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Eucharist

Eucharist The Eucharist — also known variously as the Mass, Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper, according to doctrinal position — is a central act of worship in Christianity which commemorates or ‘follows’ the Last Supper as recorded in Matthew 26: 26–8, Mark 14: 22–4 and Luke 22:17–20, in the eating and drinking of bread and wine, thought either to be or to represent Christ's body and blood. From the Greek, meaning ‘thanksgiving’, there is evidence of the earliest Christians participating in this liturgy, believed to have been instituted by Christ in his celebration of the Passover meal on the night before he died and during which he ‘gave thanks’. Both Acts and the Epistles of Paul show early Christians participating in this service; Paul emphasized participation in the Eucharist as a Christian duty because it signified the unity of Christians in one body — the body of Christ. Early Christian art, including wall paintings in the catacombs, illustrates Christians eating and drinking bread and wine together, and several written texts provide evidence of the different ways in which the Eucharist was celebrated by the early Christians. For example, the first Christian handbook, the Didache, documents a ritual which is part proper meal and part sacramental, introduced by a confession of sins, and expressed as a foretaste of the future coming of Jesus.

The early Church and the patristic period saw variety of practice in the ritual, but general acceptance of the idea that the eucharistic elements of the bread and wine were the body and blood of Christ. The notion that the bread and wine were transformed into Christ's body and blood during the eucharistic service became a matter of debate in the West in the Middle Ages, by which time the Eucharist was firmly established as one of the seven sacraments in the Roman Catholic church. This debate led to a more precise formulation of transubstantiation of the Fifth Lateran Council (1215) and by Thomas Aquinas, who used Aristotelian physics to explain the process by which, during the act of consecration by the priest, the substance of the bread and wine changed into the body and blood of Christ (that is, changed their essence) while remaining in the accidental forms of bread and wine. The later Middle Ages saw great eucharistic devotion, especially amongst religious women who imitated and shared Christ's suffering by eating nothing but the host — that is, Christ's body — so that they might become so united with the body of Christ that their own bodies would be no longer ordinary human bodies, but a body like Christ's. The institution of Corpus Christi (‘Body of Christ’) as a feast day in 1264 indicated a more popular, widespread (and less extreme) eucharistic piety.

The Protestant Reformation saw much dispute about the meaning of the Eucharist, and it was the issue on which the mainstream German and Swiss Protestant reformers broke with each other, at the Colloquy of Marburg in 1529. The dispute turned on the extent to which Christ was thought to be present in the bread and wine, with Zwingli holding the extreme position that the Eucharist was a mere memorial of the Last Supper and there was no change in the bread and wine at all (thus the Eucharist is simply the Lord's Supper), and Luther adhering to the doctrine of ‘consubstantiation’ in which, during the Eucharist, both the bread and wine and Christ's body and blood co-existed. Their disagreement was expressed particularly in their interpretation of Jesus' words at the Last Supper — ‘this is my body’ and ‘this is my blood’, with Zwingli insisting that ‘is’ means ‘signifies’. Behind Zwingli's position lies his belief that ‘the body and spirit are such essentially different things that whichever one you take it cannot be the other’ (Commentary on True and False Religion, 1525). The Roman Catholic Church, in its sixteenth-century reforming Council of Trent, reaffirmed its belief in transubstantiation.

Debate also began in the late Middle Ages, developed in the Reformation, and continues to this day on the extent to which the Eucharist is a sacrifice. In part this debate is about the nature of priestly and lay power, for the notion of sacrifice in the Eucharist suggests that the priest is exercising a particular kind of spiritual power and authority in the re-enactment of the events of the Passion, in which the body of Christ is broken and his blood shed, and in effecting the transformation of the elements from bread and wine to the body and blood of Christ. This spiritual authority is often signified by the bodily gestures of the priest while he or she is consecrating the elements while presiding at the Eucharist. On the whole Protestants have rejected this notion of sacrifice in the Eucharist, partly because it might be seen to detract from Christ's once-and-for-all act of self-giving on the Cross (in which singular act they believe he redeemed humanity from sin), by suggesting that humans constantly have to petition God to act for our salvation, and partly because of their understanding of the priesthood of all believers by which the authority of their ministers lies in their proclamation of the Word and leading of congregations rather than in any form of sacramental ministry. In the West, Roman Catholics and ‘high’ Anglicans have continued to debate the notion of sacrifice in the Eucharist, while the Liturgical movement of the twentieth century emphasized the importance of the Eucharist for the corporate life of the Church, thereby reaffirming the notion of the Church as the body of Christ and the active participation of the laity in the Eucharist. Vatican II also stressed these points.

Jane Shaw


See also Christianity and the body.

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Eucharist

Eucharist (yōō´kərĬst) [Gr.,=thanksgiving], Christian sacrament that repeats the action of Jesus at his last supper with his disciples, when he gave them bread, saying, "This is my body," and wine, saying, "This is my blood." (Mat. 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; 1 Cor. 11.) Partaking is called communion. For Roman Catholics the sacrament is a bloodless reenactment of the crucifixion and therefore an act of sacrifice, but Protestant Christians reject the idea of the Eucharist as sacrifice. The performance is called the Eucharistic liturgy; the Roman and Anglo-Catholic liturgy is the Mass. The official Roman Catholic explanation of the change taking place in the sacrament, called transubstantiation, is that the substances of bread and wine are turned miraculously into the substance of Christ himself, the elements changed retaining only the appearance, taste, etc. (the accidents) of bread and wine. Catholic doctrine holds that the Godhead is indivisible so every particle or drop thus changed is wholly identical in substance with the divinity, body, and blood of the Crucified Savior. The views of the Orthodox Eastern Church are similar. The Anglican Church has not formally defined the sacrament. In receiving communion the Christian attains union with Jesus, and all who partake are mystically united. Traditionally in the Mass (but not in Eastern liturgies of the Roman Catholic Church) others than the celebrant received the Host only, a practice that arose from the difficulty of transport and storage of wine, and perhaps also because wine is more easily spilled and dropped than bread. In this communion in one kind the believer was held to receive the same divine whole as the celebrant, who receives both kinds at the altar. Communion in two kinds was restored in the Roman Catholic Church in the liturgical renewal proclaimed at the Second Vatican Council. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches set conditions for the reception of communion, which is a sign of membership; to be "in communion with" means mutual recognition of membership in the true church. Devotion to the Eucharist (the Blessed Sacrament) is important in the Roman Catholic Church. The object of the cult of the Blessed Sacrament is the Host reserved in churches (see benediction and Corpus Christi). Every leader of the Protestant Reformation attacked the traditional teaching of the Eucharist. For the communion services in many Protestant churches, see Lord's Supper.

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Eucharist

Eucharist the Christian service, ceremony, or sacrament commemorating the Last Supper, in which bread and wine are consecrated and consumed. Also, the consecrated elements, especially the bread.

From the earliest times Christians have blessed and shared bread and wine in commemoration of the Last Supper (recorded in the first three Gospels and 1 Corinthians 10–11) and of the self-sacrifice of Christ. The bread and wine are referred to as the body and blood of Christ, though much theological controversy has focused on how substantially or symbolically this is to be interpreted.

The word is recorded from late Middle English, and comes via Old French, based on ecclesiastical Greek eukharistia ‘thanksgiving’.

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Eucharist

Eucharist (Gk., eucharistia, ‘thanksgiving’). The principal service of Christian worship, at least in non-Protestant churches. It is also variously called (Holy) Communion, the Lord's Supper, and the Mass. The earliest account of the eucharist is Paul's reference to the ‘Lord's supper’ in 1 Corinthians 11. 23–5, which attributes its institution to the words and actions of Jesus at the Last Supper and identifies the bread and the ‘cup’ with his body and blood.

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Eucharist

Eu·cha·rist / ˈyoōkərist/ • n. the Christian ceremony commemorating the Last Supper, in which bread and wine are consecrated and consumed. ∎  the consecrated elements, esp. the bread. DERIVATIVES: Eu·cha·ris·tic / ˌyoōkəˈristik/ adj.

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Eucharist

Eucharist Central act of Christian worship, in which the priest and congregation partake in Holy Communion – one of the principal sacraments. The Eucharist is a commemorative re-enactment of the Last Supper. Among Roman Catholics, the rite is also called Mass; among Protestants, it is the Lord's Supper. See also transubstantiation

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Eucharist

Eucharist XIV. — OF. eucariste (mod., with latinized ending, eucharistie) — ecclL. eucharistia — ecclGr. eukharistíā giving of thanks, f. eukháristos grateful, f. EU- + kharĩzesthai show favour, give freely, f. kháris, kharit- favour, grace.
So eucharistic XVII, eucharistical XVI.

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Eucharist

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