The liturgical life of the Church revolves around the Sacraments. After baptism and Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist completes the Christian Initiation of every Christian, and all of the other six sacraments and all the works of the Church are directed towards the Eucharist because their aim is to lead the faithful to union with Christ (Cf. CCC 1324). What is the Holy Eucharist? This is one of the major sacraments of the Church. It is the sacrament that makes present in the Church’s liturgical celebration the Person of Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Thus presence is not passive or static, but an active presence of Christ with the dynamism of His saving love. Here, Jesus invites us to accept the salvation he offers and to receive the gift of his body and blood as food that leads to eternal life. This he gave so that we might be united with him in Holy Communion, and united with the one body of Christ, the Church. The Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament in which our Lord Jesus Christ, under the forms of bread and wine, is truly, really and substantially present, with His Body and Blood, offers himself in an unbloody manner to the Father and gives himself to us as nourishment for our souls. Every time the priests celebrate the Holy Eucharist, they reenact that which Christ himself did once and for all on the cross, but with the very words of Jesus and the invocations of the Holy Spirit, they offer sacramentally the Body and Blood of our Lord under the elements of bread and wine. This change of the en tire substance into the Body and Blood of Christ is called Transubstantiation. Only the ordained minsters, the priests, have the power of changing bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, because they act in the person of Christ through the power received at the ordination (Sacrament of Holy Orders)
Names given to the Sacrament
Both in the Scared Scripture and in the Tradition of the Church the Eucharist has been called with different names which expresses the richness and reflects also the multiple aspects of this sacrament. Many Catholics also have different understanding or gives different definitions to this sacrament based on their personal experience or understanding. Here are some:
• A memorial of Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation
• A celebration of the Lord’s last Supper
• A Sacred meal for the soul
• Center of our Christian worship
• It is called the Holy Mass All of the above are good descriptions of the Holy Eucharist, but we will look at what the Church calls this sacrament:
• Eucharist – a term derived from the Greek word eucharistien, meaning ‘thanksgiving’, because we gather to give thanks to God for the gift of Jesus.
• The Lord’s Supper – because of its connection with the supper he (Jesus) had with his apostles on the night before his passion
• The Holy Sacrifice – it makes present the one true sacrifice Christ made, which surpasses all other sacrifices offered in the Old Covenant
• The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ – expresses the reality of Christ’s presence in the consecrated elements
• Holy Communion – sharing in the body and blood of Christ, we unite with Christ who sacrificed himself for love of us, to form a single body.
• Holy Mass (Missa) – because it concludes with sending forth the congregation to share and bear witnesses to the greatness of God in our daily lives. (cf. CCC 1332) The Institution of the Holy Eucharist Jesus Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, this is recounted in the account of the three synoptic Gospels (Mt.26:17-30; Mk.14:12-26; Lk. 22:7-20). The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarized it thus: …And when the hour came, he sat at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” …And he took the bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood.” (CCC 1339). Jesus used very clear and explicit words in expressing the gift of himself. He did not say, “This is a sign of my body or “This represents my body.” but “This is my body.” During the celebration of Last Supper with his apostles, Christ rather than celebrating the Jewish Old Passover, celebrated the New Passover which is centered on the Body he offered in sacrifice to the Father for mankind and the Blood poured out for the remission of sins. Importance of the Holy Eucharist Just as the body requires food and drink for physical nurture and growth, so also the soul needs spiritual food. Christ gave us the Eucharist to strengthen and help us in our pilgrim journey, as a Paschal banquet in which Christ himself is consumed, the soul is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 47). Jesus summarizes in John’s gospel the reasons for receiving the Holy Eucharist (His Body and Blood):
• Jesus made it clear in John’s gospel, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (Jn. 6:52)
• Jesus said “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (Jn.6:53).
• Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:56). Those who receive the bread live in Christ and Christ lives in them.
• This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as your fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever. It is a channel of eternal life. The essential elements The essential elements for the sacramental sign of the Eucharist are:
• Bread made from wheat flour
• Wine made from grapes
• The words of consecration that the priest pronounces in the Eucharistic prayer
Guidelines for the reception of the Holy Eucharist
In the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we receive the true body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. As Catholics, we are encouraged to receive the Holy Communion devoutly and frequently, because through it we receive innumerable graces. It is also an intimate encounter with Christ. In order to be properly disposed and receive worthily, there are guidelines which includes the following:
• Must be a baptized Catholic to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ
• Fast for at least one hour before receiving the Eucharist, including food or drink except for water or what is needed to take with medicine
• Must be in a state of grace. This is an absolute requirement that can never be dispensed (Please read 1 Cor. 11:27-28).
• Must have been to confession if you have committed mortal sin
• Must believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation. That is faith in the transformation into the actual body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, and only the appearances of bread and wine remain. Just as the Last Supper led to Calvary, so, too, must the Eucharist lead us to commitment and sacrifice in our daily lives. I pray that all who receive Jesus’ body and blood will understand who we are receiving and go forth to fill the world with his presence as we are filled by Him.
ALTAR – The table where the Eucharist is celebrated
ASSEMBLY – The people who gather for the liturgy
BAPTISM – The sacrament that the person needs to receive before receiving Eucharist.
CHALICE – The special cup used at liturgy of the Eucharist to hold the wine that becomes the Blood of Christ
CONSECRATION – The rite of the Mass where the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ
HOST – The name for the bread used at Mass
HOLY MASS – Has two main parts: Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist
TABERNACLE – A special place where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the Church.
• Rev. Sr. Mary Judith Madueke EHJ, Director of Religious Education, Archdiocese of Lagos.