OceanSide church of Christ

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Victor M. Eskew


            There are seven sacraments, that is, solemn “Christian” rites in the Catholic Church:  Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony.  “…In this organic whole, the Eucharist occupies a unique place as the “Sacrament of sacraments”:  all the other sacraments are ordered to it as to their end” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1211, p. 341).  In this article, we want to define the Eucharist as practiced by the Catholic Church. 

            Let’s consider the term “eucharist.”  When Jesus was in the upper room celebrating the Passover with His disciples, He instituted the Lord’s Supper.  In Luke 22:19, we read:  “And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave it unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you:  this do in remembrance of me.”  The words, “gave thanks,” are a translation of the Greek word “eucharisteo.”  It means “to give thanks, to be grateful for.”  Catholics, therefore, call the Lord’s Supper “Eucharist,” because it is an action of thanksgiving to God (Catechism, 1328, 369).  The term, Eucharist, however, is not the problem.  The problem lies in the meaning of the Eucharist.  It is more than a simple memorial feast that enables Catholics to remember the death of Jesus Christ.

            We will delve into the meaning of the Eucharist by looking at the seven elements involved in this sacrament.  First, the Pope is part of the Eucharist.  In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we are told:  “Since he has the ministry of Peter in the Church, the Pope is associated with every celebration of the Eucharist, wherein he is named as the sign and servant of the unity of the universal Church” (Catechism, 1369, p. 381).  Second, the bishop is part of the Eucharist.  “The bishop of the place is always responsible for the Eucharist, even when a priest presides; the bishop’s name is mentioned to signify his presidency over the particular Church…” (Catechism, 1369, 381-382).  Third, the priest is also part of the Eucharist.  “Only validly ordained priests can preside at the Eucharist…” (Catechism, 1411, p. 394).  Fourth, the bread and wine are important components of the Eucharist.  These two elements are said to become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.  “…In the Eucharist Christ gives us the very body which he gave up for us on the cross, the very blood which he ‘poured out for many for the remission of sins’” (Catechism, 1365, pl. 380).  Notice in that quote the word “the very body” and “the very blood.”  “It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament” (Catechism, 1375, p. 384).  On page 384 we are told, that the soul and divinity of Jesus are also present.  “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” (Catechism, 1374).  Fifth, the altar is another component of the Eucharist.  “The altar is also the table of the Lord, to which the People of God are invited” (Catechism, 1182, p. 335).  An altar is a place of sacrifice.  This leads to the sixth part of the Eucharist, the actual sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice:  ‘The victim is one and the same:  the same now offers through the ministry of the priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of the offering is different.’  ‘In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and offered in an unbloody manner’” (Catechism, 1367, p. 381).  Catholics believe that this sacrifice is “offered in reparation for the sins of the living and the dead to obtain spiritual and temporal benefits from God” (Catechism, 1414, p. 395).  The seventh part of the Eucharist is the Mass.  We read on page 388 of the Catechism:  “It is in keeping with the very meaning of the Eucharist that the faithful, if they have the required dispositions, receive communion each time they participate in the Mass” (Catechism, 1388). 

            Let’s briefly summarize the things that are listed above.  Faithful Catholics assemble for worship at the Mass.  There they participate in the Eucharist, the most important of the seven sacraments.  The priest and members of the Church assemble around the table of the Lord, which is also an altar of sacrifice.  Two elements are found on this altar, the unleavened bread and wine.  During the sacrificial service the priest will acknowledge both the Pope and the Bishop over this Church.  Then, he will proceed to offer up the Christ as a sacrifice on the altar.  To do this, Christ has to be literally present.  Thus, the bread is changed into the literal body of Christ.  Too, the wine is turned into the literal blood of Christ.  The priest offers Jesus as a sacrifice unto God in “an unbloody manner” upon the altar.  This sacrifice is made as a reparation for the sins of both the living and dead.

            The Eucharist is a closed celebration; meaning only faithful Catholics are allowed to partake of it.  The ones who partake therein do not have to partake of both elements.  They only have to eat the body of Jesus.  “Since Christ is sacramentally present under each of the species, communion under the species of bread alone makes it possible to receive all the fruit of the Eucharistic grace” (Catechism, 1415, p. 395).  Every Catholic is supposed to partake of the Eucharist at least once a year during the Easter season.  “…But the Church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the holy Eucharist on Sundays and feast days, or more often still, even daily” (Catechism, 1389, p. 389).

            We have set before our readers the practice of the Eucharist.  This writer has seen the Eucharist being practiced during the Mass at two different funerals.  To Catholics the practice is extremely holy.  To most who are not Catholics, this seems like a harmless ceremony.  In light of Biblical teaching, however, the Eucharist involves teachings that are not in harmony with the pages of God’s Word.  It is a practice that does an injustice to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary some two thousand years ago.  In our next article, we will contrast the Eucharist with the teachings of the New Testament of Jesus Christ.