In today’s article we will talk about one of the most important moments within the Catholic traditions: the moment of the Eucharist . We will explain in detail what it consists of, its history and evolution, how it works and much more. We invite you to continue reading so you can find out everything you need to know about the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
What is the Eucharist?
First of all, the word eucharist comes from the Greek “eucharistía”, which means the action of giving thanks. On the other hand, it is also commonly known by the name of “Holy Sacrifice”, “Holy Sacrament”, “Holy Mysteries”, “Fraction of Bread”, “Lord’s Supper”, “Holy Supper”, among other names. Still, in all cases its meaning is the same; It consists of a very spiritual moment where we receive the body and blood of Christ through wine and bread. This tradition is used by the Catholic, Coptic, Anglican, Orthodox and some variants of the Lutheran churches.
But to say that it is only the body and blood of Christ is a very superficial explanation, since the Eucharist is a representation of the renewal of the sacrifice that Jesus makes for us on the cross to help us purify our sins, all this through the consecration performed by the priest in the wine and bread. Although it should be noted that physically the father does not make a real physical change, the change occurs at a symbolic level. This is known as “The Mystery of Transubstantiation.”
In the same order of ideas, we take the opportunity to clarify that being a symbolic act, there is no explicit rule that obliges priests to always use wine and bread to celebrate the Eucharist (in the strict sense of the word), in fact; “The bread” most used today is the host, which is not bread in the traditional way as we know it. What matters is that it is a bread-like product, which may or may not contain yeast.
In turn, it is important not to confuse the Mass with the Eucharist. Because both things mean something different, the Eucharist is the culminating moment of the mass where we purify ourselves from our sins. While the mass, in general terms, can be understood as the celebration of the word of God. The consecration of wine and bread is usually done on an altar or communion table. Then the participants of the mass who wish to receive communion are invited to receive the body and blood of Christ. In doing so, they can be said to be “receiving the Eucharist” or “celebrating Communion.”
For Lutherans, the body and blood of Christ is really present as bread and wine, so they speak of a “sacramental union.” Instead, Reformed Christians and Anglicans will consider that there is a real spiritual presence of Christ during the Eucharist. Other religions such as that of the Christodelphians, however, think of the Eucharist as a ceremony that symbolically recreates the Last Supper.
For the Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic and Anglican churches, the Eucharist is a source and summit of life for every believer. This is how children are taught through the catechism that the Eucharist represents a sign of unity, being a bond of charity through the Easter meal where the Lord is received. All this, thanks to the fact that the soul is filled with grace and is purified from the sins committed, enlightening us with eternal life.
The first Eucharist was given during the Last Supper of Jesus, in which he celebrated Easter with his disciples and consecrated the wine and bread through the chalice. In any case, on a historical level, the celebration of the Eucharist begins before the writing of the Gospels.
When the wine and bread are consecrated, the blessing of the Holy Spirit is also requested and the priest says the words of consecration that Jesus Christ said at the Last Supper. These words are: “This is my body given up for you… This is the chalice of my blood…”
From the point of view of the faithful and those who make communion, the experience of the Eucharist is highly personal. Although it is a public ceremony officiated by the father, each person experiences the Eucharist in a very intimate way, because it is a meeting place with Jesus and each one has their own way of communicating with him. For this reason, it is impossible to generalize what the Eucharistic experience is like. Even so, all those who have the opportunity to receive communion obtain God’s grace and therefore, their hearts open, giving greater openness to the ability to love, forgive and do good.
Similarly, the fact of trying the body and blood of Christ, gives strength to face the obstacles that afflict you, face suffering, multiply hope and spread the word of God. On the other hand, the fact that the host and the wine are a symbolic representation of the body and blood of Christ does not mean that it is consecrated in temples and churches at all times. So a candle, lamp or some light signal is usually used near the tabernacle to indicate to the faithful that there is the real presence of Christ in the tabernacle.
Theology of the Eucharist
We can find five general aspects related to the Eucharist that have been reasons for theological reflection: the institution of the sacrament, the use of the Eucharist as a bloodless sacrifice, the Eucharist as a real meeting point with Christ, the use of the Eucharist to exercise communion and finally, the eucharist as a means to achieve glory in the future.
The Institution of the Sacrament
To introduce ourselves a bit on the subject, it is interesting to know that the term Eucharist that comes from the Greek (εὐχαριστία) can be found 15 times in the New Testament. Where Catholic theology considers that the sacrament became an institution after Jesus promoted it as a sacrament during the last supper. Similarly, the synoptic gospels mention that the most critical and crucial point is made at the moment of taking the bread in his hands, breaking it and distributing it to his disciples, mentioning:
« Drink and eat, for this is my body, which is given to you. In the same way, he takes the chalice and passes it to his disciples, telling them: all of you take and drink from it, since this is my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of all sins, perform this in commemoration of me . “
We can find this phrase in different passages of the Bible such as Mark (14:22-25), Luke (22:19-20), Matthew (26:26-29), among others.
It is important to keep in mind that the institution of the sacrament occurs in the Gospel accounts in a very broad context, thus giving multiple interpretations and meanings according to the different theological currents.
For synoptic evangelicals, the institution is formalized at the time of making the Passover meal (the last supper of Jesus with his disciples), this can be seen through different passages of the Bible described in the Gospels of Matthew (14:17-25 ), Luke (22:7-18) or Mark (14:12-21).
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, is aware that the Eucharist was already pre-established in a certain way in the Old Testament, with the Easter meal being the main moment of focus. This celebration was officiated mainly by the Jews who ate unleavened bread, along with lamb meat cooked over a fire with multiple bitter herbs. We can find evidence of this celebration in the texts of: Exodus (12:1-8), Numbers (28:16-25) and Leviticus (23:5-8).
Saint Paul and Saint John the Evangelists mention that the death of Jesus on the cross is a crucial moment for the celebration of Easter. In addition, the institution of the Eucharist has a strong bond of passion that is given when Jesus mentions that his death is near, that it will be violent and that it will occur to cleanse the sins of the world.
In turn, detaching from the previous point, the death of Jesus on the cross also speaks to us of mutual helpfulness, since according to John; During the last supper, Jesus cleansed the feet of all his disciples and entrusted them with the task of following his example and spreading his word, indicating “love as I love you”.
The Eucharist as Sacrifice
In Catholic theology, the Eucharist is loaded with many meanings agglomerated in a single action, among them is the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on the cross for us. In other words, the Eucharist can be understood as a ceremony in memory of Christ’s Easter (this being one of many meanings). At the moment of doing the liturgy we remember with admiration all the events and sacrifices made by Jesus in a timeless way.
This means that although his death occurred in the past, his sacrifice is still present in the future and communion is a way to return to that moment and purify our sins again in the present. So the Eucharist is also a sacrifice, where we offer again the body and blood of Christ for the purification of our sins.
We can appreciate this sacrificial character of the Eucharist when listening to the words of the father when making the consecration: «This is my body that will be given to you» or «this cup is the new and eternal covenant in my blood, which will be poured out for you for the remission of sins.” These fragments can be found in the biblical quotes from Luke (22:19-20).
It is important to understand that the sacrifice that Jesus makes on the cross is the same that is made during the Eucharist. In both situations, Christ plays the role of priest and victim to be offered. The only difference is only in the manner in which the sacrifice is offered. When he was crucified, Christ offered himself as bloody and for himself, while in the mass he offers himself as bloody, but the ceremony is carried out by the priests.
At a historical level, we can see how different priests, representatives of the church have alluded to the sacrifice of Jesus during the Eucharist:
- Saint Ignatius of Antioch : He mentions the sacrificial aspect that the Eucharist possesses through a text where he also speaks about the altar. Indicating that the latter is the place where the body of Jesus is offered as a sacrifice. He even warns the faithful to be careful about celebrating more than one Eucharist, since it symbolizes the body of the Lord Jesus Christ and the correct thing is a single offering of bread, wine and the use of a single altar at the same time. In turn, there should be only one bishop with the priests and deacons.
- Saint Ambrose : Among his teachings he indicated that at the time of performing the mass and making the sacrifice of Jesus, he was both a sacrifice and a priest. He said that it was difficult to understand how Christ could sacrifice himself for us, but that did not prevent him from doing it for our spiritual well-being in the same way. On the other hand, his word serves to sanctify his sacrifice.
- San Cipriano : Said that Christ was a priest according to the order of Melchizedek and that the priest during the mass, at the time of consecration, plays the role of Jesus Christ, offering the body and blood of Christ before the church and in the eyes of the Lord.
- The Didache : Indicates that among the most relevant texts of the apostolic fathers, we get the warning: we must meet during the day of the Lord, then we must break the bread, give thanks and confess our sins, so that the sacrifice we are making be really pure.
- Tertullian : He mentions that our participation in the Eucharist must take place near the altar, making communion in such a way that we participate in the sacrifice of Jesus.
- Saint Justin Martyr : For him, the Eucharist represents something similar to the sacrifice made by those who were cured of leprosy, where they gave a flower of flour. Only that in this case the sacrifice made is the bread and the chalice of the Eucharist. Note how in addition to emphasizing the sacrificial character, it accentuates the healing or purifying aspect of the Eucharist.
- Saint Irenaeus of Lyon : Among his teachings, he highlights that the Eucharist corresponds to the flesh and blood of Christ, which represent the new alliance. Awarded to the apostles and then passed to the church to offer to Christ in front of the world. As designated by the prophecy of Malachi.
During the Middle Ages we also find records about the sacrificial character of the Eucharist in people such as:
- Saint Thomas Aquinas : He works actively to answer some objections about the sacrificial character of the Eucharist, following in the footsteps of the fathers and mentioning that this act is a symbolic representation of the sacrifice made by Christ on the cross.
- Pedro Lombard o: In the book of Sentences we can see his opinion on the Eucharist where he mentions that the consecration performed by the priest during the mass is the sacrifice and oblation, since it is a representation of the true sacrifice made by Jesus, as well as his immolation on the cross. But although Christ died for us only once, thus achieving the immolation of him. In the same way, he is also immolated every day through the sacrament, since it serves as a memory of what happened on the cross.
We cannot talk about the history of the Eucharist without mentioning the impact and influence that the Protestant Reformation had on the doctrine of the Eucharistic sacrifice. Since until that moment, for more than 16 centuries of Christianity, such a direct questioning had never been made.
Martin Luther mentions that all of us use faith as a means to be justified before God and not works as such. In this way, the mass corresponds to a human work with the sole purpose of increasing faith. Following this order of ideas, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was one, so that during the mass; At the moment of performing the Eucharist we are not making a sacrificial offering that we can give to God. For this reason he abolished the Roman canon and private masses, keeping only the memory of the Last Supper.
John Calvin in his book Institutions of the Christian Religion indicates that masses are a sacrifice, but only praise and thanksgiving, never propitiation. In turn, Ulrich Zwingli says that because the sacrifice that Jesus makes is only one, the mass can only be a memory of his sacrifice and a guarantee of the redemption that the Lord gave us.
Today, many Protestants have returned to study the subject of the theology of the Eucharistic sacrifice in different documents made by multiple sources (Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, etc.) diversifying the existing positions, although not yet becoming common.
Due to the revolt of the Protestant reform, the Catholic Church holds the Council of Trent, to discuss all aspects of the controversy generated. Among the points to be discussed, the sacrificial character of the Eucharist in the mass is discussed. In this way they reach a general consensus that would later be approved in session number XXIII on September 17, 1562. This agreement indicates that the traditions carried out by the church date from the sacrosanct gospels. Being implemented by the apostles following the doctrine of the Holy Father, Jesus Christ.
Some aspects that were developed and defined in this council are:
- The mass is not just a performance, it is a sacrifice offered to God.
- Even so, it continues to maintain its memorial and symbolic character of the sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross. So that its celebration in the Eucharist allows to purify the sins of man.
- Both the offerer and the one offered during the mass is Jesus, just as he was at the crucifixion. The only differences are that during the cross, what was offered was bloody (the shedding of Jesus’ blood), while at Mass it is bloodless (a representation that lacks bloodshed). In addition, that in the mass it is the priest who makes the offering while Jesus offered himself as an offering.
- The sacrifice must be tangible and visible (bread and wine).
- The institution of the Eucharist is given by command of Jesus, when he recites the phrase: “Do this in commemoration of me.”
Despite this, the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist has been brought up again on different occasions at the hands of multiple people, among them we can highlight:
- Pope Pius XII: He addresses the issue by mentioning it in his Encyclical Mediator Dej, where he speaks of the Tridentine doctrine of the Eucharistic sacrifice describing its institution, the fact that it is an act of true renewal of the sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross. Where he highlights the role of the priest who differs from Jesus by being the victim and in the way the offering is made (bloody vs bloodless). It also highlights the universal value of divine sacrifice and the objectives of the sacrifice made on the cross and of the Eucharist: praising God, thanksgiving, purification from our sins, and impetration granted along with God’s blessing. Lastly, he addresses the distinction between the faithful and the priest, where some receive baptism and others a preparation for the ministerial priesthood conferred by the sacrament of Holy Orders.
- Later, we can find in the Second Vatican Council, in the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium that says: it was during the last supper, when the Lord Jesus was betrayed, that he instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice through his body and blood. He which must last through the centuries until his return, using the church as a means to perpetuate his memory, death and resurrection. In this way, the sacrament serves as a symbol of piety, unity, bond of charity and Easter celebration, where we feed on the body of Christ and fill the soul with grace.
- Pope Saint Paul VI also made several documents talking about the subject:
- In his Encyclical Mysteium Fidei he highlights the offering made in the church as a part of the sacrifice. Since the church acts as priest and victim together with Christ, regardless of whether it is given in a public or private celebration. Since each mass is an action where it is offered in universal sacrifice of Christ, to achieve the salvation of the world and not just a few.
- Then he writes the Creed of the People of God where he indicates that the mass must always be celebrated by a priest as a representative of Christ on earth, obtaining the ability to officiate this celebration thanks to the Sacrament of the Order. In addition, the sacrifice that he makes corresponds to that of Calvary, being present at the altar.
- Pope Saint John Paul II writes his Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia where he talks about the Eucharist saying that it not only evokes his death and passion, but also sacramentally represents his sacrifice on the cross, which is perpetual for centuries.
To finish this point, we will summarize all the elements addressed over the years by the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The Eucharist is the focal point of the mass and the church, since; it is where Christ relates his church and all his followers to his sacrifice on the cross in the eyes of his father. In this way, it allows to spread the praises and thanksgiving of him for the salvation of the sins of the world. In turn, the Eucharist serves to celebrate the Passover of Christ, which is the work of salvation that he performed while he was alive. Work that is present from the liturgy.
Christ is the first and high priest of the new alliance, who offers himself as a Eucharistic sacrifice through wine and bread in representation of his body and soul. Behind him are the priests who, only after obtaining his order, will be able to preside over the Eucharist and consecrate the wine and bread so that they are converted into the body and blood of Christ.
Regarding the sacrifice, the Eucharist is used as a means to repair the sins committed by the living and the deceased, as well as to obtain the graces and blessings of God that allow obtaining spiritual or temporal benefits. For all those who participate in the holy sacrifice, they will be linked with their hearts and will obtain the strength to continue with the pilgrimage that is life. It also allows us to request eternal life and join the church in heaven, the Holy Virgin Mary and all the saints.
Father Benedict XVI through his apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis tells us that by making the institution of the sacrament of the Eucharist, Christ invites us to participate in his sacrifice made on the cross, as well as in his resurrection. In the same way, he is shown to us as the true slain lamb designated by the Father since the beginning of the world. This is how we can appreciate it in the reading of the first letter of Saint Peter.
Through his death and resurrection, Jesus becomes a renewing factor in history and in the entire universe. Where the institution of the Eucharist shows us how his death, which despite being violent and absurd, becomes the maximum expression of love for others. Definitively releasing evil in the world.
The Eucharist as Real Presence
Both the Catholic, Orthodox and Coptic churches mention that the bread and wine, when consecrated, become the body and blood of Christ (respectively), despite the fact that these foods used continue to maintain their physical characteristics (smell, color , flavor, texture, etc.). These types of transformations are known as transubstantial conversion. For Catholics, after the consecration; we are in front of Christ in his entirety, both in body, spirit and all his divinity. In a true, real and substantial way.
In this way, the Eucharist is considered to be Christ in himself. Where unlike other sacraments that seek to sanctify, here we find the author of holiness. This is fulfilled as long as we have the consecrated bread and wine in front of us. In turn, his presence is found in each of its parts, which allows dividing or dividing the bread without dividing the presence of Christ. This is the reason why priests usually consecrate the bread and the host in its entirety, and then distribute it among those who are going to receive communion, dividing it into as many parts as necessary.
On the other hand, the Anglican communion churches mention that the wine and the bread, after being consecrated, become the body and blood of Christ. Saying that there is no need for a physical change in substances, which in the end is as Jesus says: “This bread is my body” and “This wine is my blood.” For this reason we speak of Jesus Christ in the sacrament, because it is the real presence of Jesus on the altar.
The Lutheran church instead supports the theory of consubstantiation, where the sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus subsists together with the elements of wine and bread. On the other hand, many of the reformed churches (whether they are Baptists, Pentecostals, among others) consider that the wine and the bread do not change or undergo any transformation. So the Eucharist is just a remembrance of the Last Supper.
To delve a little deeper into this topic, we mention the position and opinion of some parents who have participated in the Catholic Church over the years:
- Saint Irenaeus of Lyon : He mentions that once the bread has been consecrated, it should no longer be mentioned or treated as bread, since it is no longer bread. Although on earth it continues to be constituted as bread, it now possesses, thanks to the Eucharist, a heavenly component. In this way, when we feed on him, we feed on the body of the Lord Jesus; that he transforms us, making our bodies incorruptible, making possible the hope of eternal resurrection.
- Saint John Chrysostom : This father says that many of the faithful feel the desire to contact Jesus, to be able to speak with him, see him and touch him. Well, the Eucharist is the means by which you can do all this, and even more, since you can also eat it and receive it in your heart.
- Saint Ignatius of Antioch : This father communicates his ideas about the faith through multiple letters that he writes to different Christian communities when he goes to his martyrdom. For example, when he writes to the Docets, who do not recognize the Eucharist as the body and blood of Jesus Christ, he mentions that he is our savior, who suffered for our sins and is the risen father. Then he urges them to perform the Eucharist since that way they will be able to use the flesh of Jesus made bread and his blood made wine.
- Saint Justin : This father writes his First Apology where he reflects his opinion on the Eucharist. Saying that it is not mandatory to participate in it unless you have faith that the teachings that are transmitted are true, that the act of communion is understood to serve for the remission of sins and regeneration and that you live under the doctrines inculcated by Christ. If you comply with this, when you receive the wine and the bread you will not see it as such, but as what it is. To Jesus Christ our savior, who sacrificed himself for the word of God. This is verified when reading the words of Christ that have been transmitted in the different gospels of his apostles, by command of Jesus.
- Saint Ambrose : At the moment of receiving the wine and the bread, we must be convinced that the food in front of us is not what nature produced, but now it is what the blessing has consecrated. We must be able to understand that at that moment the force of the blessing exceeds the force of nature. Furthermore, we cannot forget that the word of Christ is capable of making something out of nothing.
As we can see, the opinions of all these fathers are similar to each other, where they all mention that the word of Christ, the action of the holy spirit and the faith of the church are enough to make the conversion of bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord Jesus.
During the Middle Ages, there was a greater influence regarding the reflection of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist due to the impact of scholasticism. This provoked tendencies towards excessive physical realism. People began to talk about the need for Christ’s flesh to be the same as he had after his incarnation, while the mass should be considered a case of cannibalism wanted by God. All those who followed this line of thought were called “Cafarnais.”
On the other hand, a theology focused on the sacramental symbol began to emerge that distinguished between the presence of the body and blood of Christ after his incarnation and the way in which his sacramental presence was given. Berengar of Tours, one of the figures who supported this movement, made an extreme emphasis on symbolism, causing the Catholic Church in different synods to condemn this position, pressuring his followers to follow paths of faith that differed 180 degrees.
By the thirteenth century and thanks to the Aristotelian philosophical position, a more balanced theological reflection began to take place. Being one of the main responsible, Saint Thomas Aquinas who advocates a real and sacramental presence of Christ in the Eucharist. His point of focus focuses on the difference between substance and accidents, being he who develops the theology of transubstantiation in the third part of his work “Summa Theologiae”, specifically in questions 75 to 77.
His approach to the subject is given in a spiritual and theological way, with lyricism in the hymns. It is very likely that his composition was developed to be used in the Corpus Christi mass. Festivity that was instituted by Pope Urban IV after the miracle of Bolsena.
During the Lateran Council IV, the scholastic terminology is consecrated. So that the position before the Eucharist is that Jesus Christ is sacramented on the altar in his body and blood through wine and bread, to later be transubstantiated by God’s divine will. In turn, during the Second Council of Lyon, this position is supported by indicating that the Eucharistic sacrament is consecrated with unleavened bread in the Roman church itself, where the bread is actually transubstantiated by the body, while the wine becomes the blood of Jesus Christ.
Unlike Thomas Aquinas, John Wyclif opposes this theory of transubstantiation, since he does not accept the idea of the disappearance of the substance of bread and wine, nor the permanence of accidents without a subject of inhesion. Instead, he speaks of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist as something sacramental or virtual. Although his postulates were later condemned by the local Councils of Canterbury, Oxford and London in the year 1382. To later be ratified during the Ecumenical Council of Constance.
All those reformers agreed on the position that Christ does not remain in the bread or the wine at the moment of being consecrated during the mass. For this reason, there is no need to worship him by that means, nor to be guarded as Catholics do. Even so, among the different reformist currents some significant differences remained between them:
For the Lutherans, the idea of transubstantiation was not conceivable, since they described it as a sophisticated speculation. They consider that bread and wine never cease to be what they are: bread and wine. Instead, the body and blood of Christ is found together with them. This position is known by the name of Consubstantiation Theory or Impanation. On the other hand, Karlstadt, Zwingli and Ecolampadius consider that the presence of Jesus is simply symbolic.
Calvin speaks of the “Virtus Spiritualis”, denying transubstantiation but admitting that there is a certain presence during the celebration of the mass, although this is more linked to the faith of the faithful.
The Anabaptists mention that the presence of Jesus is not given through transubstantiation, on the contrary; the body of Christ corresponds to the Christian community that shares food. Furthermore, it is his blood to the extent that each member of the community loves as Jesus does not love, to the point of giving his life for others. In this way, the wine and the bread that is distributed during the celebration, consists of a symbol of community union, making the whole group converge as a single body, which in this case is that of Jesus.
Some time later, the issue of whether the presence of Christ was real during the Eucharist would be addressed again, in session number XIII of the Council of Trent in the year 1551. The reason for this Council was to present in detail the Catholic doctrine seeking to refute the proposals made by the reformist currents. There, characters such as Ecolampadius and Zwingli argue that the presence of Christ during the sacrament is not a sign, nor a figure (as the reformists affirmed), while others such as Calvin add that it is not virtual either. Rather, during the sacrament of the Eucharist we find ourselves in the real, true and substantial presence of the body and blood of Christ, permeated with his soul and divinity. Namely; with the whole Christ.
At that moment the decree of the Most Holy Eucharist is approved. Where the consensus is reached that the presence of Jesus is natural and sacramental. It cannot be forgotten that Jesus himself offered us his body and soul during the last supper after blessing the wine and bread and commissioning the apostles to continue spreading his words. With this it is quite explicit that the Eucharist is not about something super-realistic or spiritual symbolism.
On the other hand, this council also defines the presence of each of the two species (to argue against the reformists who defended communion under these species). In turn, the permanent character of Jesus’ presence is established for those who denied it outside of communion. In this way, the term of transubstantiation is consolidated to confront all the reformists who until then denied the veracity of the term and its meaning. Finally, the practical consequences that many reformist currents had implemented are addressed, such as the Eucharistic adoration cult, the practice of the Eucharist to care for the sick outside the celebration of Mass, and the reservation of the Eucharist after the end of the Eucharist. mass.
A little closer to the present, in the recent magisterium, Pope Pius XII in his Encyclical Mediator Dei reaffirms that the presence of Christ during the Eucharist is real and that we must do the respective Eucharistic worship. Later, in the Encyclical Humani Generis he condemns all theological positions that describe the presence of Christ in the Eucharist as symbolic.
During the Second Vatican Council, José Aldazábal mentions how the times used by the representatives of the Catholic Church to deal with the subject of the Eucharist have varied, since during this council no document was dedicated, only a chapter in the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium . Instead, during the Council of Trent, three sessions were held exclusively to address the issue of the Eucharist. Even so, this Council of Vatican II is interesting, since everything in it alludes to the Eucharist as the center of ecclesial ministry.
In the same way, this council allows to have a general and unified vision of all the edges of the sacrament. An example of this is that the real presence of Jesus, as well as the worship of him that was the focus of attention, left aside the celebration of the communion of the faithful. On the other hand, the sacrificial character was somewhat detached from the memorial aspect of the Eucharist. Marking a pronounced separation until this moment.
Pope Paul VI in his Encyclical Mysterium Fidei once again proposed that the principles of Tridentine theology be used, in turn; he affirmed the different ways in which we can meet Christ in the church, the Eucharist being the method par excellence. Similarly, while the Creed of the People of God was being carried out, it mentions that wine and bread cease to be these foods after the consecration is made, since they become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, transformed into food to unite us in the unity of his mystical body.
It is important to clarify that within the catechism of the Catholic Church, we can find different forms of encounter with Christ in the church, but this does not mean that only the one that occurs through the Eucharist is real while the others are unreal or of lesser importance. . In all cases, what happens is singular and real; is that the encounter with Christ through the Eucharist is the method par excellence. The main way that Jesus mentions during the last supper to connect with him. In this way, when the Eucharistic presence with Christ is given at the moment of consecration, it lasts as long as the Eucharistic species subsist.
Pope John Paul II in the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia highlights how the church lives from the Eucharist. Being this moment the synthesis of the core of the mystery of the church, which does not occur in isolation, but is lived continuously and frequently in different ways to fulfill the promise that the Lord made us to accompany us and help us every day of our lives.
To conclude this point, Father Benedict XVI makes us an apostolic invitation at the beginning of the Sacramentum Caritatis. Where he tells us how the Eucharist itself is the gift that Jesus Christ left us and that serves as proof of the infinite love that God has for each one of us. Thanks to this admirable sacrament, the love that drives us to give our lives to help others, our neighbor, is revealed to us. But not only this, it also teaches us how humble and merciful Jesus is.
The Eucharist as Communion
An important aspect of the Eucharist is communion, which comes from the Latin “communĭo” and refers to participating in the common. Joan M. Canals mentions that the liturgical reform carried out in the Second Vatican Council returns to giving active participation of the faithful in communion, in addition; he mentions that the prayer made after communion is a prayer that is made accompanied by Christ (literally, with Jesus by our side).
Among the various teachings of the Catholic Church, it is taught that the church is the communion of saints. Being understood as “holy”, all holy things. The Eucharist being the first of them. On the other hand, the communion moment also serves as a point of unity for all believers who participate, as they all become the body of Christ. Specifically, in a single body of the Lord Jesus.
From a historical point of view, the first records of communion after the death of Jesus date back to the first Christian community, which can be seen in the Acts of the Apostles. There, the celebration of the division of bread was held in conjunction with communion and the sharing of goods. That is to say, the people in these first meetings met with the apostles to celebrate the word of God, the distribution of bread, everyone shared in unity and prayer, in addition to using the meeting as an area to exchange goods and services according to the needs of each, in some cases they helped each other and distributed the money while in others they carried out commercial transactions (sale and purchase of goods).
In turn, more intimate celebrations were also held daily in the temples, where they broke bread in their homes, shared and lived in simplicity and joy. God was praised and he rewarded them with love, protection and granting them eternal salvation.
During the Patristic era we also see traces of the relationship between the Eucharist and the union of the Christian community. Where you begin to appreciate a celebration with greater similarities to the Eucharist today. St. Ignatius of Antioch says in this regard that we must take advantage of the fruit of the Eucharist to make use of the body and blood of Jesus Christ that we find on the altar, and that is offered through the bishop, priests, and deacons. All this in order to follow the command of Jesus. As you can see, all these elements are related to form a unit.
On the other hand, Saint Thomas Aquinas emphasizes that the grace of the Eucharist is the unity of the mystical body, which joins communion with Christ and among us; generating the unity of all Christians. To close this point, by way of summary, the catechism of the Catholic Church highlights that through communion we can achieve:
- A greater union with the Lord Jesus.
- Achieve unity with the mystical body. Since the Eucharist is performed by the church and those who receive it are linked more intensely with Christ. In this way, Jesus unites all those who make communion in a single entity that is the church.
- Exercising communion allows us to entail a commitment that favors the poor.
Liberation theology highlights the ambivalences that occur at the time of performing the Eucharist. On the one hand, we have these negative aspects associated with the context of persecution and death that Jesus suffered during and after the Last Supper. While the joy for the new covenant and salvation is also appreciated. For many faithful, these negative aspects can be an impediment when it comes to communion, since; by focusing on them they are limited in relating to Jesus and are anchored in feelings of sadness, guilt and hopelessness.
But really communion should not be limited by this conflict. Moreover, Jesus himself tells us which is the path we must follow: that of love. Well, it is love that will allow us to overcome these ailments. We must not forget that the Last Supper serves as a point of reconciliation with others, with Jesus and with oneself; and the Eucharist is nothing more than a celebration of the Last Supper. For this reason, we must not allow ourselves to be manipulated into expressing a non-existent reconciliation.
Eucharist as Pledge of Future Glory
Another important aspect of the Eucharist is that it functions as a means to attain eternal glory. We can visualize this in the Gospel of Saint John (6:54-56): «He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day».
Here Christ promises us eternal life for all those who receive the holy sacrament. We can also find proof of eternal life in an ancient prayer that says the following: “O sacred banquet, in which Christ is our food; the memorial of his passion is celebrated; the soul is filled with grace, and we are given the pledge of future glory!”
Again we can appreciate how Jesus invites us to participate in the Eucharist and in gratitude, will favor us with eternal life. But carrying out a deeper analysis, we can observe how the prayer has three instants of time with three well-differentiated perspectives: the past, where reference is made to the memory of his passion; the present, where through communion we are filled with grace; the future, where future glory or eternal life will be granted to us.
We can appreciate the words of Josep M. Rovira Belloso who says that the power of the Eucharist occurs when we are able to anticipate the presence of Jesus Christ. For this to happen, the sacrament must be rooted in Christ. Therefore, the Eucharist is an anticipation of what we will find after death; of the divine fullness that was offered to us by the father for those who wait with faith. It ends up being the inchoate advent of that fullness.
The catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that the Eucharist is a moment of encounter with Jesus, who is always next to us accompanying us, although his presence is usually veiled. For this reason we celebrate the Eucharist. Within Catholic prayers and texts we can find many phrases that refer to the eternal life that will be granted to us by God, some examples are: while we await the glorious coming of our savior Jesus Christ; Of this great hope, that of the new heavens and the new earth in which justice will dwell; etc.
Elements of the Eucharist
Next, we will proceed to explain the different elements that make up the Eucharist: the material that is used, the way in which it is performed, the person who performs the ceremony and the participants in said ceremony.
The elements of matter used in the celebration of the Eucharist are vine wine and wheat bread. Although in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal it is mentioned that unleavened unleavened bread is also used in the Latin celebration. Which must have been produced recently. The Orientals, however, use both fermented and unfermented bread. This variant does not affect the celebration at all and has the approval of the Vatican.
For those people who suffer from celiac disease (immunological reaction to the ingestion of gluten), the church makes hosts with a minimum amount of gluten that allows baking, without the need to add foreign substances or use a manufacturing procedure that end up denaturing the bread. Even so; if there are people unable to tolerate such low levels of gluten, they are allowed to make communion only with the ingestion of wine.
In the case of priests who do not tolerate gluten, the situation changes a bit. If they do not have gluten tolerance, they are allowed to make communion only with wine, although they cannot celebrate individually, they can only concelebrate accompanied by other priests. That is, they will not be able to carry out a mass celebration. As for the wine that is used in the Eucharist, it must be of the Vine type. Always in a natural and pure state, that is; it cannot be mixed with other substances, although it is allowed to be diluted with a little water. In this case, it is thanks to a biblical fragment from the time of Jesus’ crucifixion that says that after being pierced by the spear, water and blood came out of his side.
In case the priest cannot drink wine for health reasons, even in small quantities, he is allowed to replace this drink with “mosto”, which is a juice (juice) of grapes that can be fresh or preserved. The important thing in these cases is that the fermentation of the juice has been carried out with procedures that do not alter its nature, as it does for example; the freezing.
Within Catholic beliefs, after being consecrated, the bread becomes the body of Christ, while the wine becomes his blood. During this consecration ceremony, the priest describes the scene of the institution of the sacrament by repeating the phrases said by Jesus during the last supper with his apostles: This is my body… This is my blood… Do this in memory of me.
Through the Catholic catechism we learn that the power of consecration comes from the words of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, as well as the action of Jesus. Transforming the wine and the bread into the body and blood that Jesus Christ offered for us on the cross once and for all.
We understand as a minister anyone with the ability to celebrate the Eucharist. These must have a validly ordained priest or bishop rank in order to have the power to officiate at the Eucharist.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal mentions that several ministers can perform a Mass and celebrate the Eucharist together. This is known as concelebration. In turn, this same document describes the unity that forms between the priesthood, the sacrificial character and the people of God. In this way we can mention:
- The ordination of bishops and presbyters is discussed.
- On the blessing of an Abbot.
- What is the Chrism Mass? That corresponds to the mass that the bishop performs to bless the oil paintings on Holy Thursday.
In turn, in this same document we can find the following celebrations that must be carried out:
- The aforementioned mass on Holy Thursday.
- The convent mass.
- All the classical and main masses celebrated in the churches and oratories.
- The mass to celebrate the councils, the meetings of bishops and the synods.
- All mass celebrated in meetings of priests, whether secular or religious.
- Finally, those celebrations that take place at the time of getting the ordination of the deacon.
According to Catholic traditions, only a duly ordained priest has the power to perform the consecration. But through the catechism it is taught that the Eucharist is the basis and source of all Christian life, so that Canon 230 of Canon Law, in the third paragraph, indicates that in those situations where there is no minister nearby and the population is in need of going to church or a mass must be celebrated; laity may supplant priests in some functions.
In this way, they can carry out the ministry of the word, make liturgical prayers, carry out baptisms and offer communion to the faithful. Please note that lay people will not be able to perform the consecration of the wine and bread. For those people who have committed mortal sin and receive the Eucharist they will be committing sacrilege. In this way, only those who are in a state of grace will be able to make communion. This is the reason why we must confess before making communion.
We can find these guidelines in the biblical passage from Corinthians (11:27-29) where it is indicated that any person who is aware of having committed a mortal sin should not go to the Eucharist without first having made the proper sacramental confession with a Minister. The Catholic Church will always motivate its faithful to participate in the celebrations of the word that take place weekly every Sunday and in the parties of particular commemoration. Similarly, it urges people to make sacramental communion at least once a year and recommends parishioners to participate in the Eucharist every Sunday and on holidays.
But if people wish, they can hold celebrations and meetings in addition to those mentioned. In fact; they could hold celebrations every day, the only thing to consider and never forget is that as long as you are in a state of grace. When we look at how a mass is structured we can mistakenly believe that the person in charge is the minister, but in reality it is Christ who is at the forefront of the celebration and is the main actor at all times. Behind him we find the minister (let’s not forget that he must be an ordained bishop or priest) who plays the role of his representative on earth and can be understood as the president of an assembly.
On the other hand, all the faithful and participants in the Eucharist are not left in the background, they are invited to have an active participation during the celebration, either by reading, presenting the offerings, helping to give communion, etc. In any case, the form and manner in which each person decides to participate is respected. Do not forget that there is also a personal, private and intimate component.
All these roles allow the celebration of the Eucharist to be understood as a form of meeting. In addition to this, the church, headed by the minister who carries out the celebration, performs the function of priest, but also of victim together with Jesus; since he offers the mass as a sacrifice. Even though the priest celebrates mass privately, his action is not private, because it is intermingled with the action of Christ.
How is the Eucharist Structured?
Due to how old the celebration of the Eucharist is, it is normal that it has undergone some changes over time. If we remember what was said in previous sections, the first celebrations of the Eucharist were carried out by the apostles, but their structure was totally different from what we know today. The celebration not only served as a meeting point with Christ, to learn about his teachings and purification from sins, but also had great economic and social importance.
Many of those who attended used the celebration to exchange goods and services when it was over. Also; there was a greater community character, where they supported each other offering help to others, distributing money, food, etc.
Some time later, with the First Apology of Justin (cc. LXV-LXVII) we can see a description of the structure of the celebration of the Eucharist at the time, which was organized as follows: liturgy of the word, prayer of the faithful, the embrace of peace, the presentation of the gifts, the Eucharistic prayer, the moment of communion and the communion of goods. Even so, it is necessary to highlight the little clear information about the time, so that this described structure could present some variants.
It is not until the third century that the records of the celebration of the Eucharist are more specific, clear and abundant. In them we can find the true theological and faith catechesis on the Eucharist. In any case, the structure described by Justin is maintained.
In the book of Apostolic Constitutions it is mentioned how the order of the celebration should be, where it begins with the liturgy of the word, continues with the prayer of the catechumens, then the embrace of peace (at this moment the catechumens withdraw) , the presentation of the gifts or offerings, the Eucharistic prayer (anaphora), Communion begins, then the blessing prayer is performed and ends with a farewell.
Today, every Eucharistic prayer has the following elements:
- A thanksgiving indicated in the preface.
- The acclamation of praise of the people with the sanctus.
- The epiclesis, which serves to request the intervention of the holy spirit, to help in the transformation of wine and bread into the body and blood of Christ.
- The consecrating words that must be recited by the minister in charge of presiding over the Eucharistic celebration.
- The memorial of the paschal mystery of Jesus (anamnesis or historical record).
- The offering of the church through and together to the sacred victim.
- The petitions and intercessions that are made for the living and the dead.
- The final doxology, which is intended to glorify God.
We can find in different Protestant or evangelical currents a moment to make the blessing of food. Where the elements of the elders or deacons are taken and then proceed to read the passages that establish them. It ends with one or several prayers of adoration and thanksgiving.
- The Eucharist is known as the Sacrament par Excellence because Christ is in it; and he is the source of all graces. In turn, all other forms of sacrament are intended to lead you to participation in the Eucharist. Serving as support and preparation to adequately receive Christ during communion. It should be noted that some of these sacraments are given during the Eucharist.
- The word Eucharist means “to give thanks.” Although it is also known under other names such as:
- «Eucharistic Assembly», because the celebration takes place in the form of a meeting or assembly.
- “Holy Sacrifice”, since the sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross is renewed. Being a memorial of his death, passion and resurrection of him.
- The “Breaking of Bread”, because it was the rite used by Jesus Christ during the blessing of the last supper with the apostles. This name was mainly used by the early Christians.
- It is also known as “Didache”. This name arises from the communion of saints, which is mentioned in the symbol of the apostles.
- “Banquet of the Lord”, since the Eucharist is a representation of the Last Supper.
- “Communion”, since at that moment the intimate union between the person who communicates and Jesus occurs.
- «Mass», being the most common and widely used name to refer to the celebration where the Eucharist is given. The term begins to be used from the sixth century and comes from the words “ite missa est”.
- In the old testament we can find different forms of sacrament used as prefigurations, some of them are:
- Manna, being the food used by the people of Israel after their pilgrimage through the desert.
- The sacrifice of Mechizedek and the sacrifice of Abraham.
- The sacrifice of the Passover lamb, which served to prevent the death of the people of Israel in Egypt.
Emilly Stefan The Fear lab was an American author of young adult novels, most known for her fantasy series, Age of the Seventh Sun.