Catholic Church Teaching: The Sacrament of Eucharist
How do we celebrate God's gift of Communion?
The little numbers reference the articles in the Catechism of the Catholic Church which are being summarized here. The language is fairly technical, but it is "translated" to the language of young children when preparing them for First Communion.
The Sacrament of Eucharist
Each time we celebrate the Eucharist
we deepen and more perfectly complete
our own Christian initiation.
We enter ever more deeply into Christ,
putting on Christ more fully as a garment,
living with Christ forever.
The great Constitution on the Church from Vatican II
make this clear in a single, memorable line:
The Eucharist, it explains simply,
is "the source and summit of the Christian life."
All the rest of the work of the church
and indeed, the daily life of us Christians,
directs us toward the Eucharist
and flows from it.
Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives
It is the source of our union together
as the People of God,
and it is that thing which keeps the church.
It is, you might say,
an entire summary of our faith
wrapped up in a single moment where Christ acts
to express that Divine Love
which he revealed in his life and death
and which is now sustained by the Spirit of Love.
Because it is so central to us and so rich,
we give this sacrament many names.
Each name reflects certain dimensions of this diamond,
and in each we see a slightly different meaning.
The word itself, “Eucharist” comes from Greek
and means, literally, “thanksgiving.”
We also refer to it as “The Lord's Supper”
because it flows from that famous last supper
which Jesus shared with his friends.
We call it “The Breaking of Bread”
because in that last supper, Jesus used the rite
of breaking and sharing bread,
a rite which was common for Jews.
It was again in that rite where his disciples recognized him
after the resurrection,
and that is the rite around which
his early followers gathered
using it to signify their own unity
as the Body of Christ.
We call it “The Eucharistic assembly”
because the Eucharist is celebrated in public
by the church assembled.
We refer to the Eucharist as
“the memorial of the Lord's passion and resurrection,”
“the holy sacrifice,”
and “sacrifice of praise.”
We call it “holy communion.”
We call it “the Mass”
by which we refer to its final action,
which sends us forth to love and serve
and which was rendered, in Latin,
ita missa est.
Each and every time we gather faithfully
to celebrate the Eucharist,
Christ makes himself present among us
under the signs of bread and wine.
This is the memorial he left us,
to share this meal
and in it, to recognize his presence.
This reflects our Jewish roots
because bread and wine were offered
by early priests to show gratitude to God.
Also, it was unleavened bread which they ate
on that night of the Passover,
marking their imminent departure on a journey
during which they were fed with manna.
The cup of blessing at the end of the Jewish Passover meal
was a hopeful and festive action,
a sign of Divine Love among them.
In Christ, this blessing cup became a sharing
in the kingdom of God.
In Christ, this bread became a sharing in his
dying and rising.
Perhaps the most revealing moment in Jesus’ life
came on the night of that famous supper
when he revealed the depths of Divine Love.
As a servant would do,
he rose from the supper table,
donned an apron,
and washed the feet of his disciples.
In this single act, he forcefully revealed that God is love,
Matthew, Mark and Luke hand on to us
the account of the breaking of bread
while John adds this account of the washing.
By reading them all, we get the picture clearly:
Christ has left us a memorial of his love,
a way to continue to make himself present
down through the centuries
under this form.
Eucharist is a memorial of Christ's dying and rising
Here for us is a “new Passover”
one in which Jesus passes over to his Father,
one in which we too pass over to new life,
which is why it is always initiation.
This liturgical action is more than a mere memory, however,
for in it Christ continues to be present,
forming us in love,
shaping us as a people,
loving us to death.
And from the very beginning,
the followers of Christ have gathered
for this memorial.
And we gather too, using the same fundamental prayer,
around the entire world,
on the first day of the week.
It is the center of our lives.
How we celebrate
The way we celebrate the Eucharist today
reflects closely how it was celebrated
in the early church communities.
The liturgy has a certain defined structure,
following two great parts:
liturgy of the Word
liturgy of the Eucharist.
Together, they form one single act of worship.
Remember the story of Emmaus?
The liturgy follows that basic format:
Jesus walks with us to teach us,
then sits with us at table.
First we gather faithfully together,
coming from all walks of life,
from all cultures,
and from many places,
into a single place with one mind,
sharing one heart and one faith,
Christ presides represented by the priest,
but all who gather participate fully.
It is Christ who acts through the priest
We read from the Scriptures,
both the Old and New Testaments.
We hear a homily
and we pray faithfully.
We present the bread and wine,
along with other offerings,
and these are blessed by the Spirit.
And then the moment arrives for us to pray
the great Eucharistic Prayer of the church,
and being made holy.
It begins with a preface expressing this thanks,
singing with full heart and soul.
In the prayer over the gifts
we acknowledge that it is the Spirit of Love
which blesses us and our gifts
to make them and us
into the Body of Christ.
By retelling the story of the Lord’s Supper
in the power of this Holy Spirit,
Christ’s body and blood are made sacramentally present
under the form of bread and wine.
Bread and wine are the essential signs of the Eucharist
By remembering the story of God loving us,
the dying and rising of Christ,
our own hearts fill with gratitude.
By calling to mind then the entire church:
living and dead,
our pastors and leaders and all the faithful,
we connect ourselves in the Spirit.
And then in communion,
we all share in this great sacramental moment,
when God who is Divine Love,
and Christ in whom that Love is revealed,
and the Spirit of that Love
fills us also with love.
Thanksgiving and praise
In the Eucharist we pray in two important ways.
First we give thanks to God
for the great divine love shown to us,
especially shown through Christ.
Second, we celebrate and sing praise to God
who is the generous giver of all these gifts.
The Eucharist is also the memorial of Christ's Love,
and every time we remember this love,
it becomes more real for us,
more present in our own lives.
Tremendous grace flows from the Eucharist
because in it, we see into the heart of God
as clearly as humanly possible.
All the many ways in which we miss the mark
as God’s sons and daughters
when we make unilateral choices,
or live selfishly,
or break our bond with the community,
are focused here.
We are forgiven again, and again, and again…
The Eucharist is, in this way, a sacrifice,
“an action which makes us holy.”
It is Christ’s action, the power of grace,
the forgiveness of sins,
the celebration of Divine Love.
We bring our whole lives to this,
our work and suffering and love,
our failures to love and our desires,
our fear and anger and ignorance,
our joy and hope and communion.
So it is the whole church who prays at Eucharist,
in every time and place where it is celebrated.
This includes the entire communion of saints.
When we gather faithfully, Christ is present,
the power of the Spirit heals us,
and Divine Love is once again expressed fully.
Christ is present in the church
in many ways.
We find him among the poor and rejected
whom he loves,
in the Word, broken open and shared,
in the gathering of the people,
in all of the sacraments,
in the person of the priest or bishop.
But Christ is present especially
in the Eucharist.
When we speak of “real” presence in Eucharist,
we do not mean to exclude the other types of presence,
which we have just mentioned.
We mean only to emphasize that here in the Eucharist,
Christ is present in a substantial way,
a unique way, fully, really, and entirely.
Christ makes himself present to us
in the Eucharist.
In the Eucharist, Christ is substantially present
The bread and wine are converted into
Christ’s body and blood in this sacrament.
The priest pronounces the words of Christ
from the Lord’s own supper,
but the power to transform the bread is God’s.
We give a name to this daily miracle,
a name which helps us see that the presence
of which we speak
is a substantial one.
The name is “transubstantiation”
and by it we refer to the belief
that the very substance of the bread and wine
and remains changed until consumed.
It is for this reason that we bow or genuflect
when we pass the tabernacle.
It is for this reason that we revere the Eucharist
for this reason that we set aside some hosts
for the sick
and for our own prayer.
It is for this reason that we place our tabernacle
in a worthy and safe location.
Christ himself gave this memorial of his love
to his closest friends and disciples
and now he remains mysteriously present in our midst,
still loving us,
still giving us grace,
Do not try to understand this with your senses,
as St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us,
but give yourself over to this miracle.
Gather with others who believe,
break open and share the Word,
then turn to the gifts of bread and wine,
with an ordained priest
who represents Christ.
Invoke the Holy Spirit and retell the great story
of that great, loving supper,
give thanks for all we have received,
and lo! Christ makes himself present!
The church wants us to receive communion often
We then receive communion
as the church urges us to do
each time we are present at Mass.
It is Christ whom we receive.
Just as in baptism we enter into the death of the Lord
so as to die ourselves and rise with Christ,
so in Eucharist,
once again we share in the Cross.
For this reason, receiving communion
is something we do only after preparation.
We should first examine our consciences
and be free of the kind of serious sin
which separates us from the community,
which we call “mortal sin.”
If such serious sin has occurred,
sacramental reconciliation should precede
our celebration of the Eucharist.
We should fast from other food beforehand,
and receive this gift with humility
We must be "in a state of grace" to receive communion
The church requires that we celebrate the Eucharist
each Sunday, and on all holy days,
but it obliges us to receive communion
at least once a year during the Easter Season.
It’s important to note that,
even though Christ is fully present
when we receive only the host of bread,
the sign of communion is more complete
when given under both kinds.
This is the usual form of receiving communion
in the Eastern rites.
Communion with Christ
The key to the Eucharist is this:
we become what we receive.
When we celebrate the Eucharist,
we Christians join more closely to Christ
and to one another.
Indeed, we become the Body of Christ!
In this process, we are freed to live in Christ
and to live with love
and to shed our unilateral behavior.
For how can we be joined to one another and not love?
In this way, by repeating the Eucharist,
over and over and over again,
our journey of faith is empowered.
Just as the drum beat provides the cadence of a song,
regular Eucharist provides a steady rhythm
to our shared life in the church.
The Eucharist strengthens our unity as church
Hence we are joined to one another
and to the poor, the rejected, the outcast.
We are joined to Christ.
And finally, the Eucharist and our gathering for it,
the great singing and praying of the church,
also expresses the hope we have
that one day we will live in this love forever.
One day, we will have the joy of knowing Divine Love,
revealed to us in Christ,
and we will live in the Spirit of Love.
Christ is present In all of the sacraments,
in the person of the priest or bishop.
But Christ is present especially
in the Eucharist.