Eucharist Essay Research Paper THE SACRAMENT OF

Eucharist Essay, Research Paper

THE SACRAMENT OF THE EUCHARIST “The Liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fountain from which all her power flows” (Abbott 142). This solemn quote represents the core of the church’s official teaching on the Sacred Liturgy. When sin entered the world with the fall of Adam and Eve1 so began the need for reconciliation between God and His people. Throughout the Hebrew scriptures many covenants were made to bring about this reconciliation. The Covenant of Abraham and the Covenant of Moses, although they bound or unified God and His people, proved not to be complete. For true and complete reconciliation, God sent His Son that this New Covenant could be achieved through the passion, death and resurrection. The eve of the Israelites exodus from Egypt, God struck down the first born of all the Egyptians. The Israelites were told by God to celebrate a sacred meal. They were to sacrifice a one year old male lamb, without blemish. The blood of this lamb was to be smeared on the two doorposts and lintel of the houses in which they ate. The angel of death would “pass over” their homes sparing their first born children. Consequently, this ritual meal became known as the Passover Supper.2 When Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples, he established a new and everlasting covenant not in the blood of a lamb, but in His own blood. He became the Lamb of Sacrifice. Jeremiah prophesied this new covenant when he said: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel. . . . I will make an everlasting covenant.”3 St. Paul explains the theological significance of this sacrament as a union with the body and blood of Christ – and a re-presentation of the Lords passion, death and resurrection; thus the Paschal Mystery of Christ: For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this is remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “:This is the new covenant in my blood, Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.4 In the earliest church this sacred meal of Jesus usually took place within the context of a common meal rather than as a separate rite. Most people celebrated this ritual in homes. The communities were very small. The breaking of the bread was the central act of prayer and worship of the people, reminding the early Christians of their identity and of Christ’s presence among them. The Christians formulated their own programs of Scripture readings and prayer and before long these were joined directly to the memorial-sacrificial meal. This combination of a liturgy of the Word and a liturgy of the Body and Blood of Christ remains the two major components of the Catholic Eucharistic liturgy today. The Eucharist expresses the Church’s faith that Christ is present in the bread and wine. A council of the Eastern church at Nicea in 787 affirmed the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine but this was not clearly accepted in the Western Church.5 In 831, a French theologian named Paschasius Radbertus firmly declared that in the Eucharist the bread and wine cease to be bread and wine and become the body and blood of Christ, the same body that was born of Mary and died on the cross.6 The properties of bread and wine remain the same but the substance of bread and wine are changed to the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. This is known as transubstantiation. The Fourth Lateran Council declared this a doctrine of the church in 1215.7 St. Thomas Aquinas, the famous doctor of the church, states in the Summa Theologiae that the Mass is “both offered as a sacrifice and consecrated and received as a sacrament” (offertur ut sacrificium et consecratur et sumitur ut sacramentum). This means, according to St. Thomas, the fruits of the Mass are first the oblation of sin, then the consecration of the matter offered and finally its reception.8 The sacrifice of the Mass is the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross. The priest offers the sacrifice in the name of the people and re-presents to God the Father the death of Jesus through the separate consecration of the bread and wine. This is done through the power of the Holy Spirit or as it is known, the Epiclesis. Thus there is a Trinitarian dimension to the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The word “Eucharist” itself means Thanksgiving. The prayer of the Mass is a prayer of thanksgiving to God the Father for the love sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, by which our sins are forgiven and we receive the promise of life everlasting. In the celebration of this sacrament, the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not simply remembered, but is made actual and present through the power of the Holy Spirit. We proclaim “Christ is Died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again”9 This convergence of time and eternity in the present moment is known as Anamnesis.10 Consequently, the principal fruit of receiving Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus.11 Those who receive the Eucharist are united more closely to Christ. Through it, Christ unites them to all the faithful in one body, the Church.12 In the sense of the scripture, the memorial is not merely the recollection of past events but the proclamation of the mighty works wrought by God for men.13 In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really and substantially contained.”14 What is the relevance of Eucharist in the Church today? When the bishops of the world met at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s, one of their most important tasks was to initiate a liturgical renewal. They revised the liturgy to emphasize the actions and elements Jesus had begun at the Last Supper which had become clouted over the centuries. These actions and elements are: the gathered community as a primary sign of the Lord’s presence, the call to forgiveness and penance, the Word proclaimed and understood in the language of the people, the reception of both bread and wine by all the baptized, and the command to be eucharistic people through the service of others in need. Pope Pius XII’s Encyclical on The Sacred Liturgy, Mediator Dei, insisted that it is our “duty and highest privilege to take part in the Eucharist Sacrifice.”15 It is there, especially, that we are nourished by God’s Word and the Lord’s Body; it is there that we offer Christ our Mediator and ourselves in Him and through Him to the Father. The words, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” brings the presence of Jesus, the very body of Christ, to those waiting in the world. This command is meant to be acted on by the faithful. Mother Teresa of Calcutta calls this presence “our love in action.” Today Christ lives in His church. He is experienced when our Christian community lives His values and celebrate the lived reality. The grace of the sacrament is the grace of the Church in service to others. In so doing, Catholics help strengthen the Christian community and offer a model for the building up of the whole human family. The Sacrament of the Eucharist is to be lived. After gathering as a faith community to celebrate this Sacred Mystery of the Body and Blood of Jesus and reflecting on God’s word in the scriptures, the faithful nourished by this experience are to go forth and be Christ’s presence in the world. ENDNOTES


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