, and a call for them to evaluate their lives in view of Christ's great sacrifice on the cross.
According to Catholic teaching, the people of the Lord are lifting up the signs of the Covenant to heaven itself. Heaven (God) looks down and sees the signs, sees the faith of the people that are under the sign, sees them taking refuge in what the signs represent, so that the people are found safe under the wings of God's grace and mercy. The signs of the New Covenant are thus analogous to the Old Covenant signs that God looked upon -- the blood of the lamb at the first Passover which was placed by the people who believed, which was seen by the angel, and so the people were spared; the circumcision of the Israelites at eight days of age, which Moses neglected to do for his own son, and was spared only because of the faithful love and determination of his wife who did the job for him; and the rainbow in the skies, which, when God would look at, he would remember His promise to spare the earth from more destruction by water as in the days of Noah. These are all echoes of the Jewish "Remembrance" prayers from the time of Jesus and thus provide the setting for the celebration of the Eucharist.
Aside from the setting up of the sign of the New Covenant, there is the other of the two-fold understandings of what takes place at the Catholic Eucharist:
Taking their cues from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John where Jesus speaks about eating His body and drinking His blood, Catholics believe that Jesus meant to refer to the Eucharist and in a literal, not a metaphorical, way. The body and blood are presented to the people at the time of communion. How this is done differs according to which church body is in question.
The Roman Catholic church, influenced by Aristotle through the writings of Thomas Aquinus, has adopted the understanding and belief that there is nothing any longer of the substance of bread and wine after the Celebrant's words are spoken over them, that the substance of bread and wine are no longer extant. The "accidents"--the taste, smell, and feel of bread and wine--remain, however(Transubstantiation).
The Orthodox believe otherwise, holding that the words of Christ ("This [is] my body; This [is] my blood") indicate what happens, but without any need for an explanation of the mechanics of the miraculous change. What both of these churches agree upon here is the belief that the worship service offers a sacrifice. They assert that any offering is acceptable to God, even the offering of Christ himself in Christian worship, and that this understanding is supported by the Book of Hebrews.
- Sign of the Cross
- The Sign of the Cross: of Jewish Origin
- Lord's Supper and the Passover Seder
- Fish Sign
- New Testament understanding through the Jewish perspective
- Essay: The earliest Christian Church, a prison in Armageddon
- Inspiration of Holy Scripture: An Eastern Christian and Jewish Perspective
- Evangelical Apostolic Church of North America (Syro-Chaldean)
- Jesus Christ
- Real presence
- Open communion
- Closed communion
- The Passover Last Supper Conflation: An Essay
- Was the Last Supper a Passover seder?: an essay
- Transmigration of Words in Religion: an essay
See , (Document: Liturgy of the Eucharist, annotated) for example of how the above Eucharistic basics may be adapted by Apostolic succession church for modern usage and worship service.