Eucharistic Theology during Middle Ages


The Period between 6th Century to 16th Century is generally called the middle ages and the understanding of the Eucharistic theology of this period needs a brief description of the evolution of the practice of Eucharist in the 9th and 10th centuries. One should also pay attention to the confrontation between the Greek culture, in which the biblical message had found a rather good translation, and the Germanic people. The world view of the Germanic people was different from that of the Hellenistic people, the former’s outlook was characterized by an object-related realism where as the latter’s was of real-symbolic thinking.

As a result of this way of thinking the Eucharist was no longer experienced in the dynamic of praise, thanksgiving and intercession, but as the most eminent means of grace coming from heaven. A beginning of this movement is to be found in the writings of Isidore of Seville (CE+636); who wanted to transmit the writings of the Fathers of the Church to his contemporaries. Isidore combined the Eucharistic traditions of Augustine and Ambrose in his own thought. He spoke about the bread and the wine of the Eucharist becoming the body and blood of Christ through transformation, but his basic outlook was Augustinian. More Christian people withdrew from frequent communion because of a radical sense of reverence to the Eucharist being the body and blood of Christ.

In this period the unity between symbol and reality, which was the characteristics of the Greek thought, was beginning to dissolve. The symbol was no longer experienced as the means of participation in the reality, but was becoming a mere a sign or pointer that is separated from the reality that it signifies.

Also the unity between the Christological and Ecclesiological meanings of the body of Christ was lost. A complete transformation took place in the meaning of the term “Body of Christ” between the Patristic period and the middle Ages. The Patristic period the phrase body of Christ meant primarily the Church, but in the middle Ages it came to mean primarily the sacramental presence of Christ in the elements of bread and wine on the altar.

Another important development regarding the understanding of the Eucharist during this period is that

the Eucharist lost the communitarian aspect of its celebration.

The Eucharist became a ritual/drama enacted by the priest at the altar and the congregation became mere spectators. Bread and wine of the Eucharist were no longer seen as the symbol of participation in the risen Lord through the sharing of a meal, but as sacred objects on the altar. The focus of Eucharistic piety became the presence of Christ in the elements on the altar, and the central question for the Eucharistic theology became the question of how Christ is present in the bread and wine and what is the relationship between the outward signs of bread and wine and the inward reality of the body and blood of Christ that they contain.

As the Eucharist lost its original communitarian aspect, the practice of private masses became a normal practice in the Church. This has its beginning in the monasteries and in the mission territories to which the monks were sent. The language of the Mass was Latin, this forced the faithful to watch rather than participate in the celebration as they did not understand. The priests instead of leading the people to mass now offer or say for them.

Recommended Articles and Books


A)    Eucharist and Controversies

B)    First Eucharistic Controversy: RADBERTUS AND RATRAMNUS

C)    Second Eucharistic Controversy: BERENGAR AND LANFRANC

D)    Eucharist and Scholastic Theology

E)     Eucharist and Doctrine of Concomitance

F)     Eucharist and St. Thomas Aquinas

G)    Eucharist and Protestant Reformers

H)    Eucharist and Council of Trent

I)       Eucharist and Post-Council of Trent



  1. Thank you Sharon , it’s interesting to know the background , I find today many people still get confused with the reality of the physical and the presence of the Spiritual, to understand Scripture we need to understand both and also the difference between them, when we ask we receive, so we can understand.

    Christian Love from both of us – Anne

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