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also known as
"The Eucharist" or
"The Lord's Supper"


Words of Institution
Real Presence
Sacramental union

Theologies contrasted
Eucharist (Catholic Church)
Anglican Eucharistic theology

Important theologians
Paul ·Aquinas
Augustine · Calvin
Chrysostom · Cranmer
Luther · Zwingli

Related Articles
Christianity and alcohol
Catholic Historic Roots
Closed and Open Table
Divine Liturgy
Eucharistic adoration
Eucharistic discipline
First Communion
Infant Communion
Mass · Sacrament

The Eucharist or Communion or The Lord's Supper, is the rite that Christians perform in fulfillment of Jesus' instruction, recorded in the New Testament, to do in memory of him what he did at his Last Supper. Jesus gave his disciples bread, saying "This is my body," and wine, saying "This is my blood." Christians generally recognize a special presence of Christ in this rite, though they differ about exactly how, where, and when Christ is present. The word "Eucharist" is also applied to the bread and wine consecrated in the course of the rite.

The word "Eucharist" comes from the Greek noun εὐχαριστία (thanksgiving) [1]. This noun or the corresponding verb εὐχαριστῶ (to give thanks) is found in 55 verses of the New Testament. (Εὐχαριστέω, the uncontracted form, given in some aids for students, is not used in the New Testament.) Four of these verses (Matthew 26:27, Mark 14:23, Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 11:24) recount that Jesus "gave thanks" before presenting to his followers the bread and the wine that he declared to be his body and his blood.

Most Christians classify the Eucharist as a sacrament, but many Protestant traditions avoid the term sacrament, preferring ordinance. In these traditions, the ceremony is seen not as a specific channel of divine grace but as an expression of faith and obedience of the Christian community.

Names for the EucharistEdit

  • Eucharist (from Greek Εὐχαριστία eucharistia, "thanksgiving") is the term with the earliest established historical use. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who was martyred in Rome in about 110, used the term "Eucharist", referring to both the rite and the consecrated elements, three times in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans [2] and once in his Letter to the Philadelphians [3]. Justin Martyr, writing around 150, gave a detailed description of the rite, and stated that "Eucharist" was the name that Christians used: "This food is called among us the Eucharist..." (Apology, 66 [4]). Today the term "Eucharist" is used by Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, the Oriental Orthodox, Anglicans, and Lutherans. Most other Protestant traditions use this term rarely, but few reject it entirely.
  • Communion (from Latin communio, "sharing in common") is a term used by Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Anglicans, and many Protestants; Holy Communion is also prevalent. Catholics and Orthodox typically apply it to the partaking of the consecrated bread and wine, and to these consecrated elements themselves, rather than to the Eucharistic rite as a whole. In their understanding, it is possible to participate in the celebration of the Eucharistic rite without "receiving Holy Communion" (partaking of the consecrated elements). On the other hand, groups that originated in the Protestant Reformation usually apply this term to the whole rite. Many, especially Anglicans, prefer the fuller term "Holy Communion" rather than just "Communion". The term Communion holds further ambiguity in that it also refers to the relationship of Christians, as individuals or as a Church, with God and with other Christians (see Communion (Christian)), and can also refer to the relationship between the Three Divine Persons within the Trinity, a relationship known as perichoresis which is considered the archetype of the other forms of communion.
  • The Lord's Supper and the Breaking of Bread are terms that the New Testament (1 Corinthians 11:20; Acts 2:42, 46) applies to celebration of the Eucharist. The first of these terms tends to be preferred by "minimalist" traditions, especially those strongly influenced by Huldrych (or Ulrich) Zwingli and the Restoration Movement. The Lord's Supper is also a common term among Lutherans, as is the sacrament of the altar. Other Churches and denominations also use these terms, but generally not as their basic, routine term.
  • Certain terms are limited to the Orthodox Christian and Catholic traditions, and are typically applied to the rite as a whole. The Divine Liturgy is used by Orthodox and the Eastern Catholic Churches, who also, especially for the consecrated elements, use the Divine Mysteries. Roman Catholics use many other terms, including the Mass, the Memorial of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and the Holy Mysteries. The Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar are also common terms for the consecrated elements, especially when reserved in the Church tabernacle. "Mass" is also used by Anglo-Catholics and the Church of Sweden.

Eucharist in the Bible Edit

The three synoptic Gospels (Matthew [5], Mark [6], and Luke [7]) as well as Saint Paul's first Letter to the Corinthians [8] contain versions of the Words of Institution spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper: "Take, eat, this is my body ... Take, drink, this is my blood ... Do this in remembrance of me." All subsequent celebration of the Eucharist is based on this injunction. John 6 is also interpreted in connection with the Eucharist: " For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him." (John 6:55-56)

See also: Historical roots of Catholic Eucharistic theology

Christian Theology Edit

The Eucharist has always been at the center of Christian worship, though theological interpretations vary. In general, the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox traditions see the Eucharist as the fulfillment of God's plan for the salvation of humanity from sin (the "Divine Economy"), a commemoration and making present of Jesus' Crucifixion on Calvary and his Resurrection, the means for Christians to unite with God and with each other, and the giving of thanks for all these things. Differences in Eucharistic theology tend to be related to differences in understanding of these areas.

Efforts at mutual understanding of the range of theologies led in the 1980s to the consultations on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEM) through the World Council of Churches, which included the Roman Catholic Church.

Roman Catholic: Sacrifice; TransubstantiationEdit

In the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eucharist is one of the seven sacraments, but is also considered the "queen of the sacraments" and "the blessed sacrament", and the institution of the Eucharist is one of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. The Eucharist is a commemoration, or, in Greek, anamnesis [9] of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ (called the Paschal Mystery), understood in the fullest sense given to it in Biblical tradition. In other words, it is a memorial which does not just bring to mind the event celebrated, but also makes it truly present. The Eucharist is therefore understood to be not simply a representation of Christ's presence, or a remembrance of his Passion and Death, but an actual participation in the Sacrifice of Christ, the manifestation, in the present, of an event that occurred once for all in time. The Eucharist makes present that one sacrifice, not a different sacrifice. The priest and victim of the sacrifice are one and the same; the only difference is in the manner in which it is offered—the Church teaches that the Mass is the sacrifice at Calvary made present in an unbloody manner.

The only minister of the Eucharist, that is, one authorized to celebrate the rite and consecrate the Eucharist, is a validly ordained priest (either bishop or presbyter) acting in the person of Christ (in persona Christi). In other words the priest celebrant represents Christ, who is the Head of the Church, and acts before God in the name of the Church. The matter used must be wheaten bread and grape wine; this is essential for validity.

According to the Roman Catholic Church, when the bread and wine are consecrated in the Eucharist, they cease to be bread and wine, and become instead the body and blood of Christ. The empirical appearances are not changed, but the reality is. The consecration of the bread (known as the host) and wine represents the separation of Jesus's body from his blood at Calvary. However, since he has risen, the Church teaches that his body and blood can no longer be truly separated. Where one is, the other must be. Therefore, although the priest (or minister) says, "The body of Christ", when administering the host, and, "The blood of Christ", when presenting the chalice, the communicant who receives either one receives Christ, whole and entire.

The mysterious change of the reality of the bread and wine used in the Eucharist, a change to which patristic writers had given other equivalent names, began to be called "transubstantiation" in the twelfth century. In the judgement of the Catholic Church, this term, with its accompanying unambiguous distinction between "substance" or underlying reality, and " accidents" or humanly perceptible appearances, still best safeguards against the opposite extremes of a cannibalistic interpretation (the accidents remain real, not an illusion) or of a merely symbolic interpretation (the substance is changed from that of bread and wine to that of the body and blood of Christ) of the Eucharist.

The definition of the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, which concerns what is changed, not how the change occurs, is given in the following words of the Council of Trent, quoted in paragraph 1376 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation."

The Eucharist is given to Catholics who wish to receive either at Mass or outside of Mass. This is called the administration of Holy Communion. When it is given at Mass, it may be given under one kind (usually the host), or under both kinds (both the host and the consecrated wine, referred to by Catholics as the Precious Blood). Regular use of Communion under both kinds requires the permission of the bishop, but bishops in some countries have given blanket permission to administer Holy Communion in this way. The ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are Bishops, Priests and Deacons, the latter traditionally ministering the chalice. Members of the laity can also be commissioned as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, where there is a necessity. This is, in a way, a return to a very early practice, whereby the ordinary faithful took Communion to the sick and to others unable to come to the Eucharistic celebration.

The hosts are kept in a tabernacle after the celebration of the Mass, so that they can be brought to the sick and dying outside the time of Mass, and also so that the Eucharistic presence may be worshipped and adored. On occasions, the Eucharist is exposed in a monstrance, in order for it to be the focus of prayer and adoration.

Eastern Christianity: True Sacrifice and Objective Presence but Pious Silence on the ParticularsEdit

Main article: Divine Liturgy

The Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Assyrian Church of the East agree with the Roman Catholic Church that Christ is really, fully, uniquely, and permanently present in the Eucharistic elements, and that, in the Divine Liturgy, the one sacrifice of Christ is made present; and that the exact means by which the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, is a mystery. They are not particularly interested in the precise moment the change occurs, although this "change" or "fulfillment" of the bread and wine is usually identified with the Epiklesis. As in the Roman Catholic Church, the change is regarded as permanent, and any of the consecrated elements, or "gifts," that remain at the end of the Divine Liturgy are normally consumed by a priest or deacon.

Gifts reserved for the communion of the sick are specially consecrated on Holy Thursday, or at other times as needed, and are not simply leftovers from the previous Divine Liturgy. Since the Eucharistic gifts are regarded primarily as food, Eucharistic adoration is unknown outside the Liturgy itself, except among those Orthodox Christians who worship according to a Western Rite.

Anglicans/Episcopalians: Real Presence with OpinionEdit

The historical position of the Anglican Communion is found in the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571, which state "the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ"; and likewise that "the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ" (Articles of Religion, Article XXVIII: Of the Lord's Supper). The fact that the terms "Bread" and "Wine" and the corresponding words "Body" and "Blood" are all capitalized may reflect the wide range of theological beliefs regarding the Eucharist among Anglicans. However, the Articles also state that adoration, or worship per se, of the consecrated elements was not commanded by Christ and that those who receive unworthily do not actually receive Christ but rather their own condemnation.

Anglicans generally and officially believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but the specifics of that belief range from transubstantiation, sometimes with Eucharistic adoration (mainly Anglo-Catholics), to something akin to a belief in a "pneumatic" presence, which may or may not be tied to the Eucharistic elements themselves (almost always "Low Church" or Evangelical Anglicans). The normal range of Anglican belief ranges from Objective Reality to Pious Silence, depending on the individual Anglican's theology. A small minority, as in any church, reject the doctrine of the Real Presence altogether. The classic Anglican aphorism with regard to this debate is found in a poem by John Donne: "He was the Word that spake it; He took the bread and brake it; And what that Word did make it; I do believe and take it."

Anglican belief in the Eucharistic Sacrifice ("Sacrifice of the Mass") is set forth in the response Saepius officio of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to Pope Leo XIII's Papal Encyclical Apostolicae curae.

Anglicans and Roman Catholics declared that they had "substantial agreement on the doctrine of the Eucharist" in the Windsor Statement on Eucharistic Doctrine from the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Consultation and the Elucidation of the ARCIC Windsor Statement.

Lutherans - the Sacramental Union: "in, with, and under the forms"Edit

Lutherans believe that the Body and Blood of Christ are "truly and substantially present in, with and under the forms" of the consecrated bread and wine (the elements), so that communicants eat and drink both the elements and the true Body and Blood of Christ Himself (cf. Augsburg Confession, Article 10) in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. The Lutheran doctrine of the Real Presence is more accurately and formally known as "the Sacramental Union." This theology was first developed in the Wittenberg Concord. It has been called "consubstantiation" by some, but this term is rejected by Lutheran churches and theologians as it creates confusion with an earlier doctrine of the same name.

For Lutherans, there is no sacrament unless the elements are used according to Christ's institution (consecration, distribution, and reception). This was first formulated in the Wittenberg Concord of 1536 in the formula: Nihil habet rationem sacramenti extra usum a Christo institutum ("Nothing has the character of a sacrament apart from the use instituted by Christ"). As a consequence of their belief in this principle, some Lutherans have opposed in the Christian Church the reservation of the consecrated elements, private masses, the practice of Corpus Christi, and the belief that the presence of Christ's body and blood continue in the reliquæ (what remains of the consecrated elements after all have communed in the worship service). This interpretation is not universal among Lutherans. The consecrated elements are treated with respect, and in some areas are reserved as in Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican practice, but Eucharistic adoration is not typically practiced. To remove any scruple of doubt or superstition the reliquæ traditionally are either consumed or poured into the earth, except that a small amount may be kept for delivery to those too ill or infirm to attend the service. In this case, the consecrated elements are to be delivered quickly, preserving the connection between the communion experienced by the ill person, and the communion of the rest of the congregation.

Lutherans use the terms "in, with and under the forms of [consecrated] bread and wine" and "Sacramental Union" to distinguish their understanding of the Lord's Supper from those of the Reformed and other traditions. More liberal Lutheran churches tend to practice open communion, inviting all who are baptized to participate. Conservative Lutheran churches such as the Confessional Lutherans are more likely to practice closed communion (or "close communion"), restricting participation to those, who are more or less in doctrinal agreement with them. This might involve the formal declaration of "altar and pulpit fellowship," another term for eucharistic sharing coupled with the acceptance of the ministrations of one another's clergy.

Methodism: presence as "mystery"Edit

The followers of John Wesley have typically affirmed that the grace of Christ is experienced via his real presence in the sacrament, but have allowed the details to remain a mystery, rejecting the doctrine of transubstantiation (see "Article XVIII" of the Articles of Religion, Means of Grace). In 2004, the United Methodist Church more clearly defined its view of the sacrament and its belief in the Real Presence in an official document entitled This Holy Mystery.

Calvinist Reformed: spiritual feeding, "pneumatic" presenceEdit

Many Reformed Christians, particularly those who follow John Calvin, hold that Christ's body and blood do not come down to inhabit the elements, but that "the Spirit truly unites things separated in space" (Calvin).

Following a phrase of Augustine, the Calvinist view is that "no one bears away from this Sacrament more than is gathered with the vessel of faith". "The flesh and blood of Christ are no less truly given to the unworthy than to God's elect believers", Calvin said, "but those who partake by faith receive benefit from Christ, and the unbelieving are condemned by partaking. By faith (not a mere mental apprehension), and in the Holy Spirit, the partaker beholds God incarnate, and in the same sense touches him with hands, so that by eating and drinking of bread and wine Christ's actual presence penetrates to the heart of the believer more nearly than food swallowed with the mouth can enter in."

Calvin specifically rejected adoration of the Eucharistic bread and wine as "idolatry", however. The elements may be disposed of without ceremony; they are unchanged, and as such the meal directs attention toward Christ's bodily resurrection and return.

Zwinglian Reformed: no Real PresenceEdit

Main article: Memorialism

Some Protestant groups see Communion (also called the Lord's Supper or the Lord's Table) as a symbolic meal, a memorial of the Last Supper and the Passion in which nothing miraculous occurs. This view is known as the Zwinglian view, after Huldrych Zwingli, a Swiss leader during the Reformation. It is commonly associated with Baptists and the Disciples of Christ.

Some of the Reformed hold that Calvin actually held this view, and not the Spiritual feeding idea more commonly attributed to him; or that the two views are really the same.

Summary of views Edit

Because Jesus Christ is a person, theologies regarding the Eucharist involve consideration of the way in which the communicant's personal relationship with God is fed through this mystical meal. However, debates over Eucharistic theology in the West have centered not on the personal aspects of Christ's presence but on the metaphysical. The opposing views are summarized below.

details Real Presence
  • Transubstantiation – the substance (fundamental reality) of the bread and wine is transformed in a way beyond human comprehension into that of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ, but the accidents (physical traits, including chemical properties) of the bread and wine remain; this view is held by the Roman Catholic Church and many Anglicans, especially in Anglo-Catholic circles.
  • "In, with and under the forms" - the body and blood of Jesus Christ are substantially present in, with and under the substance of the bread and wine, which remain. This is the view held by most Lutherans, and some Anglicans. Some refer to this view as consubstantiation, but many Lutherans reject this term.
  • Objective reality, but pious silence about technicalities - the view of all the ancient Churches of the East, including the Eastern Orthodox, the Oriental Orthodox, and the Assyrian Church of the East as well as perhaps most Anglicans. These, while agreeing with the Roman Catholic belief that the sacrament is not merely bread and wine but truly the body and blood of Christ, do not usually employ the "substance" and "accidents" terminology, preferring not to scrutinize the technicalities of the transformation.
  • Real Spiritual presence also called "pneumatic presence" - not only the spirit, but also the true body and blood of Jesus Christ (hence "real") are received by the sovereign, mysterious, and miraculous power of the Holy Spirit (hence "spiritual"), but only by those partakers who have faith. This view approaches the "pious silence" view in its unwillingness to specify how the Holy Spirit makes Christ present, but positively excludes not just symbolism but also trans- and con-substantiation. It is also known as the "mystical presence" view, and is held by most Reformed Christians, such as Presbyterians, as well as some Methodists and some Anglicans, particularly Low Church Reformed Anglicans. See Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. 19. This understanding is often called "receptionism." Some argue that this view can be seen as being suggested—though not by any means clearly—by the "invocation" of the Anglican Rite as found in the American Book of Common Prayer, 1928 and earlier and in Rite I of the American BCP of 1979 as well as in other Anglican formularies:
And we most humbly beseech thee, O merciful Father, to hear us, and of thy almighty goodness, vouchsafe to bless and sanctify, with thy Word and Holy Spirit, these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine; that we, receiving them according to thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ's holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed body and blood.
  • Symbolism - the bread and wine are symbolic of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and in partaking of the elements the believer commemorates the sacrificial death of Christ. This view is also known as "memorialism" and Zwinglianism after Ulrich Zwingli and is held by several Protestant denominations, including most Baptists.
  • Suspension - the partaking of the bread and wine was not intended to be a perpetual ordinance, or was not to be taken as a religious rite or ceremony (also known as adeipnonism, meaning "no supper" or "no meal"). This is the view of Quakers and the Salvation Army, as well as the hyperdispensationalist positions of E. W. Bullinger, Cornelius R. Stam, and others.

Ritual and liturgyEdit

The Agape feastEdit

The Agape feast was the Eucharistic celebration of the early Christians. While centered on the ritual of the bread and wine, it also included various other ritual elements, including elements of the Passover seder and of Mediterranean funerary banquets, also termed Agape Feasts. Agape is one of the Greek words for love, particularly applied to selfless love. Such meals were widespread, though not universal, in the early Christian world.

This service was apparently a full meal, with each participant bringing a contribution to the meal according to their means. Perhaps predictably enough, it could at times deteriorate into merely an occasion for eating and drinking, or for ostentatious displays by the wealthier members of the community. This was criticized by St. Paul in the New Testament (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:20-22). Because of such abuses, and the increased ritualization of the feast the Agape gradually fell into disfavor, and after being subjected to various regulations and restrictions, it was definitively dropped by the Church between the 6th and 8th centuries. Many Christians, however, after celebrating the Eucharist, now routinely participate in a sharing of light refreshments and conversation in an informal ritual that is functionally an Agape. This post-Eucharistic gathering is often called "fellowship hour" or "coffee hour" and is regarded by many clergy as a particularly opportune time for engaging adults in Christian education.

Today some contemporary Christians participate in Agape meals on rare occasions, to experience this historical form of the Eucharist. Others, particularly among the House Church movement, practice the love feast weekly as the observation of the Lord's Supper--a full meal provided by and shared among the members. The bread and wine are taken as part of the meal, either at the end or the meal may be opened with the bread and ended with the wine.

Eastern Christianity Edit

Main article: Divine Liturgy

Among Eastern Christians, the Eucharistic service is called the Divine Liturgy. It comprises two main divisions: the first is the Liturgy of the Catechumens which consists of introductory litanies, antiphons and scripture readings, culminating in a reading from one of the Gospels and often, a sermon; the second is the Liturgy of the Faithful in which the Eucharist is offered, consecrated, and received as Holy Communion. Within the latter, the actual Eucharistic prayer is called the anaphora (Greek:, "offering" or "lifting up"). In the Byzantine Rite, two different anaphoras are currently used: one is attributed to St. John Chrysostom, and the other to St. Basil the Great. Among the Oriental Orthodox, a variety of anaphoras are used, but all are similar in structure to those of the Byzantine Rite. In the Byzantine Rite, the Anaphora of St. John Chrysostom is used most days of the year; St. Basil's is offered on the Sundays of Great Lent, the eves of Christmas and Theophany, Holy Thursday, Holy Saturday, and upon his feast day (January 1). At the conclusion of the Anaphora the bread and wine are held to be the Body and Blood of Christ.

Conventionally this change in the elements is understood to occur at the Epiklesis (Greek: "invocation") by which the Holy Spirit is invoked and the consecration of the bread and wine as the Body and Blood of Christ is specifically requested, but since the anaphora as a whole is considered a unitary (albeit lengthy) prayer, no one moment within it can be readily singled out.

Roman Catholicism Edit

See Mass and Divine Liturgy.

Protestantism Edit

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