The Eucharist is either the celebration of the Christian sacrament commemorating Christs Last Supper, or the consecrated bread and wine of this sacrament. The term is used mainly in Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutheran traditions, and is derived from the Greek word ευχαριστω, eucharisto, meaning to give thanks. The form of the liturgical rite and the relevant theology vary from tradition to tradition. Many Protestant traditions speak rather of "Communion" or "Holy Communion", a term also widely used (though usually in a more limited sense) in Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox circles. See also The Lord's Supper.


Historical roots of the Eucharist

Institution. The three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) as well as Saint Paul's first Letter to the Corinthians contain versions of the so-called "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.

See also: Historical roots of Catholic Eucharistic theology

Eucharistic theologies

The Eucharist has always been at the center of Christian worship, though theological interpretations vary. In general, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox traditions: see the Eucharist as the fulfillment of the Divine Economy (God's plan for the salvation of humanity from sin), a commemoration and making present of Jesus's 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.

Roman Catholic Eucharistic theology

The Eucharist is one of the seven Catholic sacraments that confer sanctifying grace and assist souls in attaining union with God. According to the Second Vatican Council the Eucharist is the "source and summit of Christian life". [1] ( The Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is really, truly, and substantially the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ under the appearances of bread and wine. It rejects as heresy the belief that the Eucharist merely symbolizes Christ or commemorates His suffering and death. See Mass (liturgy).

Eucharistic union with God is a primary component in the Catholic conception of prayer life, in which one progresses first along the purgative way, e.g., confessing sins before receiving communion, a tradition dating from the earliest period of the Church. Later, one passes along to the illuminative and unitive ways (see prayer). Nourished by the Eucharist, the Catholic faithful seek to live by Christ, as Christ lives by the Father.

The Catholic Church teaches that at the Consecration of the Mass (when the priest says "This is my Body" and "This is my Blood"), the "substance" (essential reality) of the bread and wine is changed into that of the Body and Blood of Christ, while the "accidents" (attributes or appearances, such as taste, texture, size, smell, etc.) remain unchanged. This change is called transubstantiation.

"Substance" does not here mean chemical substance, which, being part of the "accidents", remains unchanged in the Eucharist. In transformation, as when a gawky youth is transformed into an elegant adult, the form, appearance or accidents are changed, but the essential reality or substance of the person remains; in transubstantiation it is the essential reality or substance that is changed, while the form, appearance or accidents remain.

Because the Eucharist is really and truly Christ Himself under the appearances of bread and wine, Roman Catholics worship the Eucharistic species. The Eucharist is stored in the tabernacle of every Catholic church and Catholics genuflect as a sign of respect when entering Its presence. The consecrated elements may be used to give a special blessing, called Eucharistic Benediction.

Sufficient spiritual preparation must be made by each Catholic prior to receiving Holy Communion. A Catholic guilty of mortal sin should first make a sacramental confession: otherwise that person commits a sacrilege. Also, Catholics must abstain from food and drink (except water and medicine) for one hour before receiving, and must, of course, have a true belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

The Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist of the Protestant Churches is invalid, as Protestant ministers lack the sacramental power to confect transubstantiation. Therefore, a Catholic would not genuflect before the Eucharist of a Protestant church.

See Transubstantiation and historical roots of Catholic Eucharistic theology.

Eastern Orthodox Eucharistic theology

Since the Eucharist prefigures the ultimate union with God to which Orthodox Christians aspire (see theosis), it has a central role in Eastern Orthodox theology, which teaches, along with Roman Catholicism, that the Divine Liturgy mystically brings the congregation into the presence of both the original Last Supper and the angelic worship in Heaven. The worship is centered around the union of the earthly Liturgy with the heavenly Liturgy, of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross with the bloodless sacrifice on the altar, and of Christ's Body and Blood with the faithful, both individually and corporately, as the Body of Christ (a term which refers both to the Eucharist and the Church).

The bread and wine, referred to as "gifts", are believed, as in the Roman Catholic tradition, to become literally the Body and Blood of Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Less theological emphasis is placed on identifying a moment of consecration, e.g., when the words of institution are spoken. Eastern Orthodox typically eschew Aristotelian philosophy, a philosophy tending to categorize and organize, and prefer a neo-Platonic philosophy, tending to reconcile distinctions. The language of "transubstantiation" is therefore thought too precise, and is avoided in favor of the language of "participation". St. Augustine, [2] ( (d. 430) a Platonist Christian theologian, helped the Church to develop a unifying synthetic theology, [3] ( categorizing many theological concepts yet seeking also their harmonious interrelationship, and of communion stating that "[t]he entire Church observes the tradition" [4] (, i.e. participates in it, and that the "sacrifice ... is now offered to God by Christians throughout the whole world".

Some Eastern Orthodox theologians and scholars do accept the term "transubstantiation", e.g. based on terms found in the Orthodox Confession of 1640 [5] ( made by Peter Mogila (Mohyla), metropolitan of Kiev, to refute a Calvinist declaration by another Orthodox, Cyril Lucaris[6] ( Eastern Orthodox sources are divided on Mogila himself, some saying he was too influenced by Western sources (ibid.), others saying he was "ahead of his time" in promoting Church unity. [7] ( Irrespective of terminology, owing to the fact that the various Eastern Orthodox Churches employ the form, matter, intent, and apostolic succession that is their heritage and the Catholic universal teaching, they consecrate the bread according to apostolic tradition and teaching. Different apostles went east than west, and one will encounter differences in respective liturgy; for example, the Eastern Orthodox generally stand throughout the Divine Liturgy while in the Western Rite the faithful alternate during Mass between sitting, kneeling, and standing. Some theological variety can be attributed simply to a lack of contact since the East-West Schism in 1054.

Lutheran Eucharistic theology

Like Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans subscribe to the doctrine of the Eucharistic Real Presence, believing that the bread and wine truly are the body and blood of Jesus Christ. They do not endorse any particular view of how this takes place, and regard attempts to explain in terms of philosophical metaphysics how the Eucharist "works" as disrespectful of the Sacrament's miraculous and mysterious character. This refusal to endorse such explanatory doctrines, particularly transubstantiation, is sometimes interpreted by non-Lutherans as denial of the Real Presence. Non-Lutherans also sometimes describe the Lutheran doctrine as consubstantiation, an incorrect understanding of Lutheran teaching, since, like transubstantiation, consubstantiation is rejected by Lutherans as a misguided attempt to philosophically categorize a divine mystery.

Lutherans often say that the body and blood of Christ are "in, with and under" the bread and wine, in an attempt to adequately express their understanding of Christ's presence in the Eucharist, as opposed to Transubstantiationist and Sacramentarian positions. Though the elements are taught to be Christ (given his words, "this is my body", and "this is my blood"), Lutherans do not offer adoration to them, as Christ's injunction to Christians is to "take and eat", and "take and drink"; thus that is their proper, divinely ordained use.

Anglican/Episcopal Eucharistic theology

The Thirty-Nine Articles, the Church of England's core of traditional doctrine, denies transubstantiation, but acknowledges that the Body and Blood of Christ are spiritually present in the elements. But, in practice, the Anglican Church has come to tolerate a wide range of views on the nature of the Eucharist, from transubstantiation to symbolic memorialism. Anglican author C.S. Lewis famously summed up the Anglican position: "The command, after all, was Take, eat: not Take, understand."

Protestant Eucharistic theology

The various Protestant traditions hold differing views of the Eucharist.

  • Most Reformed do not teach that the bread and wine are transformed, but that those who receive the elements with faith are brought into a spiritually real form of fellowship with Jesus Christ.
  • In Methodism, transubstantiation is rejected, as is a rigid memorialism. Methodists generally refer to the Eucharist as a means of grace whereby those who partake experience the presence and the grace of Christ. While Real Presence is generally affirmed, Methodists have preferred to allow the specific details of the sacrament as a mystery. Typically celebrated as a means of grace meant to aid in the process of sanctification and the journey to Christian Perfection, it is also celebrated recognizing that God's prevenient grace may bring a person to conversion or even salvation through the sacrament.
  • Most other Protestant Churches see the Lord's Supper as a commemoration of the sacrifice of Jesus, in which the physical elements have a purely symbolic and memorial value, reminding partakers of his salvific work.

Six contrasting views on the body and the blood

  • Consubstantiation - the body and blood of Jesus Christ are substantially present alongside the substance of the bread and wine, which remain. (This view is often erroneously attributed to the Lutheran Church.)
  • Pious Silence - the bread and wine become the real Body and Blood of Christ in a way that is beyond human comprehension; the specific mechanisms and details of this are not possible to understand nor to explain; this view is held by the Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Churches.
  • Spiritual presence - the body and blood of Jesus Christ are received in a spiritual manner by faith . This view is held by most Reformed Christians, such as Presbyterians.
  • Suspension - the partaking of the bread and wine was not intended to be a perpetual ordinance, and/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, The Salvation Army, as well as the "ultra-dispensational" teaching of E. W. Bullinger, Cornelius R. Stam and others
  • 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 (also known as Zwinglianism or Zwinglian view after Ulrich Zwingli); this view is held by several Protestant denominations, including most Baptists.
  • Transubstantiation the substance (fundamental reality) of the bread and wine is transformed into that of the Body and Blood of Christ, but the accidents (physical traits, including chemical) of the bread and wine remain; this view is held by the Roman Catholic Church.

Forms of Eucharistic celebration

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

This service apparently was a full meal, with each participant bringing their own food, with the meal eaten in a common room. Perhaps predictably enough, it could at times deteriorate into a mere occasion for eating and drinking, or for ostentatious displays by the wealthier members of the community, as was already observed by St. Paul (cf. Template:Bibleverse). Because of such abuses, the Agape gradually fell into disfavor, and after being subjected to various regulations and restrictions, was definitively dropped by the Church between the 6th and 8th centuries.

Current celebration in Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Orthodox worship

Liturgical setting. Celebration of the Eucharist is usually called the Mass in Latin-rite Roman Catholicism, the Divine Liturgy in Eastern Churches, including Eastern Rite Catholics, Holy Communion in the Anglican tradition. It usually takes place in a church. The ritual includes Scripture readings, hymns, etc, which may or may not be directly related to the Eucharist. They provide the preparation and context for the central Eucharistic Prayer or Anaphora. This part is sometimes referred to as the Liturgy of the Eucharist (in a narrower sense), distinguishing it from the Liturgy of the Word, which precedes it and sometimes also from the Communion Liturgy that follows.

In the Catholic and Anglican traditions, a wedding service may be joined to celebration of the Eucharist, as may other sacraments.

Participants. These include one or more priests, often assisted by deacons and other ministers, wearing the vestments of their rank. (Ethiopian tradition requires a minimum of three priests and two deacons.) Catholic and Anglican vestments are similar, if not identical. Eastern Churches vary more from both from the Western tradition and among themselves in both the appearance and symbolism of their vestments [8] ( There is usually a congregation, but in Catholicism and Anglicanism, a priest may for a serious reason celebrate the Eucharist alone.

Materials and objects. There is typically an altar (in Eastern Orthodoxy called the Holy Table), on which the bread and wine are set for consecration, usually in a chalice for the wine and a paten or diskos for the bread, although a plate or basket is sometimes used. Christian tradition requires that the wine be true wine made from grapes, and that the bread be made from wheat. Western and Armenian Churches, use unleavened bread, in imitation of the matzoh of a Passover seder. It is usually round in shape and is often referred to in the West as the "host" (from Latin "hostia", meaning "victim"). In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, red wine and small round loaves of leavened wheat bread (called Prosphora) are used; these are prepared before the Divine Liturgy in a separate ceremony called the Liturgy of Preparation.

Vessels used in the West include one or more of each of the following: a chalice for the wine, a paten for the main host or hosts, a ciborium for smaller hosts, all placed on a corporal, a white cloth spread on the altar to prevent particles of consecrated hosts from being scattered. In addition, cruets contain water and wine for placing in the chalice. The Roman Missal gives the text of the prayers and rubrics of the Mass.

Byzantine churches have, as well as the Holy Table (the main altar in the center of the Sanctuary), a Table of Oblation (Prothesis, Proskomedia) for preparing the bread and wine before the Divine Liturgy [9] ( A special cloth called the Antimension (Greek: "instead of the Table"), containing a small relic, is also used. The bread is placed on a diskos, and the wine in a chalice. For part of the Liturgy, the diskos and chalice are covered with individual veils (that over the diskos being supported by a small frame called the Star) and with a veil (the Aer) large enough to cover both. A triangular-bladed knife called the Spear is used to cut the bread, and a small spoon is used to give the Eucharist to the faithful. There is also a small container of hot water (the Zeon) which is added to the chalice to symbolize the fervour of faith.

Ritual. The bread and wine are brought to the altar, often in a formal procession. After various prayers, depending on the particular tradition, there is usually a prayer that the bread and wine be changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. After the consecration, a term often used is Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Great care is taken not to mishandle or drop any element.

Communion is administered by the priest(s), assisted if necessary by extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, either directly in the communicant’s mouth or by placing the host in the hand. If Communion is given "under both kinds", the Western practice is either to dip the host in the consecrated wine before placing it in the mouth or for the communicant to drink directly from the chalice, the lip of which is wiped with a cloth after each person receives. Byzantine tradition is to use a spoon to give the consecrated wine and leavened bread together. Drinking from the chalice by means of a metal tube is also envisaged but very rarely used.

Protestant clergy sometimes offer bread from a basket or distribute individual cups and bread (sometimes prepackaged) for the congregation to consume simultaneously. Bread and a common cup may also be passed among the congregation, with each eating or drinking as they receive it. Individual cups used are collected afterwards, if reusable; but may not be collected if disposable.

In Eastern Orthodox practice, all consecrated materials are generally consumed by the Deacon at the end of the Liturgy, unless specially reserved for the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts during Lent. In Catholic and Anglican practice, consecrated hosts not consumed (but not consecrated wine) are reserved, usually in a tabernacle, for later use. A priest or deacon or a specially appointed lay person may administer them to the sick or housebound or to patients in hospital.

The vessels used for the Eucharist are carefully cleansed at the end of the service, a process known as the ablutions. The water used for this purpose, if not drunk, is poured into a special basin called the sacrarium or piscina, directly connected to the ground, not to a drain, out of respect for any minute particles of the Eucharist that may remain.

Open and closed communion

Christian denominations differ in their understanding of whether they may receive the Eucharist together with those not in full communion with them. The ancient Churches such as the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox exclude it in normal circumstances, though they may allow exceptions, e.g. for non-members in danger of death who share their faith in the reality of the Eucharist and are unable to have access to a minister of their own religion. Other Churches that teach the Real Presence of [[Christ] in the Sacrament such as conservative Lutheran Churches like the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod or the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod tend to do the same.

Theological reasons sometimes given for this restriction, referred to, especially by those who take a different view, as closed communion include:

  • Church membership is essentially defined as participation in its Eucharist
  • participating in the sacraments of a Church is understood as public avowal of its teachings and of unity with its members, which is a falsehood on the part of non-members
  • every effort must be made to ensure that the warning of 1 Corinthians 11:27 is heeded:: "Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord"
  • it is wrong to expose the elements of the Eucharist to being treated as not having the sacred character that is theirs because of being the body and blood of Christ

The National Catholic Reporter[10] ( of 27 May 2005 informed that Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, was asked on 19 May 2005 whether Catholics should invite others to share in the Catholic Eucharist, so as to foster Christian unity. He responded that, at a minimum, to invite a non-Catholic to receive communion, "we must share the same faith in the Eucharist. At the end of the Eucharistic prayer, the community answers 'Amen', meaning, 'I agree.' Everyone has to ask, 'Can I really say 'Amen' to what is said and done according to Catholic understanding?' These restrictions are not external, disciplinary positions of the Church. They are an explication of this 'Amen'. Otherwise it would be dishonest to go to communion. I would say the same to many Catholics. Does your life correspond to what this Eucharist is? You have to reflect about this, do penance and conversion, and so on. We do not invite all Catholics, either. It's a very hard question of conscience."

Citing the final canon of the Code of Canon Law, Cardinal Kasper also pointed out that the supreme law of the church is the salvation of souls. A person must be treated as an individual and not simply as an example of some general category. Thus under some circumstances, Catholic pastors are permitted to administer the sacraments, including the Eucharist, to non-Catholics. "This seems to me an appropriate response to the contemporary situation," he said. "It allows bishops to reach prudent pastoral decisions in particular instances. Spiritual questions cannot be regulated by canon law alone. We need pastoral wisdom and the discernment of spirits."

Closed communion was the universal practice of the early Church. The famed apologist St. Justin Martyr, ca. A.D. 150, wrote: "No one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true...." For the first several hundred years of Church history, non-members were forbidden even to be present at the sacramental ritual; visitors and catechumens (those still undergoing instruction) were dismissed halfway through the liturgy, after the Bible readings and sermon but before the Eucharistic rite. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, used in the Byzantine Churches, still has a formula of dismissal of catechumens (not followed by any action) at this point.

Most Protestant Churches, including some Reformed, Evangelical, Methodist, and liberal Lutheran (such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) practice what is called open communion. Many (but not all) open-communion Churches adhere to a symbolic or spiritual understanding of the Eucharist, so that they have no fear of sacrilege against the literal body and blood of Christ, if someone receives inappropriately. Believing that the benefits of communion are a matter of the individuals faith, they are unwilling to judge who may or may not be "worthy" to partake, and distribute the elements to all who present themselves, even if known not to be members. However, groups such as the Mennonites or Landmark Baptist Churches, which do not teach the Real Presence, practice closed communion as a symbol of exclusive membership and loyalty to the distinctive doctrines of their fellowship.

In Methodism, the real presence of Christ in the sacrament is affirmed, but left as a mystery, typically unexplained. Methodists hold, however, that the grace of God communicated through the Eucharist is powerful and sustaining as well as (potentially) converting; thus the sacrament is viewed as an evangelical sacrament. Because of this, they practise the "open table", in the hope that the communicant will meet Christ.

The Churches of the Anglican Communion have mostly abandoned their former practice of closed communion. The rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer state that no one may take communion until confirmed, but present general practice admits all baptised Christians to communion.


  • Chemnitz, Martin. The Lord's Supper. J. A. O. Preus, trans. St. Louis: Concordia, 1979. ISBN 0-570-03275-X
  • Elert, Werner. Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries. N. E. Nagel, trans. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1966. ISBN 0-570-04270-4
  • Felton, Gayle. This Holy Mystery. Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 2005. ISBN 088177457X
  • Father Gabriel. Divine Intimacy. Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1996 reprint ed. ISBN 0895555042
  • Jurgens, William A. The Faith of the Early Fathers. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1970. ISBN 0814604323
  • Kolb, Robert and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000. (ISBN 0800627407)
  • Lefebvre, Gaspar. The Saint Andrew Daily Missal. Reprint. Great Falls, MT: St. Bonaventure Publications, Inc., 1999.
  • McBride, Alfred, O.Praem. Celebrating the Mass. Our Sunday Visitor, 1999.
  • Oden, Thomas C. Corrective Love: The Power of Communion Discipline. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1995. ISBN 0-570-04803-6
  • Schmemann, Alexander. The Eucharist. St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1997. ISBN 0881410187
  • Stookey, L.H. Eucharist: Christ's Feast with the Church. Nashville: Abingdon, 1993 ISBN 0687120179
  • Tissot, The Very Rev. J. The Interior Life. 1916, pp. 347-9.

See also

External Links

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