Learn the Meaning of the Eucharist in Christianity

Learn More About Holy Communion or the Lord's Supper

Pope Francis Attends Easter Vigil Mass In The Vatican Basilica
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The Eucharist is another name for Holy Communion or the Lord's Supper. The term comes from the Greek by way of Latin. It means "thanksgiving." It often refers to the consecration of the body and blood of Christ or its representation through bread and wine.

In Roman Catholicism, the term is used in three ways: first, to refer to the real presence of Christ; second, to refer to Christ's continuing action as High Priest (He "gave thanks" at the Last Supper, which began the consecration of the bread and wine); and third, to refer to the Sacrament of Holy Communion itself.

Origins of the Eucharist

According to the New Testament, the Eucharist was instituted by Jesus Christ during his Last Supper. Days before his crucifixion he shared a final meal of bread and wine with his disciples during the Passover meal. Jesus instructed his followers that the bread was "my body" and the wine was "his blood." He commanded his followers to eat these and "do this in memory of me."

"And he took bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it to them, and said, 'This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.'"—Luke 22:19, Christian Standard Bible

Mass Is Not the Same as the Eucharist

A church service on Sunday also called "Mass" is celebrated by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans. Many people refer to Mass as "the Eucharist," but to do so is incorrect, although it comes close. A Mass is made up of two parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Mass is more than simply the Sacrament of Holy Communion. In the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the priest consecrates the bread and wine, which becomes the Eucharist.

Christians Differ on Terminology Used

Some denominations prefer different terminology when referring to certain things pertaining to their faith.

For example, the term Eucharist is used widely by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Lutherans.

Some Protestant and Evangelic groups prefer the term Communion, the Lord's Supper, or the Breaking of the Bread. Evangelic groups, like Baptist and Pentecostal churches, generally avoid the term "Communion" and prefer the "Lord's Supper."

Christian Debate Over the Eucharist

Not all denominations agree on what the Eucharist actually represents. Most Christians do agree that there is a special significance of the Eucharist and that Christ may be present during the ritual. However, there are differences in opinion as to how, where, and when Christ is present.

Roman Catholics believe that the priest consecrates the wine and the bread and it actually mutates and changes into the body and blood of Christ. This process is also known as transubstantiation.

Lutherans believe that the true body and blood of Christ are part of the bread and wine, which is known as the "sacramental union" or "consubstantiation." At the time that of Martin Luther, the Catholics claimed this belief as heresy.

The Lutheran doctrine of the sacramental union is also distinct from the Reformed view.

The Calvinistic view of Christ's presence in the Lord's Supper (a real, spiritual presence) is that Christ is truly present at the meal, though not substantially and not particularly joined to bread and wine. 

Others, such as the Plymouth Brethren, take the act to be only a symbolic reenactment of the Last Supper. Other Protestant groups celebrate Communion as a symbolic gesture of the sacrifice of Christ.

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Richert, Scott P. "Learn the Meaning of the Eucharist in Christianity." ThoughtCo, Apr. 17, 2018, thoughtco.com/what-is-the-eucharist-542848. Richert, Scott P. (2018, April 17). Learn the Meaning of the Eucharist in Christianity. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-the-eucharist-542848 Richert, Scott P. "Learn the Meaning of the Eucharist in Christianity." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-the-eucharist-542848 (accessed May 20, 2018).