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The Eucharist (Grk: Thanksgiving) is a central Sacrament of the largest Christian churches, including Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox Church, and many Protestants, such as Lutherans. The toast-like ceremony is also called 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 following Christ's request to "Do this in remembrance of me" (see 1 Cor 11: 23-26). Different denominations have different interpretations of the meaning of Communion. For Protestant churches the bread and wine symbolize the omnipresent Christ of Jesus (See real presence), while the Catholic Church believes the bread and wine will be literally transformed into the body and blood of Jesus' Christ during the Mass (see transubstantiation). Because of the “body & blood” statement, some Christians don’t participate. The rite itself varies depending on which church, format and book of Bible is being followed but this has been the case 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 sometimes take the bread and wine while sitting in the pews, and sometimes take communion at the altar in the front of the church. The Eucharist 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 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.

The shared Theology and Practice of the Eucharist

Commonly called in Protestant churches "the Lord's Supper" or Communion, this part of the Christian worship service centering on the "remembering of Christ" over the bread and the wine, as He commanded, is known in Orthodox and Catholic (Also Anglican) churches as the Eucharist. "Eucharist" coming from the Greek word meaning "giving thanks" is so called because the "centerpiece" of intent is being grateful to God for His gift of His Son Jesus and Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross for our sins. It also derives its name from the 3rd cup of wine drunk immediately after the Passover Seder dinner, in which Jesus instituted the Eucharist - called "the cup of Thanksgiving".

The following is the basic eucharistic theology of all Catholic and Orthodox churces, East or West, Latin, Greek, or Aramaic.

The foreservice of the Eucharist, is 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). Starting from the early Church, the "memoires of the Apostles', the Gospels, were added with the additions, as in the synagogue, of the recitation from the Psalms. In the early Church, but no longer, those who have not yet been baptized left the Church, 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 a key to understanding those portions of Scriptures. The pattern is fourfold:

  1. 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 prayerfull Preparation of the bread and wine before being brought to the altar.
  2. BLESSING the bread and wine, understood, as in Judaism, as a blessing of the God who has given them to us. 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.
  3. BREAKING or "Fraction" (meaning breaking) The Fraction both signifies that Jesus' body was broken for us on the hill of Calvary and it is the start of the breaking and giving to all the people in the congregation - as Jesus did on the hills of Galilee
  4. 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) following the symbolism of the Apostle Paul that as the loave is one, so we who partake are one.

These Churches consider their Eucharists not only as a fullfilment and continuation of what the Lord did and commanded at the Last Supper, but also continuation and fulfillment of those events in the Gospels that portray this fourfold pattern and mentioning it (when there is no need to) sometimes all four together. The Lord takes the bread (also the fish*), He blesses looking up to heaven, He breakes the bread (this is needed in order to put into the hands of the disciples who distribute to the people, but there is no need to mention it except for the link seen connecting the Lord's miracle in th4 Gospels with the Eucharist). And the miracle takes place. Also the Lord is known in the "breaking" of the bread at Emmaus. This shows that the people of New Testament formation times, understood that their actual practice of the Eucharist was an extension of the miracle supply that Jesus gave the people when He was earth. and that is why they held interest in these events causing the need to preserve them in the recounting of the events in the Gospels. In similiar ways were their experiences at Church with the events related to Christs provision in the Gospels.

In the Eucharist then, the priest takes the bread, and he blesses. These churches understand 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 streches out his hands to invite the people to the banquet, and Christ Himself is the host of the banquet. This is the mind-set of the priest who is called the Celebrant. Here is to be noted a double understanding of the priest. He represents Christ behind the altar to the people, but in taking the bread and wine,and in his prayers, he represents the people to the Lord. In this sense he has a double capacity just like the priest, the "Cohen" of the Old Testament. But the priest is not of the order of the Aaronic priesthood; Christ is understood to be that. (the New Testament word "Priest" is but the linguistic corruption from the Greek word Presbyter, meaning "elder" - which is a direct derivation from the Hebrew Zaqen, also meaning "elder").

The Priest then makes the Eucharistic prayer. Here 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 for the giving of the Father of His Son, and for the willing sacrifice of Himself that Jesus performed, and then the prayer of thanksgiving settles on the words of Jesus which Jesus said when He instituted the Eucharist at the last supper. That is, Jesus commanded that something be done, "Do this!...", and it is done in the Churches and it is accompanied by Jesus' own words as given in the Gospels."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..." This recitation in prayer is called the Words of Institution, and it one of the two "essentials" of the Eucharist. The second essential is the prayer of calling for the sanctifying Holy Spirit, the Invocation, upon both the elements of Bread and Wine that it become for the people of God, the Body and Blood of the Lord, and upon the people that they will be made worthy and make a "furitful" communion.

What takes place at the Eucharist is understood to be two-fold, one. a complete sure line of development of Old Testament teachings and the other an understanding of the intent of the Gospels. The first of the two-fold: The bread and the wine, is not only to visualize the willing sacrifice of the Lord for the sins of the whole world, as is shared with most Protestant churches, but they are considered signs of the covenant, in Hebrew, Otot haBrit, and like the Signs of the Covenant in the Old Testament itself, they are primarily for the eyes of God. (This is a difference with most Protestant churches that understand the Lord's supper to be "pedagogic", that is, a reminder to the people of what Christ has done for us on the cross, and a call ffor evaluation of our lives in view of His great sacrifice on the cross). The people of the Lord are lifting up the signs of the Covenant commanded by God to heaven itself. Heaven (God) looks down and sees the signs, sees the faith of the people that are under the sign, sees their taking refuge in what the signs represent, and so they, the people are found safe under the wings of His grace and mercy. The signs of the New Covenant are thus analogous to the Old Covenant signs that God looked down 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 taking refuge as God commanded, were spared; the circumcision of the Israelites at eight days, 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; the rainbow in the skies, which, when God would look at, He would remember His promise to spare, and thus the earth would know no more destruction by water as in the days of Noah. These are all echoes in the Jewish "Remembrance " prayers from the time of Jesus and thus the natural setting for the expression of the Eucharist is provided. But 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 Eucharist:

Taking their cues from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John where Jesus speaks about eating His body and drinking His blood, and understanding that this is meant Eucharistically, that is, to be understood from the meaning and practice of the Eucharist as instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper (no need therefore for the Gospel of John to include the recounting of the Last Supper), Orthodox and Catholic Churches (as well as Anglican and Lutheran) believe that the life of Christ in His body and blood are presented to the people at the time of communion. How this is done differs in the understanding of Catholic from Orthodox, but that it is done, is a shared understanding. 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; that the substance of bread and wine are no longer there, though the "accidents", taste, smell, feel, of bread and wine remain (Transubstantiation). The Orthodox believe otherwise, understanding that the words of Christ This is my body and This is my blood, signify what is said without explanation. What both Churches do share, is that any offering is acceptable to God, even the offering of Christ Himself according to the book of Hebrews, only through the Holy Spirit, and that what is of the earth is earthly and only that which is of the Spirit, is spiritual - and thus the Invocation.

The various Orthodox and Catholic Churches do have other differences as well as other similarities, but the above is the basics of their shared Eucharist.

See Also


Sign of the Cross

Lord's Supper and the Passover Seder

Fish Sign

New Testament understanding through the Jewish perspective

Inspiration of Holy Scripture: An Eastern Christian and Jewish Perspective

Evangelical Apostolic Church of North America (Syro-Chaldean)

Jesus Christ

Real presence

The Passover Last Supper Conflation: An Essay

External Links

See [1], (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.