Among the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church the Eucharist has a predominant place. In fact the entire sacramental life of the Church is drawn from the Eucharist. For the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches it is the liturgy pure and simple, the mystery par excellence. It is the high point of the Sacramental System (Cf. General Instructions of the Roman Missal). The Eucharist puts its seal on the beginning and the end of the life of a believer. The Eucharist establishes the temporal rhythm of Christian life by means of the Sunday Assembly every eighth day. The Eucharist is the act in a sense completes all the other sacraments. Thus major liturgical acts such as administration of sacraments, religious profession, funerals, and dedication of the Churches are all well integrated well within the Eucharist. For many Christians the Eucharist has become the sacrament of everyday life; in fact “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia 1).
The most important human capabilities such as music, architecture, crafts, paintings, poetry are brought into the service of this sacrament (Redemptionis Sacramentum 25;39;108). All the theological disciplines are striving for knowledge, insight and a way in which to understand better the Sacrament and do it justice; and all the doctrines of faith from theology of creation to eschatology come together in this one and unique Sacrament. These intensive and extensive attentions make it difficult to treat adequately of this sacrament in a short article like this.
There is no single word that can express the entire content and meaning of the Eucharist. So we hear about “Lord’s Supper”, “the Eucharist” “Communion”, “Breaking of Bread”, “Offering”, “Sacrifice”, “Memorial” “Divine Liturgy”, “the Mystery” “Kurbana” “Holy Mass” etc. All these names refer to some aspect of the Sacrament. The term most frequently used in the Catholic Church is the Eucharist, this term is derived from “Eucharistein” meaning to have grateful demeanour; to be thankful. It is a translation of the Jewish BERE AKHA, which refers to the thanksgiving at the table (Praising). By the end of the first century and the beginning of the second century ‘Eucharist’ had become established as referring to the entire Eucharistic service of worship and particularly for the principal prayer (cf. The Writings of Ignatius of Antioch, Justin).
Today in the ecumenical discussions we use the name “Lord’s Supper”, more (cf. I Cor.11:20). This phrase “Lord’s Supper”, however, describes only one aspect of the sacred event of the Holy Eucharist. The sacrificial aspect is relegated to the margin. The same thing happens when we use the name “Sacrifice”, it describes only the sacrificial aspect. When the Church calls the Eucharist Lord’s Supper or Sacrifice one thing is sure – it is not making it an act of worship among other acts. It is not separated from other religious sacrifices but it fulfills them. The Church believes that the Eucharist fulfils all our religious worships in the fullness of Christ – it is a unique sacrament – sacrifice – meal – memorial of Jesus Christ. “For this very reason the Eucharist, which is in an outstanding way the sacrament of the paschal mystery, stands at the centre of the Church’s life” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia 3).
1. The Eucharist is the mystery of faith and it is the embodiment of our confession of faith. So it raises the question of the faith of those celebrating and participating in it. We can speak of the Eucharist in any meaningful sense only if we believe that “The Eucharist is indelibly marked by the event of the Lord’s passion and death, of which it is not only a reminder but the sacramental re-presentation. It is the sacrifice of the Cross perpetuated down the ages” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia 11).
2. To believe in the Holy Eucharist means to have a genuine and active desire for the Church Unity. This needs reconciliation between Christians/among Churches. Jesus himself asked for it (Mt 5:23-24). Paul spoke of the impossibility of celebrating the Eucharist in the Community as long as divisions existed (I Cor 11:17-20). Has it not become a sacrament of Disunity today?
3. Another precondition is that presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is a real one. It is not a presence in thought, but in a unique and a special one. We must not forget that God’s presence is only made evident for us through God’s Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit is not to be sought here or there, but in the innermost depths of ourselves, in our hearts. There, through the Spirit not through our efforts, occurs that opening, that indwelling of God in union that cannot be described in words.
Hence the Church has a right to restrict the access to the Eucharist and there can be no objective injustice involved when that is done, the Church cannot alter the function of the Eucharist to make it a meal for all without insisting in the communion of faith and oneness in the body of Christ.
The Eucharist always and everywhere refers to Christ in the paschal act of his death and resurrection, and the participation of all Christians in this mystery. A desire for union with God, with all fellow human beings is the essence of the Eucharist.
Instituted by Jesus Christ, the Eucharist has never ceased to be what it was in the beginning. And yet all the additions of rites and prayers left its basic structure unaltered. In my up coming articles we will, in brief, look into the biblical foundations for the Eucharist, several developments that occurred in the understanding of the Eucharist through out the centuries, what the reformers thought of it; and how different Churches understand and celebrate it.