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Eucharist

Eucharist (Communion) is a ritual or sacrament observed in most denominations of Christianity. Many denominations see it a commemoration of the sacrifice of Christ, marked by partaking in the Body of Christ, the bread; and the Blood of Christ, the wine. Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy see the Eucharist or Holy Communion differently, believing that Christ's sacrifice and death is re-presented in the Eucharist, to the extent that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. In Roman Catholicism the theological inquiry on this topic led to the doctrine of transubstantiation.

Last Supper celebrated by Christ and his apostles began as a traditional Passover seder, up until the point at which Jesus "giving thanks, broke [the bread] and said: Take ye and eat: This is my body, which shall be delivered for you. This do for the commemoration of me. In like manner also the chalice, after he had supped, saying: This chalice is the new testament in my blood. This do ye, as often as you shall drink, for the commemoration of me." (1 Corinthians 11:23-25, Douay-Rheims version) Here, Christ initiated an entirely new ritual, as St. Paul pointed out: "For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink the chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until he come." (1 Corinthians 11:26, Douay-Rheims version)

The Eucharistic celebration of the early Christians, while centered on the ritual of the bread and wine, also included various other ritual elements, including elements of the Passover seder and of Mediterranean funerary banquets. These banquets were termed agape feasts. Agape is one of the Greek words for love. Such agapes were widespread, though not universal, through the early Christian world. This service apparently was a full meal, with each participant bringing their own food, with the meal eaten in a common room.

Such banquets, perhaps predictably enough, could at times deteriorate into mere occasions for eating and drinking, or for ostentatious displays by the wealthier members of the community, as was already observed by St. Paul: "When you come therefore together into one place, it is not now to eat the Lord's supper. For every one taketh before his own supper to eat. And one indeed is hungry and another is drunk. What, have you no houses to eat and to drink in? Or despise ye the church of God and put them to shame that have not? What shall I say to you? Do I praise you? In this I praise you not." (1 Corinthians 11:20-22, Douay-Rheims version)

Because of abuses, the agape gradually fell into disfavor, and after being subjected to various regulations and restrictions, was finally dropped from the liturgy of the Church between the 6th and 8th centuries.

This service is known as the Eucharist in Catholic traditions, including Eastern Orthodoxy. The name Eucharist is from the Greek word eucharios which means thanksgiving or thank you. Roman Catholics typically restrict the term 'communion' to the distribution to the commmunicants during the service of the body and blood of Christ. The Roman Catholic belief that, through the priest, God turns the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, is called transubstantiation. Eastern Orthodox also believe that the elements, called "gifts", are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, but they typically eschew the Aristotelian concepts and language of transubstantiation, often preferring the neo-Platonic language of "participation".

The Roman Catholic belief is that the Eucharist, or Mass, is a sacrifice, the same one that Jesus made on the cross, with Jesus really being present, and the only difference is that it is "unbloody".

Eastern Orthodoxy generally refers to the entire worship service as the "Divine Liturgy", and to the specific partaking of the bread and wine as "partaking of the Eucharist". The liturgy typically used is "The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom"; during Great Lent and on special feast days, the "Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great" may be used instead. A few monasteries will celebrate "The Divine Liturgy of St. James" on St. James' day. Sharing the same Eucharist is a sign of unity, perhaps dating back to the Middle Eastern tradition of only eating with friends, not enemies. Since it prefigures the ultimate union with God to which Orthodox Christians aspire, the Eucharist plays a central role in Orthodox theology.

Ignatius of Antioch called the Eucharist "the medicine of immortality, the antidote we take in order not to die but to live forever in Jesus Christ." (Letter to the Ephesians, 20:2b)

Within many Protestant traditions, the name Communion is used. This name emphasizes the nature of the service as a "joining in common" between God and humans, due to the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. Many Protestant denominations consider the Catholic view of the sacrament as heretical and would never use or even be familiar with the term Eucharist.

See also: Catholic sacraments



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