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also known as
"The Eucharist" or
"The Lord's Supper"

Instituted by
Jesus Christ

Real Presence

Theologies contrasted

Important theologians
Paul ·Aquinas
Augustine · Calvin
Chrysostom · Cranmer
Luther · Zwingli

Related Articles
Catholic Historic Roots
Closed and Open Table
Divine Liturgy
Eucharistic adoration
Eucharistic discipline
First Communion
Infant Communion
Mass · Sacrament

The Eucharist is the rite that Christians perform in fulfillment of Jesus' instruction, recorded in the New Testament[1], to do in memory of him what he did at his Last Supper. Jesus gave his disciples bread, saying "This is my body", and wine, saying "This is my blood." Christians generally recognize a special presence of Christ in this rite, though they differ about exactly how, where, and when Christ is present. The word "Eucharist" is also applied to the bread and wine consecrated in the course of the rite.

Most Christians classify the Eucharist as a sacrament, but many Protestant traditions avoid the term sacrament[2], preferring ordinance. In these traditions, the ceremony is seen not as a specific channel of grace but as an expression of faith and obedience of the Christian community.


Names for the Eucharist

  • Eucharist (from Greek Εὐχαριστία eucharistia, "thanksgiving") is the term with the earliest established historical use. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who was martyred in Rome in about 110, used the term "Eucharist", referring to both the rite and the consecrated elements, three times in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans [3] and once in his Letter to the Philadelphians [4]. Justin Martyr, writing around 150, gave a detailed description of the rite, and stated that "Eucharist" was the name that Christians used: "This food is called among us the Eucharist..." (Apology, 66 [5]). Today the term "Eucharist" is used by Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and Lutherans. Most other Protestant traditions use this term rarely, but few reject it entirely.
  • Communion (from Latin communio, "sharing in common") is a term used by Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and many Protestants; Holy Communion is also prevalent. Catholics and Orthodox typically apply it to the partaking of the consecrated bread and wine, and to these consecrated elements themselves, rather than to the Eucharistic rite as a whole. In their understanding, it is possible to participate in the celebration of the Eucharistic rite without "receiving Holy Communion" (partaking of the consecrated elements). On the other hand, groups that originated in the Protestant Reformation apply this term to the whole rite. Many, especially Anglicans, prefer the fuller term "Holy Communion" rather than just "Communion". The term Communion holds further ambiguity in that it also refers to the relationship of Christians, as individuals or as a Church, with God and with other Christians (see Communion (Christian)).
  • The Lord's Supper and the Breaking of Bread are terms that the New Testament (1 Corinthians 11:20; Acts 2:42, 46) applies to celebration of the Eucharistic rite. The first of these terms tends to be preferred by "minimalist" traditions, especially those strongly influenced by Huldrych (or Ulrich) Zwingli and the Restoration Movement. The Lord's Supper is also a common term among Lutherans. Other Churches and denominations also use these terms, but generally not as their basic, routine term.
  • Certain terms are limited to the Orthodox Christian and Catholic traditions, and are typically applied to the rite as a whole. The Divine Liturgy is used by Orthodox and the Eastern Catholic Churches, who also, especially for the consecrated elements, use the Divine Mysteries. Roman Catholics use many other terms, including the Mass, the Memorial of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord, the Holy Sacrifice, and the Holy Mysteries[6]. The Blessed Sacrament (or Blessed Sacrament of the Altar) is also a common term for the consecrated elements, especially when kept in the Church tabernacle.

Eucharist in the Bible

The three synoptic Gospels (Matthew [7], Mark [8], and Luke [9]) as well as Saint Paul's first Letter to the Corinthians [10] contain versions of the Words of Institution spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper: "Take, eat, this is my body ... Take, drink, this is my blood ... Do this in remembrance of me." All subsequent celebration of the Eucharist is based on this injunction. John 6 is also interpreted in connection with the Eucharist: " For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him." (John 6:55-56)

See also: Historical roots of Catholic Eucharistic theology

Christian Theology

The Eucharist has always been at the center of Christian worship, though theological interpretations vary. In general, the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox traditions see the Eucharist as the fulfillment of God's plan for the salvation of humanity from sin (the "Divine Economy"), a commemoration and making present of Jesus' Crucifixion on Calvary and his Resurrection, the means for Christians to unite with God and with each other, and the giving of thanks for all these things. Differences in Eucharistic theology tend to be related to differences in understanding of these areas.

Efforts at mutual understanding of the range of theologies led in 1980s to consultations on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEM) through the World Council of Churches, and including the Roman Catholic Church.

Roman Catholic: Sacrifice; Transubstantiation

Main articles: Mass (liturgy), Transubstantiation

In the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eucharist is one of the seven sacraments. The Eucharist is a memorial of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ, understood in the fullest sense given to it in Biblical tradition. In other words, it is a memorial which does not just bring to mind the event celebrated, but also makes it truly present. The Eucharist is therefore understood to be not simply a representation of Christ's presence, or a remembrance of his Passion and Death, but an actual participation in the Sacrifice of Christ, as though the once and for all event were happening here and now. The Eucharist makes present that one sacrifice, not a different sacrifice. The priest and victim of the sacrifice are one and the same; the only difference is in the manner in which it is offered—the Church teaches that the Mass is the sacrifice at Calvary made present in an unbloody manner.

The only minister of the Eucharist, that is, one authorized to celebrate the rite and consecrate the Eucharist, is a validly ordained priest (either bishop or presbyter) acting in the person of Christ (in persona Christi). In other words the priest celebrant represents Christ, who is the Head of the Church, and acts before God in the name of the Church. The matter used must be wheaten bread and grape wine; this is essential for validity.

According to the Roman Catholic Church, when the bread and wine are consecrated in the Eucharist, they cease to be bread and wine, and become instead the body and blood of Christ. The empirical appearances are not changed, but the reality is. The consecration of the bread (known as the host) and wine represents the separation of Jesus's body from his blood at Calvary. However, since he has risen, the Church teaches that his body and blood can no longer be truly separated. Where one is, the other must be. Therefore, although the priest (or minister) says, "The body of Christ", when administering the host, and, "The blood of Christ", when presenting the chalice, the communicant who receives either one receives Christ, whole and entire.

The hosts are kept in a tabernacle after the celebration of the Mass, so that they can be brought to the sick and dying outside the time of Mass, and also so that the Eucharistic presence may be worshipped and adored. On occasions, the Eucharist is exposed in a monstrance, in order for it to be the focus of prayer and adoration.

The mysterious change of the reality of the bread and wine used in the Eucharist, a change to which patristic writers had given other equivalent names, began to be called "transubstantiation" in the twelfth century. In the judgement of the Catholic Church, this term, with its accompanying unambiguous distinction between "substance" or underlying reality, and " accidents" or humanly perceptible appearances, still best safeguards against the opposite extremes of a cannibalistic or of a merely symbolic interpretation of the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is given to Catholics who wish to receive either at Mass or outside of Mass. This is called the administration of Holy Communion. When it is given at Mass, it may be given under one kind (usually the host), or under both kinds (both the host and the consecrated wine, referred to by Catholics as the Precious Blood). Regular use of Communion under both kinds requires the permission of the bishop, but bishops in some countries have given blanket permission to administer Holy Communion in this way. The ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are Bishops, Priests and Deacons, the latter traditionally ministering the chalice. Members of the laity can also be commissioned as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, where there is a necessity. This is, in a way, a return to a very early practice, whereby the ordinary faithful took Communion to the sick and to others unable to come to the Eucharistic celebration.

Eastern Orthodox: Objective Reality but Pious Silence on the Particulars

Main article: Divine Liturgy

The Eastern Orthodox Church agrees with the Roman Catholic Church that Christ is really present in the Eucharistic elements both bodily and spiritually, but rejects any further analysis. Instead, it preserves the exact means by which the bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ by the Holy Spirit as a mystery, and is not particularly interested in the precise moment the change occurs. Nevertheless, the change is regarded as permanent, and any of the consecrated elements that remain at the end of the Divine Liturgy must be consumed by a priest or deacon.

Gifts reserved for the communion of the sick are specially consecrated on Holy Thursday, or other times at need, and are not simply leftovers from the previous Divine Liturgy. Since the Eucharist is regarded primarily as food, Eucharistic adoration is unknown, except within the context of the Liturgy itself.

Anglicans/Episcopalians: Real Presence with Opinion

The official position of the Anglican Communion is found in The Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571, which states "the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ" (Articles of Religion, Article XXVIII: Of the Lord's Supper). The fact that both the elements and "Body" and "Blood" are all capitalized reflects the wide range of theological beliefs on the Eucharist among Anglicans.

Anglicans are required to believe in the Real Presence, which can range from Transubstantiation (mainly Anglo-Catholics to a simple spiritual-only Presence (almost always Reformed Anglicans). Most range from Objective Reality to Pious Silence, depending on how Traditional or Reformed the individual Anglican's theology is. A tiny minority reject the Real Presence doctrine altogether, but are in complete violation to what the Church teaches.

Lutherans: presence as "in, with and under": the Sacramental Union

Lutherans believe that the body and blood of Christ are "truly and substantially present in, with and under" the bread and wine (the elements), so that communicants eat and drink both the elements and the true body and blood of Christ Himself (cf. Augsburg Confession, Article 10). The doctrine of the Real Presence is also known among some Lutherans as the "Sacramental Union." For Lutherans there is no sacrament unless the elements are used according to Christ's institution (consecration, distribution, and reception). As a result, only bread and wine remain after the distribution and reception of the Lord's Supper, and after the conclusion of the service. The elements are treated with respect, but are not "revered" or reserved as in Roman Catholic practice. Lutherans use the terms "in, with and under" and "Sacramental Union" to distinguish their understanding of the Lord's Supper from those of the Reformed and other traditions.

Methodism: presence as "mystery"

There is no definitive Methodist statement on how the Christ is present in Holy Communion. The followers of John Wesley have typically affirmed that the grace of Christ is experienced via his real presence in the sacrament, but have allowed the details to remain a mystery, rejecting the doctrine of transubstantiation (see "Article XVIII" of the Articles of Religion, Means of Grace). In 2004, the United Methodist Church more clearly defined its view of the sacrament and its belief in the Real Presence in an official document entitled This Holy Mystery.

Calvinist Reformed: spiritual feeding

Many Reformed Christians, particularly those following John Calvin, hold that Christ's body and blood do not come down to inhabit the elements, but that "the Spirit truly unites things separated in space" (Calvin).

Following a phrase of Augustine, the Calvinist view is that "no one bears away from this Sacrament more than is gathered with the vessel of faith". "The flesh and blood of Christ are no less truly given to the unworthy than to God's elect believers", Calvin said; but those who partake by faith receive benefit from Christ, and the unbelieving are condemned by partaking. By faith (not a mere mental apprehension), and in the Holy Spirit, the partaker beholds God incarnate, and in the same sense touches him with hands, so that by eating and drinking of bread and wine Christ's actual presence penetrates to the heart of the believer more nearly than food swallowed with the mouth can enter in.

The elements may be disposed of without ceremony; they are unchanged, and as such the meal directs attention toward Christ's bodily resurrection and return.

Reformed/Congregational: non-presence

Main article: Memorialism

Some Protestant groups see Communion (also called the Lord's Supper or the Lord's Table) as a symbolic meal, a memorial of the Last Supper and the Passion in which nothing miraculous occurs. This view is known as the Zwinglian view, after Huldrych Zwingli, a Swiss leader during the Reformation. It is commonly associated with Baptists and the Disciples of Christ.

Many of the Reformed hold that Calvin actually held this view, and not the Spiritual feeding idea attributed to him by some; or that the two views are really the same.

Summary of views

Becuase Jesus Christ is a person, theologies regarding the Eucharist involve consideration of the way in which the communicant's personal relationship with God is fed through this mystical meal. However, debates over Eucharistic theology in the West have centered not on the personal aspects of Christ's presence but on the metaphysical. The opposing views are summarized below.

For more details on this topic, see Real Presence.
  • Transubstantiation – the substance (fundamental reality) of the bread and wine is transformed in a way beyond human comprehension into that of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ, but the accidents (physical traits, including chemical) of the bread and wine remain; this view is held by the Roman Catholic Church and many Anglicans, especially Anglo-Catholic Anglicans.
  • Consubstantiation - the body and blood of Jesus Christ are substantially present alongside the substance of the bread and wine, which remain. Some Anglicans hold this view. This view is often attributed to the Lutheran Church, but many Lutherans reject this term.
  • "In, with and under" - the body and blood of Jesus Christ are substantially present in, with and under the substance of the bread and wine, which remain. This is the view held by most Lutherans.
  • Objective reality, but pious silence about technicalities - the view of all the ancient Churches of the East, both Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, as well as perhaps most Anglicans and those of Nestorian tradition. These, while agreeing with the Roman Catholic belief that the sacrament is not merely bread and wine but truly the body and blood of Christ, have not adopted the "substance" and "accidents" terminology, preferring not to scrutinize the technicalities of the transformation.
  • Pious silence even about the objective reality—a view held by many Anglicans.
  • Real Spiritual presence - not only the spirit, but also the true body and blood of Jesus Christ (hence "real") are received by the sovereign, mysterious, and miraculous power of the Holy Spirit (hence "spiritual"), but only by those partakers who have faith. This view approaches the "pious silence" view in its unwillingness to specify how the Holy Spirit makes Christ present, but positively excludes not just symbolism but also trans- and con-substantiation. It is also known as "mystical presence," and is held by most Reformed Christians, such as Presbyterians, as well as Methodists and some Anglicans, particularly Reformed Anglicans. See Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. 19.
  • Symbolism - the bread and wine are symbolic of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and in partaking of the elements the believer commemorates the sacrificial death of Christ. This view is also known as "memorialism" and Zwinglianism after Ulrich Zwingli and is held by several Protestant denominations, including most Baptists. This view is also that of the Jehovah's Witnesses, who also believe that the rite itself is restricted to a select few, but most participate in the yearly memorial.
  • Suspension - the partaking of the bread and wine was not intended to be a perpetual ordinance, or was not to be taken as a religious rite or ceremony (also known as adeipnonism, meaning "no supper" or "no meal"). This is the view of Quakers and the Salvation Army, as well as the "ultra-dispensational" teaching of E. W. Bullinger, Cornelius R. Stam, and others.

Ritual and liturgy

The Agape feast

The Agape feast was the Eucharistic celebration of the early Christians. While centered on the ritual of the bread and wine, it also included various other ritual elements, including elements of the Passover seder and of Mediterranean funerary banquets, also termed Agape Feasts. Agape is one of the Greek words for love, particularly applied to selfless love. Such meals were widespread, though not universal, in the early Christian world.

This service was apparently a full meal, with each participant bringing their own food, but eating in a common room. Perhaps predictably enough, it could at times deteriorate into merely an occasion for eating and drinking, or for ostentatious displays by the wealthier members of the community. This was criticized by St. Paul in the New Testament (cf. 1 Cor 11:20-22). Because of such abuses, the Agape gradually fell into disfavor, and after being subjected to various regulations and restrictions, it was definitively dropped by the Church between the 6th and 8th centuries. Some modern Christians participate in Agape meals on rare occasions, to experience this historical form of the Eucharist.

Orthodox Christianity

Main article: Divine Liturgy

In Orthodoxy, the Eucharistic service is called the Divine Liturgy. It comprises two main divisions: the Liturgy of the Catechumens which consists of introductory litanies, antiphons and scripture readings; and the Liturgy of the Faithful in which the Eucharist is offered. Within the latter, the actual Eucharistic prayer is called the Anaphora (Greek: "offering"). Two different Anaphoras are used in modern times: one attributed to St. John Chrysostom, and one to St. Basil the Great. St. John Chrysostom's Anaphora is used most days of the year; St. Basil's on Sundays of Great Lent, the eves of Christmas and Theophany, Holy Thursday, Holy Saturday, and his feast day (January 1). At the conclusion of the Anaphora the bread and wine are regarded as the Body and Blood of Christ. Conventionally this change in the elements occurs at the Epiklesis (Greek: "invocation") where the Holy Spirit is invoked and it is specifically requested, but since the Anaphora as a whole is considered a unitary (albeit lengthy) prayer no one movement in it can be readily singled out.

Roman Catholicism

See Mass and Divine Liturgy.



See Book of Common Prayer.


The Lutheran Eucharistic service is similar in form to the Roman Catholic and "high" Anglican services. Administration of the bread and wine varies between congregations. The bread can be a thin wafer, or leavened or unleavened bread. The wine may be administered via a common cup (the "chalice"), or through individual cups that may be either prefilled or filled from the chalice during the communion. Intinction is acceptable, but rarely used. Some congregations make grape juice available for those who are abstaining from alcohol, and may accommodate those with an allergy to wheat or grapes.



The elements of the Lord's supper are most commonly unleavened bread and wine[11]. In traditions in which temperance movements have had strong influence, grape juice is substituted for the wine. The term "grape juice" is usually not used in services; instead terms such as "unfermented wine," "wine," or simply "the cup" are used. Teachers from such movements often assert that oinon, the Greek word used in the original New Testament to mean wine, may mean either fermented or unfermented wine. This claim was unknown prior to the temperance movement, however. In a few Holiness bodies, and by the Mormons water is substituted for the wine.

Open and closed communion

Main articles: Open communion, Closed communion
See also: Full communion

Christian denominations differ in their understanding of whether they may receive the Eucharist together with those not in full communion with them. Closed communion was the universal practice of the early Church. The famed apologist St. Justin Martyr, ca. A.D. 150, wrote: "No one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true...." For the first several hundred years of Church history, non-members were forbidden even to be present at the sacramental ritual; visitors and catechumens (those still undergoing instruction) were dismissed halfway through the liturgy, after the Bible readings and sermon but before the Eucharistic rite. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, used in the Byzantine Churches, still has a formula of dismissal of catechumens (not followed by any action) at this point.

The ancient Churches such as the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox exclude nonmembers from Communion in normal circumstances, though they may allow exceptions, e.g. for non-members in danger of death who share their faith in the reality of the Eucharist and are unable to have access to a minister of their own religion. Many conservative Protestant communities also practice closed communion, including conservative Lutheran Churches like the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The Mennonites and the Landmark Baptist Churches also practice closed communion, as a symbol of exclusive membership and loyalty to the distinctive doctrines of their fellowship.

Most Protestant communities practice open communion, including some Anglican, Reformed, Evangelical, Methodist, and more-liberal Lutherans (such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Church of Sweden). Some open communion communities adhere to a symbolic or spiritual understanding of the Eucharist, so that they have no fear of sacrilege against the literal body and blood of Christ if someone receives inappropriately. Others feel that Christ calls all of his children to his table, regardless of their denominational affiliation. Many churches that practice open communion offer it only to baptized Christians (regardless of denomination), although this requirement is typically only enforced by the recipients' honesty.


  • ^ : Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25
  • ^  as Anabaptist leader Pilgram Marpeck put it, "The true meaning of communion is mystified and obscured by the word sacrament." Nevertheless as far as his theology goes Marpeck was decidedly more incarnational than many of his Anabaptist peers, and thus closer to the Roman Catholic position than even Zwingli.
  • ^ : cf. Pope Benedict XVI (2006) Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 275, USCCB, and
Catholic Church (2003) Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, 1328-1332. ISBN 0385508190[12]
  • ^  e.g., see Graves, J. R. (1928) What is It to Eat and Drink Unworthily, Baptist Sunday School Committee. ASIN B00087HTF4


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  • McBride, Alfred, O.Praem. Celebrating the Mass. Our Sunday Visitor, 1999.
  • Nevin, John Williamson. The Mystical Presence: A Vindication of the Reformed or Calvinistic Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist. 1846; Wipf & Stock reprint, 2000. ISBN 1579103480.
  • Oden, Thomas C. Corrective Love: The Power of Communion Discipline. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1995. ISBN 0-570-04803-6
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  • Wright, N. T. The Meal Jesus Gave Us

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