Eucharist and Communion

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Eucharist by Sandro Botticelli
Eucharist is the sacrament of Holy Communion, in which the consecrated bread and wine are swallowed by worshipers. It is a re-enactment of the Last Supper and the meal Jesus had with his followers after the resurrection. Symbolizing Christ’s promise to remain faithful to his followers forever, it is a focus of church life and is focal point of Christian beliefs in that “it was of Christ and his mission could be applied to it.”

Eucharist (from the Greek word “eucharista”, “act of grace” or "thanksgiving") is the key to personal redemption and is an offering in which Christ’s sacrifice becomes a personal reality. Lying at the heart of Christian life, it is equated with Jewish Passover the same way that Baptism is equated with Jewish circumcision. It: 1) reaffirms the Covenant relationship between God and humanity; 2) is a kind of symbolic sacrifice; and 3) signifies that Christ continues to sacrifice himself after his resurrection and ascendance.

When partaking in the Eucharist, Christians symbolically become participants in the crucifixion and passion of Christ in the present-day church. The earliest sermons served as a kind of introduction to the Eucharist and served as a way of filling time until all the members of the church were present (the Eucharist traditionally could only be performed when all members were present).

According to the BBC: Eucharist is a celebration that commemorates “the final meal that Jesus took with his disciples before his death (the Last Supper). This rite comes from the actions of Jesus who, at that meal, took bread and wine and asked his disciples to consume them and continue to do so in memory of him. At the meal, the wine represented his blood and the bread his body. The Eucharist (also known as a Communion meal in some churches) is central to the Church and is recognised as a sign of unity amongst Christians. Different Churches understand and practice the Eucharist in different ways. As a result, the central ideas of the Eucharist can cause disharmony rather than unity. For example, the idea that Christ is present in the bread and wine is interpreted literally by some churches and metaphorically by others. This has given rise to substantial and often irreconcilable disagreement.”

Religious Basis of Eucharist

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Christ and Emmaus by Rembrandt
The Eucharist is regarded as a command of Christ. The earliest account of Communion was in St Paul’s first epistle Corinthians 2:23-25: “For the tradition I received from the Lord and also handed on to you is that on the night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and after he given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” And in the same way, with the cup after supper, saying “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.”

“The Eucharist symbolises the new covenant given by God to his followers. The old covenant was the one given by God to Israel when he freed his people from slavery in Egypt. The new sacrament symbolises freedom from the slavery of sin and the promise of eternal life. According to the Synpotic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the Eucharist was instituted by Jesus, who said the following: “Take, eat, this is my body... Take, drink, this is my blood... Do this in remembrance of me.” Christians believe that the piece of bread that is "taken, blessed, broken and given" becomes the life of Jesus, the body of Christ. But they don't all mean the same thing by it, and some of the biggest disputes among Christians are about exactly what they do mean.

Religious people have argued for centuries over whether or not wine and wafer are "transubstantiated" into the corporal substances of Christ's blood and body. Catholics believe the bread and wine really become Christ's body and blood. Columbia anthropologist Marvin Harris argues that wafer and wine are offered at "communion" instead of more substantial food because the Christian church wanted to be released from its commitment of providing large quantities of food during Christian feasts. The Council of Laodicea of A.D. 363 prohibited the practice of holding feast on church premises.

“According to the BBC: “It's very easy to get stuck into complex arguments about what happens to the piece of bread; what exactly it turns into, and how. There's a risk that if people get stuck in an argument about magical changes in bread they'll forget that they are part of the ritual, and the way they respond to it is a vital part of the package. [Source: June 23, 2009 BBC |::|]

“But you can get a great deal of meaning about the Eucharist without worrying about that. Christians say that there is a common action in what happens to the bread, and what God has done with Jesus and with human lives. In Jesus, God took a human body, blessed it, and was broken in it. Ordinary Christians believe that God has taken their lives, blessed them, broken them, and remade them. The piece of bread is taken, blessed and broken, too. |And in all three of these actions human bodies, or pieces of bread become filled with the life of Christ. |::|

See Passover, Jews

Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity ; History of Christianity ; BBC on Christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance ; Christian Answers ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible

Eucharist and the Last Supper

The Last Supper is the foundation of the Christian sacrament of the Eucharist, which includes services such as Holy Communion, Mass, The Lord's Supper. Although different Christian denominations have many different ways of celebrating the Eucharist, and understand it in different ways, they all developed from the Last Supper. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

The Last Supper refers to the meal that Jesus had with his disciples shared together before his arrest, trial and death. Mount Zion in Jerusalem is believed to be the place where Christ had his Last Supper and David was buried. According to tradition the meal was taken in an "upper room" of unknown house in Jerusalem that tradition has placed at the Coenaculum. The Last Supper is remembered and re-enacted with Communion (the Eucharist), Mass and the Memorial Meal. This event is commemorated before Easter with the religious day Maundy Thursday.

Jesus and the disciples shared a last meal together either during Passover (Synoptic Gospels) or on the eve of Passover (John's Gospel). During the Last Supper Jesus and his disciples may have had a traditional Jewish Passover Seder. According to the Bible, Jesus and his disciples ate unleavened bread (matzo) and bitter herbs at The Last Supper. Other traditional Passover foods include roast lamb, a reddish sauce called “harosth” eaten with bitter herbs, chopped apples, dates, figs, almonds, wine and cinnamon.

During the meal Jesus told his disciples that his death was imminent and predicted that he would be betrayed by one of his disciples and disowned by another. He also said the things he taught them about God would remain with them after he was gone. He then broke some bread, blessed it and offered it them, saying "Take it and eat. This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” . After the meal Jesus blesses some wine and gives it to the disciples saying "Drink ye all of this; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me". Jesus later promised his disciples, “I am with you always, yes, to the end of time.” The sharing of bread and wine is recalled with Communion (the Eucharist). The cup wine was consumed from became known as the Holy Grail.

Eucharist Bread and Wine

The “bread” used in Communion is usually in the form of small wafers of unleavened bread, which are called hosts in the Catholic church. Unleavened bread is what was served in the Jewish Passover meal. Orthodox Christians observe Eucharist with leavened bread.

20120508-Eucharist Juan_de_Juanes_002.jpg In the Catholic church, the hosts which are consecrated in a special gold- or silver-plated shallow dish called a “patens”. Afterwards the consecrated hosts are placed in a special cup called a ciborium, used to store them, which is placed in the tabernacle — a small, ornate, locked cupboard on a wall or side-altar — from which they are later taken out and given to the faithful in a gold or silver plated vessel called a monstrance.

The Catholic church’s “Code of Canon Law” gives a precise description of communion wine: “The wine must be natural, made from grapes of the vine and not corrupt” (canon 924). It must therefore be the result of natural fermentation of pure grape juice. During the last Supper it was the “fruit of the vine” which Jesus transformed into his own blood. Wine has long been a fixture of Judeao-Christian feasts. According to Isaiah in the Old Testament such wines must be a “well-strained wine.” In Roman Catholic mass, white wine is generally used because it doesn’t stain any vestments (garments). The wine is offered in a fine gold or silver chalice.

Forms of the Eucharist

Early Eucharist held when the apostles were still alive were almost like re-creation of the Last Supper and had seven steps: 1) taking of bread; 2) blessing it; 3) breaking of bread; 4) distributing it. Then came a proper meals followed by 5) taking a cup of wine; 6) blessing it; and 7) distributing and drinking it.

Later the meal part was removed and it took its modern form: 1) taking of wine and bread together; 2) blessing both; 3) breaking the bread; and 4) distributing and consuming both. The four actions are called the Offertory, the Consecration prayer, the Fraction and the Communion.”

Among Catholics and Orthodox Christian s, communion is conducted at an altar or table and worshipers approach the later to be given a wafer and wine by a priest. Among many Protestant denominations worshipers remain in their seats and given communion by a preacher who walks around to them.

Catholic Versus Orthodox Christian Eucharist Rituals

Mass formally begins with the Offertory. Dogma battles over the way in which this was carried out led to the schism between the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches. Catholics blessed their bread during the ceremony while Greek Orthodox blessed it before the service began. The Orthodox pierced the bread with a miniature lance and this the bread was regarded as representing the dead Christ before resurrection.

Eucharist is the central act of Catholic mass, where it is accompanied by a spoken liturgy, songs, prayers and several reading from the Bible. During the Eucharist liturgy the bread and wine are “transformed” on the altar into the body and blood of Christ. As far as Catholic and Orthodox Christians are concerned a real transformation of substances occurs during the consecration, or “transubstantiation.” For most Protestants the bread and wine are merely symbols.

Catholic Eucharist

The religious scholar Nicolas Zernov wrote: “The Eucharist is seen by the Orthodox Christians as the revelation of the divine Presence in the material world. Their rite has no single culminating point, but represents a gradual unveiling of Christ’s mystical presidency over the assembly of the faithful” and that “man is a worthy recipient of sacred mysteries.” The Eucharist “is based on the idea that matter is spirit-bearing and its it is not only the participants but also their bodies and the fruits of the Earth transformed into bread and wine by their labors, which are sanctified and brought into sacramental union with the risen Christ and his glory.”

By contrast, according to the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation, the materials of the bread and wine keep their appearance of bread and wine but change their material substance into the Body and Blood of Christ through consecration in the Eucharist.

The Orthodox Eucharist is treated a feast of both soul and the body. The communion table is called the “Throne.” The screen, whose doors and opened and closed at various points of the service, are vital for the presentation of the Eucharist. A recipient of the Orthodox Eucharist does kneel after he has consumed the bread and wine. Leavened bread and red wine mixed with hot water are used.

Catholic Eucharist

Eucharist is the heart of the Catholic religious experience. Catholics believe that bread and wine are necessary to validate a Mass and transform them to Christ's body and blood. The reasoning goes that Jesus could make only one sacrifice by dying on the cross. But each Eucharist “is a sacrifice because it re-represents, that is, makes present, the sacrifice of the cross...The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice”

First communions are a big deal in the Catholic church. They have become major social events in which parents buy their children fancy clothes and have a nice dinner. It is against Catholic church law to receive communion at a Protestant church.

Among Catholics and Orthodox Christians, communion is conducted at an altar or table and worshipers approach the later to be given a wafer and wine by a priest. Among many Protestant denominations worshipers remain in their seats and given communion by a preacher who walks around to them.

Paul on Food Offered to Idols

Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio
Paul wrote in First Corinthians: Chapter 8: 1 Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that "all of us possess knowledge." "Knowledge" puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If any one imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if one loves God, one is known by him [Source: Revised Standard Version]

“4 Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "an idol has no real existence," and that "there is no God but one." 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords" — 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist

“7However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through being hitherto accustomed to idols, eat food as really offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if any one sees you, a man of knowledge, at table in an idol's temple, might he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak man is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food is a cause of my brother's falling, I will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to fall

Paul’s Instructions for Dining Together

“On the Abuses at the Lord's Supper, Paul wrote in First Corinthians: 1 Corinthians 11.17 - 11.33: 17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you assemble as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you meet together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. [Source: Revised Standard Version]

20120508-Eucharist Marienstern_kommunion.jpg “23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes

“27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world

“33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another — 34 if any one is hungry, let him eat at home — lest you come together to be condemned. About the other things I will give directions when I come

Eucharist: Different Churches, Different Meanings

According to the BBC: “Different Churches understand and practice the Eucharist in different ways. As a result, the central ideas of the Eucharist can cause disharmony rather than unity. For example, the idea that Christ is present in the bread and wine is interpreted literally by some churches and metaphorically by others. This has given rise to substantial and often irreconcilable disagreement. [Source: June 23, 2009 BBC |::|]

”Although all denominations recognise the importance of the Eucharist, they differ about its meaning. Roman Catholics believe that the bread and wine that is offered is the actual body and blood of Christ and another form of sacrifice. They believe that although the bread and wine physically remain the same, it is transformed beyond human comprehension into the body, blood soul and divinity of Jesus. This is called Transubstantiation and is celebrated in the festival of Corpus Christi. Protestants believe that Jesus made his sacrifice on the cross and simply follow the tradition of the sacrament in memory of the event, recalling its symbolic importance in the life of Jesus.

Orthodox Eucharist

“Churches also differ in how often they receive the Eucharist. The more importance a Church places on the sacraments, the more often its members will receive the Eucharist. For Roman Catholics, the Eucharist is the most important act of worship. All Roman Catholics are encouraged to receive communion at least once a week during Mass. Some practising Catholics may receive the Eucharist every day. Other denominations receive Holy Communion less frequently and usually services are held once a week or every few weeks. |::|

“Maundy Thursday: In the UK, Maundy Thursday of Holy Week is so named because it is recognised as the anniversary of the Last Supper and the beginning of the institution of the Eucharist. Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum, meaning commandment, in Jesus's phrase A new commandment I give to you. |::|

Eucharist as A Charm

Eucharist as a Charm (from Dialogus Miraculorum) was written between 1220 and 1235 by Caesarius of Heisterbach, a monk educated in Cologne. It reads: “MONK: I THINK it is less than two years now since a certain priest who doubted of the Sacrament of Christ's Body celebrated mass in the town of Wildenburg. As he was reciting the canon of the mass, with some hesitation concerning so marvelous a conversion of bread into Christ's Body, the Lord showed him raw flesh in the host. This was seen also by Widekind, a noble standing behind his back, who drew the priest aside after mass and enquired diligently what he had done or thought during the canon; he, therefore, terrified both by the vision and by the question, confessed and denied not how at that hour he had doubted of the sacrament. And each told the other how he had seen raw flesh in the host. This same Widekind had to wife the daughter of Siegfried of Runkel, a niece of the abbess of Rheindorf, who told me this vision last year. [Source: Caes. Heist. vol. II, p. 170-, From C.G. Coulton, ed, Life in the Middle Ages, (New York: Macmillan, c.1910), Vol 1, 70-72,]

Catholic mass

“Would you also know what the Lord shows to priests of evil life, for that He is crucified by them? ... A certain lecherous priest wooed a woman; and, unable to obtain her consent, he kept the most pure Body of the Lord in his mouth after mass, hoping that, if he thus kissed her, her will would be bent to his desire by the force of the Sacrament. But the Lord, (who complains through the mouth of the Prophet Zachariah, sayin "You crucify me daily, even the whole nation of you" [a misquote of Zach. 3:9] thus hindered his evildoing. When he would fain have gone forth from the church door, he seemed to himself to grow so huge that he struck his head against the ceiling of the sacred building. The wretched man was so startled that he drew the host from his mouth, and buried it, not knowing what he did, in a corner of the church [note: churches were commonly unpaved at this date]. But, fearing the swift vengeance of God, he confessed the sacrilege to a priest his familiar friend. So they went together to the place and threw back the dust, where they found not the appearance of bread, but the shape, though small, of a man hanging on the cross, fleshy and blood-stained. What was afterwards done with it or what the priest did, I forget, for it is long since this told me by Hermann our Cantor, to whom the story was well-known..

“It is somewhat pitiful that we men, for whose salvation this sacrament was instituted, should be so lukewarm about it; while brute beasts, worms, and reptiles recognize in it their Creator... A certain woman kept many bees, which throve not but died in great numbers; and, as she sought everywhere for a remedy, it was told her that if she placed the Lord's Body among them, this plague would soon cease. She therefore went to church and, making as though she would communicate, took the Lord's Body, which she took from her mouth as soon as the priest had departed, and laid it in one of her hives. Mark the marvelous power of God! These little worms, recognizing the might of their Creator, built their sweetest Guest, out of their sweetest honeycombs, a chapel of marvelous workmanship, wherein they set up a tiny altar of the same material and laid thereon this most holy Body: and God blessed their labors. In process of time the woman opened this hive, and was aware of the aforesaid chapel whereupon she hastened and confessed to the priest all that she had done and seen. Then he took with him his parishioners and came to the hive, where they drove away the bees that hovered round and buzzed in Praise of their creator; and, marveling at the little chapel with its walls and windows, roof and tower, door and altar, they brought back the Lord's Body with praise and glory to the church. For though God be marvelous in the saints, yet these His smallest creatures preached Him yet more marvelously. Yet, lest any presume to do this again, I will tell you of a terrible thing which the mistress [of novices] at Sankt Nicolas Insel [a convent of nuns on an island in the river Moselle] told me last year. There was in that island a demoniac girl, a laywoman, whom I also have seen there.

Protestant Baptist Communion wine

“A certain priest inquired of the devil that was in her, why Hartdyfa of Cochem had been so cruelly tormented for so long a time; and the demon answered through the girl's mouth, "Why? she has well and abundently deserved it; for she sowed the most High on her cabbage beds." The priest understood not this saying, nor would n it further; he therefore sought out the woman Hartdyfa and told her of the devil's words, warning her not to deny if she understood them. She confessed her fault forthwith, saying, " I understand only too well; but I have never yet told it to any man. When I was young, and had got me a garden-plot to till, I took in a wandering woman one night as my guest: to whom when I complained of the ravage of my garden, telling how my cabbages were eaten up with caterpillars, she replied, 'I will teach thee a good remedy. Take thou the Lord's Body and crumble it up and sprinkle the crumbs over thy cabbages; so shall that plague cease forthwith.' I, wretched woman, caring more for my garden than for the Sacrament, having received the Lord's Body at Easter, took it from my mouth and used it as she had taught me, which did indeed turn to the comfort of my cabbages, but to mine own torment, as the devil has said."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, , Metropolitan Museum of Art, Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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