The Eucharist is also known as Communion, Holy Communion or The Blessed Sacrament.
For many non-Catholics this sacrament is very controversial. However, for Catholics it is considered to be of central importance.
Here we discuss Catholic teaching on the Eucharist.
When was the first Eucharist celebrated?
The Christian tradition holds and the Catholic faith will always uphold that the first Eucharist was the Last Supper. At that moment Christ changed the bread that they ate and the wine that they drank into his body and blood respectively. It is fitting that it is named eucharist which means thanksgiving (Greek) for it was a sacrifice; Christ’s perfect sacrifice for all of us. The institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper can be found in Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20 and 1 Corinthians. 11:23-26.
Where is the Eucharist in the Bible?
The clearest expressions of the real Presence in Scripture are in 1 Corinthians 10:14-17, 1 Corinthians 11:23-42, and John 6:22-69.
The Bread of Life Discourse
The sixth chapter of John contains what is often called the “Bread of Life discourse.” Jesus tells his audience that he is the bread that comes down from heaven (6:33-35). Many people complain because they object to Jesus’ statement that he came down from heaven, when they know his earthly origins (6:42). Instead of answering their objections, Jesus gets more explicit about what it means to say that he is the bread from heaven. He proclaims that those who eat this bread will not die, but will live forever. The objection to his statement stops being about Jesus coming down from heaven. Instead, people begin to murmur against the idea that Jesus could give people his flesh to eat (6:52).
People have so much difficulty accepting this teaching that many of them leave Jesus forever (6:66). Instead of explaining that he was only speaking metaphorically, Jesus lets them leave. Would he have done that if he had been speaking figuratively?
The Witness of St. Paul
In his first letter to the Corinthians, one of the earliest writings in the New Testament, St. Paul affirms that the Eucharist is truly the body of Christ. He asks a rhetorical question: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (10:16). Shortly after, he says, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord” (11:27). This would be a harsh statement indeed if it were referring only to a symbol. Paul further clarifies that when we receive the Eucharist, we must discern the body of the Lord (11:27).
You don’t really think that wafer is Jesus, do you?
It depends on when you are speaking of that wafer. Before it is consecrated it is just a wafer, but after the priest re-enacts the Last Supper then it is truly the body and blood of Jesus Christ. This is also known as the Real Presence. The Church has maintained since the time of the apostles that the bread that is broken and the wine that is poured becomes the actual body and blood, not that Jesus is present with the bread and the wine, nor that they are merely a symbol. In the Eucharist Christ is truly, wholly, and substantially present.
How can the Eucharist be Jesus when it still looks like bread and wine?
The Church has always believed in the Eucharist. You can find clear teaching on the Eucharist in the Bible and in the early Church Fathers. Even so, the Church’s understanding of how the bread and wine become Jesus’ body and blood has developed over time. St. Thomas Aquinas, using categories from Aristotle, developed the term transubstantiation to describe this change.
Everything has a substance, what it is in its nature and essence, and accidents, the traits that go along with it. A human being has a substance: you are the same person as an embryo, a toddler, a teenager, and an elderly person. Yet your accidents change: you grow, increase in understanding, cut your hair, develop wrinkles, etc. At the age of 80, no one might be able to recognize you as the same person you were at 18, but you are the same person.
Bread and wine has a substance, that makes it bread and wine. It also has accidents: the taste, touch, smell, and sight of bread and wine. When the priest consecrates the Eucharist, the accidents of the bread and wine remain the same (with rare exceptions occurring in Eucharistic miracles). Yet the substance of the bread and wine has been transformed into the substance of Jesus Christ, in his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
St. Thomas Aquinas describes this in a spiritual sense by saying that in the Eucharist, all of our senses are deceived except for hearing. We see, touch, taste, and smell bread and wine, but we hear the words of Christ telling us the truth of his presence in the Eucharist.
What are the fruits of Holy Communion?
Why is the Eucharist sometimes called Communion? The Eucharist augments our union with Christ; we are joined in a union with Christ and his Church through the Eucharist.
“The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus. Indeed, the Lord said: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.’ Life in Christ has its foundation in the Eucharistic banquet: ‘As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.'”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church 1391).
Sometimes people feel a deep sense of peace when they receive the Eucharist. This is a gift from God, too. However, a lack of emotion when you receive the Eucharist does not mean that you are doing something wrong or that you are not receiving the fruits of Holy Communion.
What are the requirements to receive the Eucharist?
Because the Eucharist is so important, the Church teaches that there are certain requirements someone must meet to be able to receive the Eucharist at Mass.
- The person must be Catholic (Eastern Orthodox are also allowed to receive).
- The person must be in a state of grace (i.e. not be aware of any unconfessed mortal sins).
- The person must have fasted for at least one hour before receiving the Eucharist. Drinking water is okay, but for anything else to be acceptable, it must be medically necessary.
Why can’t Protestants receive the Eucharist at a Catholic Mass?
The Eucharist is a great gift that allows us an unparalleled union with Jesus Christ. However, another element of the communion in the Eucharist is communion with the Church. When we receive the Eucharist, we are saying, “I am in communion with the Church that has been entrusted with this Eucharist.” For someone who is not in union with the Catholic Church, receiving the Eucharist would be a lie. Likewise, Catholics should not receive communion at Protestant churches.
What is the form and matter of this sacrament?
The form for the Eucharist is when the priest repeats the words of Jesus saying: “This is my body…” and “This is my blood….” And, if you haven’t guessed by now the matter is wheat bread and grape wine.
Do Catholics have trouble with this belief?
Yes, in fact there are two stumbling blocks for all Christians; the Eucharist and the Cross. These are the same mysteries that have been a cause of division for centuries. Our Catechism says:
The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. “Will you also go away?”: the Lord’s question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only he has “the words of eternal life” and that to receive in faith the gift of his Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church 1336)
How many times per day can someone receive Holy Communion?
Holy Communion can be received twice a day. The second time one receives it, it must be during a Eucharistic celebration (a.k.a. Mass). If someone is dying, they can receive it for a third time that day as Viaticum. After one receives it for the first time in his/her life he/she is obliged to receive it at least once per year during the Easter season. However, the Church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the Eucharist on all Sundays, feast days and even daily (if possible).
Why is the Eucharist referred to as the “source and summit of our faith?”
Let’s turn to one of the documents of Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis (Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests) Paragraph 5:
“The other sacraments, as well as with every ministry of the Church and every work of the apostolate, are tied together with the Eucharist and are directed toward it. The Most Blessed Eucharist contains the entire spiritual boon of the Church, that is, Christ himself, our Pasch and living bread, by the action of the Holy Spirit through his very flesh vital and vitalizing, giving life to men who are thus invited and encouraged to offer themselves, their labors and all created things together with him. In this light the Eucharist shows itself as the source and apex of the whole work of the preaching of the Gospel.”