The sacrament of the Eucharist

The sacrament of the Eucharist

As we celebrated the First Communion of six children in our parish this past weekend, now is a good time to reflect on the meaning and history of the sacrament of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion.

The word Eucharist comes from the Greek word, eucharistein, which means to give thanks or to be grateful. It recalls Jewish blessings, especially during a meal, that proclaim God’s works: creation, redemption and sanctification. In the Old Convenant, bread and wine were offered in sacrifice as a sign of grateful acknowledgement to the Creator. At Passover, Jewish people ate unleavened bread to commemorate their liberation and hasty departure from Egypt in the time of Moses, and the manna from heaven which sustained them in the desert in the forty years after their flight from Egypt. This ritual recalls to God’s people that their daily bread is the Word of God.

At the Last Supper, Jesus followed the Jewish tradition of breaking bread when, as master of the table, he blessed and distributed the bread. “Now while they were eating the meal, Jesus took bread, and he blessed and broke and gave it to his disciples, and he said ‘Take and eat. This is my body.’ And taking the chalice, he gave thanks. And he gave it to them saying: ‘Drink from this, all of you. For this is my blood of the new covenant, which shall be shed for many as a remission of sins.’ ” (Matthew 26:26-28)

By Jesus’ words and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, the bread became Christ’s Body and the wine became His Blood. To receive in faith the gift of His Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself. Christ’s Body and Blood signify the goodness of Creation and a renewal of God’s covenant to His people.

The liturgy of the Eucharist unfolds according to a fundamental structure which has been preserved throughout the centuries. It displays two great parts that form a fundamental unity:

1) the gathering, the liturgy of the Word, the homily, and general intercessions

2) the liturgy of the Eucharist with the presentation of the bread and wine, the consecratory thanksgiving, and communion

The gathering is the act of Christians coming together in one place for the Eucharist. The sacrament is presided over by Christ himself. All of us have an active part to play in the celebration – reading, bringing up the offering, being extraordinary ministers of communion and/or saying Amen as you receive the Gifts of Christ manifests your participation.

Jesus gave us a command on the eve of His passion: “Do this in memory of me.” We carry out this command by celebrating the memorial of His sacrifice through our participation in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Reference: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1995.