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Eucharist (Catholic Church)


Eucharist (Catholic Church)

"At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1323)

Eucharist in the Catholic Church refers to both the celebration of the Mass, that is, the Eucharist liturgy, and the bread and wine which after the consecration are transubstantiated (changed in substance) into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, Lord and God, a declaration formulated by the Council of Trent with an anathema against anyone who denied this.[1] Blessed Sacrament is a devotional term used in the Roman Catholic Church to refer to the Eucharistic species (the Body and Blood of Christ).

Part of the series on the

also known as
"Holy Communion", "The Lord's Supper",
"Divine Liturgy", or "Blessed Sacrament"

Real Presence
Sacramental Union
Words of Institution
Anglican Eucharistic theology
Eucharist (Catholic Church)
Eucharist (Lutheran Church)
Divine Liturgy (Orthodox Church)

Important theologians
Paul · Aquinas
Luther · Calvin
Chrysostom · Augustine
Zwingli · Basil of Caesarea

Related Articles
Origin of the Eucharist
Sacramental bread
Christianity and alcohol
Catholic Historic Roots
Closed and Open Table
Divine Liturgy
Eucharistic adoration
Eucharistic discipline
First Communion
Infant Communion
Mass · Sacrament

New Testament foundations

The First Eucharist in Scripture

The Catholic Church sees as the main basis for this belief the words of Jesus himself at his Last Supper: the 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 recount that in that context Jesus said of what to all appearances were bread and wine: "This is my body … this is my blood." The Catholic understanding of these words, from the Patristic authors onward, has emphasized their roots in the covenantal history of the Old Testament.


1 Corinthians 11:27).

Other New Testament Accounts of the Eucharist

Accounts of Eucharist services in the New Testament are often, though not always, denoted by the phrase "Breaking of the Bread."Acts 2:42-47)"

Old Testament prefigurings

Early medieval block-printed Catholic prayer books or psalters contained many illustrations of pairings of prefigurings of the events of the New Testament in the Old Testament, a form known as biblical typology. In an age when most Christians were illiterate, these visual depictions came to be known as biblia pauperum, or poor man's bibles. The Bible itself was predominantly a liturgical book used at Mass, costly to produce and illuminate by hand. The custom of praying the Liturgy of the Hours spread to those who could afford the prayer books required to follow the textual cycle that mirrored the pastoral seasons of Jewish temple worship.


Concerning the first of the Old Testament prefigurations that Aquinas mentioned, Melchizedek's action in bringing out bread and wine for Abraham has been seen, from the time of Clement of Alexandria (c.150 - c. 215), as a foreshadowing of the bread and wine used in the sacrament of the Eucharist,[6][7] and so "the Church sees in the gesture of the king-priest Melchizedek, who 'brought out bread and wine', a prefiguring of her own offering" (in the Eucharist).[8]

The second prefiguration mentioned by Aquinas is that of the Old Testament sacrifices, especially that on the Day of Atonement. Other theologians too see these as foreshadowing the Eucharist.[9] They point out that Jesus "himself said, as he committed to the Apostles the Divine Eucharist during the Last Supper, 'This is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins'."[10]


The ritual of Passover night described in Exodus contains two main physical elements: a sacrificial lamb "male and without blemish" and unleavened bread (

Among the many proscription of the Old Testament Law that affirm the covenant, one stands out, being called "most sacred among the various oblations to the Lord " : a sacrifice of bread anointed with oil. "Regularly on each Sabbath day this bread shall be set out afresh before the Lord, offered on the part of the Israelites by an everlasting agreement. (

Eucharistic Liturgy

Eucharistic liturgy and Mass are the terms used to describe celebration of the Eucharist in the Western or Latin liturgical rite of the Catholic Church. The term Mass is derived from the Late Latin word missa (dismissal), a word used in the concluding formula of Mass in Latin: "Ite, missa est" ("Go, the dismissal is made")[20]

For the structure of the Mass in the Roman Rite of the Church, see Mass (Catholic Church)
For the structure of the Mass in the Eastern Catholic Churches, see Divine Liturgy
For the reforms of the Roman-Rite Mass after the Second Vatican Council, see Mass of Paul VI
For the structure of the Mass before the Second Vatican Council, see Tridentine Mass.


Main article: Transubstantiation

According to the Catholic Church, when the bread and wine are consecrated by the priest at Mass, they cease to be bread and wine, and become instead the Most Precious Body and Blood of Christ. The empirical appearances and attributes are not changed, but the underlying reality is. The consecration of the bread (known afterwards as the Host) and wine represents the separation of Jesus' body from his blood at Calvary; thus, this separation also represents the death of Christ. However, since according to Catholic dogma Christ has risen, the Church teaches that his body and blood are no longer truly separated, even if the appearances of the bread and the wine are. Where one is, the other must be. This is called the doctrine of concommitance. Therefore, although the priest (or minister) says, "The body of Christ", when administering the host, and, "The blood of Christ", when presenting the chalice, the communicant who receives either one receives Christ, whole and entire— "Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity".

Transubstantiation (from Latin transsubstantiatio) is the change of the substance of bread and wine into that of the body and blood of Christ, the change that, according to the belief of the Catholic Church, occurs in the Eucharist. It concerns what is changed (the substance of the bread and wine), not how the change is brought about.

"Substance" here means what something is in itself. (For more on the philosophical concept, see Substance theory.) A hat's shape is not the hat itself, nor is its colour the hat, nor is its size, nor its softness to the touch, nor anything else about it perceptible to the senses. The hat itself (the "substance") has the shape, the colour, the size, the softness and the other appearances, but is distinct from them. Whereas the appearances, which are referred to by the philosophical term accidents are perceptible to the senses, the substance is not.

When at his Last Supper Jesus said: "This is my body", what he held in his hands had all the appearances of bread. However, the Catholic Church teaches that the underlying reality was changed in accordance with what Jesus said, that the "substance" of the bread was converted to that of his body. In other words, it actually was his body, while all the appearances open to the senses or to scientific investigation were still those of bread, exactly as before. The Church believes that the same change of the substance of the bread and of the wine occurs at every Catholic Mass throughout the world.

The Catholic Church accordingly believes that through transubstantiation Christ is really, truly and substantially present under the remaining appearances of bread and wine, and that the transformation remains as long as the appearances remain. For this reason the consecrated elements are preserved, generally in a church tabernacle, for giving Holy Communion to the sick and dying, and also for the secondary, but still highly lauded, purpose of adoring Christ present in the Eucharist.

In the judgment of the Catholic Church, the concept of transubstantiation, with its accompanying unambiguous distinction between "substance" or underlying reality, and "accidents" or humanly perceptible appearances, safeguards against what it sees as the mutually opposed errors of, on the one hand, a merely figurative understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (the change of the substance is real), and, on the other hand, an interpretation that would amount to cannibalistic (a charge which pagans leveled at early Catholic Christians who did not understand the rites of the Catholic Church in that it was considered an "unbloody sacrifice") eating of the flesh and corporal drinking of the blood of Christ (the accidents that remain are real, not an illusion) and that Christ is "really, truly, and substantially present" in the Eucharist,[21] not physically present, as he was physically present in the Judea of two millennia ago).[22]

Some put forward the idea that transubstantiation is a concept intelligible only in terms of Aristotelian philosophy. But the earliest known use of the term "transubstantiation" to describe the change from bread and wine to body and blood of Christ was by Hildebert de Savardin, Archbishop of Tours (died 1133) in about 1079, long before the Latin West, under the influence especially of Saint Thomas Aquinas (c. 1227-1274), accepted Aristotelianism. (The University of Paris was founded only between 1150 and 1170.) The term "substance" (substantia) as the reality of something was in use from the earliest centuries of Latin Christianity, as when they spoke of the Son as being of the same "substance" (consubstantialis) as the Father.[23] The corresponding Greek term is "οὐσία" the Son is said to be "ὁμοούσιος" with the Father and the change of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is called "μετουσίωσις". The doctrine of transubstantiation is thus independent of Aristotelian philosophical concepts, and these were not and are not dogmata of the Church.

Minister of the sacrament

The only minister of the Eucharist (someone who can consecrate the Eucharist) is a validly ordained priest[24] (bishop or presbyter). He acts in the person of Christ, representing Christ, who is the Head of the Church, and also acts before God in the name of the Church.[25] Several priests may concelebrate the same offering of the Eucharist.[26]

Others, who are not priests, may act as extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, distributing the sacrament to others, but not as ministers of the Eucharist, ordinary or extraordinary. "By reason of their sacred Ordination, the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are the Bishop, the Priest and the Deacon, to whom it belongs therefore to administer Holy Communion to the lay members of Christ’s faithful during the celebration of Mass. In addition to the ordinary ministers there is the formally instituted acolyte, who by virtue of his institution is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion even outside the celebration of Mass. If, moreover, reasons of real necessity prompt it, another lay member of Christ’s faithful may also be delegated by the diocesan Bishop, in accordance with the norm of law, for one occasion or for a specified time. Finally, in special cases of an unforeseen nature, permission can be given for a single occasion by the Priest who presides at the celebration of the Eucharist."[27]

"Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion" are not to be called "Eucharistic ministers", even extraordinary ones,[28] since that would imply that they, too, somehow transubstantiate the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

"Extraordinary ministers may distribute Holy Communion at eucharistic celebrations only when there are no ordained ministers present or when those ordained ministers present at a liturgical celebration are truly unable to distribute Holy Communion. They may also exercise this function at eucharistic celebrations where there are particularly large numbers of the faithful and which would be excessively prolonged because of an insufficient number of ordained ministers to distribute Holy Communion."[29] "Only when there is a necessity may extraordinary ministers assist the Priest celebrant in accordance with the norm of law."[30]

Receiving the Eucharist

"A person who is conscious of grave [mortal] sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible."[31]

A rule for Catholics who are members of the Latin Church is: "A person who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before holy communion from any food and drink, except for only water and medicine."[32] Eastern Catholics are obliged to follow the rules of their own particular Churches, which generally require a longer period of fasting.[33]

Catholics must make an outward sign of reverence before receiving. "When receiving Holy Communion, the communicant bows his or her head before the Sacrament as a gesture of reverence and receives the Body of the Lord from the minister. The consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant. When Holy Communion is received under both kinds, the sign of reverence is also made before receiving the Precious Blood."[34]

Catholics may receive Communion during Mass or outside of Mass, but "a person who has already received the Most Holy Eucharist can receive it a second time on the same day only within the eucharistic celebration in which the person participates", except as Viaticum (Code of Canon Law, canon 917).

In the Western Church, "the administration of the Most Holy Eucharist to children requires that they have sufficient knowledge and careful preparation so that they understand the mystery of Christ according to their capacity and are able to receive the body of Christ with faith and devotion. In Catholic schools in the United States and Canada, children typically receive Chrismation).

Holy Communion may be received under one kind (the Sacred Host alone), or under both kinds (both the Sacred Host and the Precious Blood). "Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it is distributed under both kinds. For in this form the sign of the eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident and clear expression is given to the divine will by which the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord, as also the relationship between the Eucharistic banquet and the eschatological banquet in the Father's Kingdom... (However,) Christ, whole and entire, and the true Sacrament, is received even under only one species, and consequently that as far as the effects are concerned, those who receive under only one species are not deprived of any of the grace that is necessary for salvation" (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 281-282).

"The Diocesan Bishop is given the faculty to permit Communion under both kinds whenever it may seem appropriate to the priest to whom, as its own shepherd, a community has been entrusted, provided that the faithful have been well instructed and there is no danger of profanation of the Sacrament or of the rite's becoming difficult because of the large number of participants or some other reason" (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 283).

In Eastern Catholic Churches the Eucharist is always received under both species (bread and wine), as was done at Mass also in the West until the opposite custom came into use, beginning in about the twelfth century.[35]

With the change from receiving the Eucharist under both kinds to receiving under the form of bread alone, it also became customary in the West to receive the Host placed directly on the tongue, rather than on the hand, but this was prescribed neither by the Roman Missal nor by the Code of Canon Law. Since the late twentieth century many Episcopal Conferences allow communicants (at their personal discretion) to receive the Host on the hand, except when Communion is distributed by intinction (partly dipping the Host in the Chalice before distributing it).

The paten, to prevent the Host or fragments of it falling on the ground.

Non-Catholics may only receive the Eucharist in special situations: "§1. Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone, without prejudice to the prescripts of §§2, 3, and 4 of this canon, and ⇒ can. 861, §2.

§2. Whenever necessity requires it or true spiritual advantage suggests it, and provided that danger of error or of indifferentism is avoided, the Christian faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister are permitted to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.

§3. Catholic ministers administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick licitly to members of Eastern Churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church if they seek such on their own accord and are properly disposed. This is also valid for members of other Churches which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition in regard to the sacraments as these Eastern Churches.

§4. If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.

§5. For the cases mentioned in §§2, 3, and 4, the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops is not to issue general norms except after consultation at least with the local competent authority of the interested non-Catholic Church or community." (Code of Canon Law, Canon 844)

Matter for the Sacrament

The bread used for the Eucharist must be wheaten only, and recently made, and the wine must be natural, made from grapes, and not corrupt. The bread is unleavened in the Latin, Armenian and Ethiopic Rites, but is leavened in most Eastern Catholic churches. A small quantity of water is added to the wine.[36]

For questions on the use of gluten-free or low-gluten bread and of "mustum" (natural grape juice) see the 24 July 2003 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which resumes and clarifies earlier declarations.

Historical development

Whether the agape feast, a full meal held by Christians in the first centuries, was in all cases associated with a celebration of the Eucharist is uncertain.[37] In any case, abuses connected with the celebration of the full meal, abuses denounced by the apostles Paul[38] and Jude,[39] led to a distinct celebration of the Eucharist. The form of this celebration in the middle of the second century is described by Justin Martyr as very similar to today's Eucharistic rites known in the West as the Mass and in much of the East as the Divine Liturgy. The regular celebration was held each week on the day called Sunday,[40] which Christians were also calling the Lord's Day.[41] They included readings from Scripture, a homily, prayer by all, a prayer by "the president of the brethren" over bread and wine mixed with water, to which all respond with "Amen", and then a distribution to those present of that over which thanks have been given, while "deacons" take portions to those who are absent.[40][42] There was also a collection to help widows and orphans and those in need because of reasons such as sickness.[40] Justin wrote that the Christians did not receive the bread and the wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced and which they called Εὐχαριστία (the Eucharist - literally, Thanksgiving),[43] as common bread and common drink, having been taught that "the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh."[43]

As Justin indicated, the word Eucharist is from the Greek word εὐχαριστία (eucharistia), which means thanksgiving. Catholics typically restrict the term 'communion' to the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ by the communicants during the celebration of the Mass and to the communion of saints.

Earlier still, in about 106, Saint Ignatius of Antioch criticized those who "abstain from the Eucharist and the public prayer, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same Body of our Savior Jesus Christ, which [flesh] suffered for our sins, and which the Father in His goodness raised up again" (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 6, 7). Similarly, St. Ambrose of Milan countered objections to the doctrine, writing "You may perhaps say: 'My bread is ordinary.' But that bread is bread before the words of the Sacraments; where the consecration has entered in, the bread becomes the Flesh of Christ" (The Sacraments, 333/339-397 A.D. v.2,1339,1340).

The earliest known use, in about 1079, of the term "transubstantiation" to describe the change from bread and wine to body and blood of Christ was by Hildebert de Savardin, Archbishop of Tours (died 1133). He did this in response to Berengar of Tours declaring that the Eucharist was only symbolic. This was long before the Latin West, under the influence especially of Saint Thomas Aquinas (c. 1227-1274), accepted Aristotelianism. (The University of Paris was founded only between 1150 and 1170.)

In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council used the word transubstantiated in its profession of faith, when speaking of the change that takes place in the Eucharist.

In 1551 the Session XIII, chapter IV; cf. canon II).

The attempt by some twentieth-century Catholic theologians to present the Eucharistic change as an alteration of significance (, he reiterated that any theological explanation of the doctrine must hold to the twofold claim that, after the consecration, 1) Christ's body and blood are really present; and 2) bread and wine are really absent; and this presence and absence is real and not merely something in the mind of the believer.

In his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia of 17 April 2003, Pope John Paul II taught that all authority of bishops and priests is primarily a function of their vocation to celebrate the Eucharist. Their governing authority flows from their priestly function, not the other way around.

Communion of reparation

Receiving Holy Communion as part of First Friday Devotions is a Catholic devotion to offer reparations for sins through the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In the visions of Christ reported by St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century, several promises were made to those people that practice the First Fridays Devotions, one of which included final perseverance.[44]

The devotion consists of several practices that are performed on the first Fridays of nine consecutive months. On these days, a person is to attend Holy Mass and receive communion.[45] In many Catholic communities the practice of the Holy Hour of meditation during the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament during the First Fridays is encouraged.[46]

Nuptial Mass and other Ritual Masses

A Nuptial Mass[47] is simply a Mass within which the sacrament of Marriage is celebrated. Other sacraments too are celebrated within Mass. This is necessarily so for the sacrament of Orders, and is normal, though not obligatory, for the sacrament of Confirmation, as well as that of Marriage. Unless the date chosen is that of a major liturgical feast, the prayers are taken from the section of the Roman Missal headed "Ritual Masses". This section has special texts for the celebration, within Mass, of Baptism, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, Orders, and Marriage, leaving Confession (Penance or Reconciliation) as the only sacrament not celebrated within a celebration of the Eucharist. There are also texts for celebrating, within Mass, Religious Profession, the Dedication of a Church and several other rites.

If, of a couple being married in the Catholic Church, one is not a Catholic, the rite of Marriage outside Mass is to be followed. However, if the non-Catholic has been baptized in the name of all three persons of the Trinity (and not only in the name of, say, Jesus, as is the baptismal practice in some branches of Christianity), then, in exceptional cases and provided the bishop of the diocese gives permission, it may be considered suitable to celebrate the Marriage within Mass, except that, according to the general law, Communion is not given to the non-Catholic (Rite of Marriage, 8).

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction outside of the Liturgy

Exposition of the Eucharist is the display of the consecrated host on an altar in a Monstrance. The rites involving exposition of the Blessed Sacrament are the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and Eucharistic adoration.

Consecrated hosts are kept in a tabernacle after Mass, so that the Blessed Sacrament can be brought to the sick and dying outside the time of Mass. This makes possible also the practice of Eucharistic adoration, worship of Christ present in the Eucharist, whether the sacrament remains enclosed in the tabernacle or is exposed to view in a monstrance.

Eucharistic adoration is a sign of devotion to and worship of Jesus Christ, who is believed by Catholics to be present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, under the appearance of the consecrated host. As a Catholic devotion, Eucharistic adoration and meditation are more than merely looking at the Blessed Host, but a continuation of what was celebrated in the Eucharist.[48] From a theological perspective, the adoration is a form of latria, based on the tenet of the presence of Christ in the Blessed Host.[49][50]

Christian meditation performed in the presence of the Eucharist outside of Mass is called Eucharistic meditation. It has been practiced by saints such as Peter Julian Eymard, Jean Vianney and Thérèse of Lisieux.[51][52][53][54][55] Authors such as the Venerable Concepcion Cabrera de Armida and Blessed Maria Candida of the Eucharist have produced large volumes of text based on their Eucharistic meditations.[56][57][58]

When the exposure and adoration of the Eucharist is constant (twenty-four hours a day), it is called Perpetual adoration. in a monastery or convent, it is done by the resident monks or nuns and in a parish, by volunteer parishioners since the 20th century.[59] On June 2, 1991 (feast of Corpus Christi), the Pontifical Council for the Laity issued specific guidelines that permit perpetual adoration in parishes.[59] In order to establish a "perpetual adoration chapel" in a parish, the local priest must obtain permission from his Bishop by submitting a request along with the required information for the local "perpetual adoration association", its officers, etc.[59]

Since the Middle Ages the practice of Eucharistic adoration outside Mass has been encouraged by the popes.[60] In Ecclesia de Eucharistia Pope John Paul II stated that "The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church.... It is the responsibility of Pastors to encourage, also by their personal witness, the practice of Eucharistic adoration, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.[61] In the opening prayer of the Perpetual chapel in St. Peter Basilica Pope John Paul II prayed for a perpetual adoration chapel in every parish in the world.[62] Pope Benedict XVI instituted perpetual adoration for the laity in each of the five districts of the Diocese of Rome.[63]

See also


External links

  • - Live Video Stream of the Eucharist
  • The Council of Trent on the Eucharist
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