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Table of contents
1 Introduction
2 Five Views on the body and blood
3 Format
4 Names
5 External links


Eucharist (Communion) is a ritual or sacrament observed in most denominations of Christianity in which bread and wine are used in a sacrificial way. Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy believe that in the Eucharist, Christ's sacrifice and death is re-presented, to the extent that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. Many post-reformation denominations see in it no more than a commemoration of the sacrifice of Christ, marked by symbolically partaking in his Body -the bread- and his Blood -the wine-.

Last Supper celebrated by Christ and his apostles began as a traditional Passover seder, up until the point at which Jesus "giving thanks, broke [the bread] and said: Take ye and eat: This is my body, which shall be delivered for you. This do for the commemoration of me. In like manner also the chalice, after he had supped, saying: This chalice is the new testament in my blood. This do ye, as often as you shall drink, for the commemoration of me." (1 Corinthians 11:23-25, Douay-Rheims version) Here, Christ initiated an entirely new ritual, as St. Paul pointed out: "For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink the chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until he come." (1 Corinthians 11:26, Douay-Rheims version)

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. These banquets were termed agape feasts. Agape is one of the Greek words for love. Such agapes were widespread, though not universal, through 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.

Such banquets, perhaps predictably enough, could at times deteriorate into mere occasions for eating and drinking, or for ostentatious displays by the wealthier members of the community, as was already observed by St. Paul: "When you come therefore together into one place, it is not now to eat the Lord's supper. For every one taketh before his own supper to eat. And one indeed is hungry and another is drunk. What, have you no houses to eat and to drink in? Or despise ye the church of God and put them to shame that have not? What shall I say to you? Do I praise you? In this I praise you not." (1 Corinthians 11:20-22, Douay-Rheims version)

Because of abuses, the agape gradually fell into disfavor, and after being subjected to various regulations and restrictions, was finally dropped from the liturgy of the Church between the 6th and 8th centuries.

This service is known as the Eucharist in Catholic traditions, including Eastern Orthodoxy. The name Eucharist is from the Greek word eucharios which means thanksgiving or thank you. Roman Catholics typically restrict the term 'communion' to the distribution to the commmunicants during the service of the body and blood of Christ. The Roman Catholic belief that, through the priest, God turns the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, is called transubstantiation. Eastern Orthodox also believe that the elements, called "gifts", are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, but they typically eschew the Aristotelian concepts and language of transubstantiation, often preferring the neo-Platonic language of "participation".

The Roman Catholic belief is that the Eucharist, or Mass, is a sacrifice, the same one that Jesus made on the cross, with Jesus really being present, and the only difference is that it is "unbloody".

Eastern Orthodoxy generally refers to the entire worship service as the "Divine Liturgy", and to the specific partaking of the bread and wine as "partaking of the Eucharist". The liturgy typically used is "The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom"; during Great Lent and on special feast days, the "Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great" may be used instead. A few monasteries will celebrate "The Divine Liturgy of St. James" on St. James' day. Sharing the same Eucharist is a sign of unity, perhaps dating back to the Middle Eastern tradition of only eating with friends, not enemies. Since it prefigures the ultimate union with God to which Orthodox Christians aspire, the Eucharist plays a central role in Orthodox theology.

Ignatius of Antioch called the Eucharist "the medicine of immortality, the antidote we take in order not to die but to live forever in Jesus Christ." (Letter to the Ephesians, 20:2b)

In Roman Catholicism the theological inquiry on this topic led to the doctrine of transubstantiation. Lutherans view the eucharist differently than either Catholics or other Protestants. Under the doctrine of consubstantiation, Lutherans hold that Christ becomes truly present "with, under, around and in" the bread and wine, and that those receiving the sacrament receive his "true body and blood" in the form of bread and wine.

Five Views on the body and blood


The mechanics of modern Eucharist can take many forms. The cup can be actual red wine or unfermented grape juice. Grape juice is very common among congregations for whom alcohol is a theological issue. In the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches fermented red wine must be used. The cup may be individual cups distributed to the congregation. The individual cups may be distributed in reusable cups that is collected again afterwards or in disposable cups which may or may not be collected. The cup may be communal with the priest wiping the cup lip with a towel after each person.

The bread can be an actual loaf, broken and distributed to the congregation. It is often small circular wafers distributed on a plate. The wafers are made without yeast to be consistent with the original Passover (and thus those who use a normal bread are breaking with the Passover tradition of unleavened bread, although the Eastern Orthodox church calls this a Jewish custom and uses leavened bread). Matzoh bread is sometimes used. The small wafer form developed because of the belief that the bread really turned into the body and blood of Jesus, therefor crumbs were unbecomming and this format of bread has far less crumbs.

Prepackaged, disposable cup and bread is a very recent convenience [1]. A small disposable cup of wine/grape juice is sealed with foil wrap. A communion wafer smaller than the diameter of the cup is sealed on top of the foil with plastic wrap to make a single package with both cup and bread. The plastic wrap can be peeled back to access the wafer. The foil can then be peeled back to allow drinking from the cup.

The distribution of the cup and bread may also take many forms. It may be received at a central location and consumed on the spot (as must be the case with a communal cup). Individual cups and bread may be distributed for the congregation to simultaneously drink and eat. Distribution may be from a single location or multiple locations with individuals queuing at the distribution centers. The bread and the cup may be distributed to the congregation in trays passed from person to person. Specialized cup holder trays are used for distributing the individual cups. (Furthermore, the trays stack and comes with matching bread trays for easy handling.)

Communion is often "closed" in that people who are not members of the church are asked not to participate. Other churches will allow others church members to participate but only if they have been baptized. "Open" communions are open to anyone. Closed communions may be strictly enforced in small churches where church leaders can spot new members. In larger meetings, the fact that it is closed is simply announced and people who do not meet the criteria are asked to pass the bread and the cup to the next person. (The conventional terminology is "closed communion", not "closed Eucharist" hence the use of the term "communion" in this context even though communion/Eucharist is used interchangeably elsewhere.)

Eucharist can be celebrated with every church service. Wedding ceremonies may include it. Many Protestant denominations celebrate it only once a month, usually the first Sunday of the month.


Within many Protestant traditions, the name Communion is used. This name emphasizes the nature of the service as a "joining in common" between God and humans, due to the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. Many Protestant denominations consider the Catholic view of the sacrament as heretical and would never use or even be familiar with the term Eucharist. A list of names for this ceremony: The bread and the cup together are often called the "elements". The elements of Eucharist themselves can also have a variety of names. The cup is generically called: The bread can be generically called: "Communion Wafer" refers specifically to the particular format of the bread in a circular wafer made specifically for Eucharist. It is not used as a generic term for the bread element. It usually has a cross imprinted on both sides.

See also: Catholic sacraments; Sacrament; The Lord's Supper

External links