The Holy Eucharist: The Perfect Sacrament
Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper in the Upper Room, just before his Passion. He had the apostles gathered around the table for one last meal before the agony of his Passion and Crucifixion would occur.
Perhaps the Eucharist should be the first sacrament since it is the major sacrament of our faith. It is the foundation of our faith because it is the manifestation of Jesus and the root of the rest of the six sacraments.
We introduced Baptism first because it is a door to the Church, but there would be no Church if not for the Holy Eucharist. It was here that Jesus commissioned Peter to be the rock of His Church.
The Eucharist is the model for all the sacraments. It is the perfect sacrament because it says all that we are, all that the Church is, and relates to all that Jesus says of God his Father. The Eucharist is central to our faith.
As Christian Catholics, we can never fully understand the Eucharist. We come close when we experience three events: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Holy Thursday was added to the image of Good Friday to help Catholics better understand the Eucharist.
Holy Thursday emphasizes the Lord's Supper and Good Friday emphasizes the Lord's supreme sacrifice. Easter Sunday recognizes the Body of Christ through the Resurrection. All three should be observed to develop a fuller understanding of the Eucharist.
Some commonly asked questions about the Eucharist are:
Is the Holy Eucharist called by other names?
The Holy Eucharist is also called Holy Communion, The Sacrament of the Altar, The Lord's Supper and The Blessed Supper, among other names. For Catholics, the names Eucharist or Holy Communion are commonly used.
The Eucharist is defined as a Christian sacrament or ordinance that is re-enacted in accordance with Jesus' instruction at the Last Supper. This is recorded in several books of the New Testament. Followers of Jesus do this in remembrance of when He gave the apostles bread saying, "This is my body" and He gave them wine saying, "This is my blood."
Another way of defining the Eucharist is that it is both a sacrifice pertaining to the essence of the Mass and a sacrament in the Lord's body, blood, soul and divinity, which is received by the faithful in what appears as bread and wine.
The Holy Eucharist is the heart of Catholic worship. It is the focus of Catholic life. Because of Christ's real presence in the Blessed Sacrament, it is sometimes called a sacrifice sacrament, a communion sacrament and a presence sacrament.
Why did Jesus Christ institute the Eucharist?
Christ did this out of pure love for us. He wanted us to renew His sacrifice and apply the gifts of His resurrection and redemption. He also instituted the Eucharist to make us strong in our faith, which stipulates Jesus will be with us throughout the ages. His eternal love is faithful from age to age.
Even though Jesus was crucified and returned to His Father in heaven, the institution of the Eucharist provided the means by which He could remain with us on earth. He is present in every Catholic Church in the world. He remains to be an intimate friend and companion to the people of His flock.
What do we pray for during the Eucharist celebration?
At every Eucharist, we ask God to send the Holy Spirit to do two things. The first of these is to transform the bread and wine so that, secondly, we who eat the bread and drink the cup may become one Body.
Two things happen: the transformation of the two elements and the transformation of those who partake in the Eucharist celebration. Every time we approach the Eucharist, we renew our baptismal promise. Every time we are communicants, we demonstrate to the community at large that we have a commitment to the Eucharist and all that it stands for.
We are committed to participate in the Eucharist because we are committed to the memory of Jesus Christ, to live as He lived. We no longer live for ourselves, but for one another. This is the ultimate meaning of the Eucharist: to love each other.
Why is this sacrament called the Eucharist?
The root word is a Greek one that means thanksgiving. It is because of the thanks Jesus offered to His Father at the Last Supper before He consecrated the bread and the wine. By participating in the Mass, we also offer our thanks to God.
Why is the Eucharist called the perfect sacrament?
It is the sacrament that completes Christian initiation. It is the both the source and the summit of Christian life. This is demonstrated when adults joining the Catholic faith are baptized, confirmed and then communicated at the Easter Vigil.
In some dioceses, young people receive the sacrament of the Eucharist (Communion) long before they receive the sacrament of Confirmation. Some theologians believe that the Eucharist should complete the rites of initiation, and Confirmation should not be out of sequential order. The perfect sacrament culminates the passage of initiation.
What is meant by the term transubstantiation?
The Council of Trent considered transubstantiation as an adequate and proper explanation of how the elements of bread and wine are transformed into the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ. The Council of Trent's definition is a requirement for the Catholic teaching and understanding of Christ's real presence.
The teaching of transubstantiation can be understood ultimately only by pure faith alone. Transubstantiation does more than explain why faith is necessary for total comprehension. It also speaks not only of a change in the gifts that we place upon the altar, but also the transformation in our lives so that we can be more like the Jesus we receive.
Is the presence of Christ vital to the Holy Eucharist?
Yes, Jesus promised that His presence and the guidance of the Holy Spirit would be with us in the Church He founded until the end of time. The Church proclaims, professes and teaches that Jesus Christ is really present in the Holy Eucharist. Jesus also instituted the Eucharist. The words he said, "This is my Body; this is my blood," can be taken literally.
Is the Eucharist the same sacrifice as Jesus' sacrifice on the cross?
Yes, the sacrifice of the Mass is conducted in obedience to Jesus' words: "Do this in memory of me." This is actually a renewal of Christ's sacrifice at Calvary. He does not suffer because the Eucharist is the risen Christ and His body no longer has to suffer. Jesus in the Eucharist offers Himself to His Father in the same spirit that He offered at the Last Supper.
The sacraments are such a special kind of prayer that many Catholics do not think of them as prayer. They think of sacraments as something we receive and not a way in which we pray. How many Catholics view the Eucharist as a way of prayer? Not many one would imagine.
The bread and wine are the signs of the Eucharist. Sign and symbol say more than words can ever say. The Eucharist is central to our faith and it is universal. The Eucharist is the same, even though the language used may differ. The Eucharist is the same, whether it is celebrated in a magnificent Cathedral or on the hood of a jeep in a war-torn jungle.
Thomas J. Rillo, oblate