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The sacrament of the Eucharist

By Sean Martin
John Paul II Generation

What is the Eucharist?
The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Initiation in which bread and wine are transubstantiated into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. The substance (essence of a thing) of the bread and wine really and truly changes wholly and entirely into Jesus, while the accidents (non-essential attributes of a thing) remain. Consequently, the Eucharist looks like bread and tastes like bread and looks like wine and tastes like wine, but really is Jesus Christ (CCC 1374). This is why we genuflect toward the tabernacle upon entering into a Catholic Church; we are bowing down in reverence to our Eternal Lord and Savior, our Eucharistic King Jesus.

The Eucharist was instituted at the Last Supper. “And he took 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.’” (Luke 22:19-20)

The Eucharist “completes and surpasses all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant” (CCC 1330). In this Sacrament we experience the new Passover sacrifice. The Eucharist is a perpetuation of the sacrifice of the cross (CCC 1323), “a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father” (CCC 1360). The Greek word for Eucharist, Eucharistia, means “thanksgiving.”

“The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life’" (CCC 1324). All other sacraments are directed to and point toward the Eucharist. It is the very pinnacle of our faith. It is where we can encounter and love Christ intimately. The recipient of the Holy Eucharist is unified with Christ and receives the Divine Life in a very real way. Jesus said “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (John 6:54-56).

The Eucharist is truly a foretaste of the Heavenly banquet. Jesus “graciously comes to us, not only to be with us, but also to raise us up to Heaven, to the Heavenly liturgy, where we worship in union with all the angels and saints, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the eternal offering of Jesus Christ to the Father on our behalf. Thus we enter the heavenly sanctuary while still on earth, and worship God in the full manner that He laid out for us” (Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless, Bishop of Sioux City Ecclesia Semper Reformanda 8).
“The inexhaustible richness of this sacrament is expressed in the different names we give it. Each name evokes certain aspects of it” (CCC 1328). The Eucharist is also called: the Bread of life, food of the Angels, Communion, Bread from Heaven, Heavenly Manna, Heavenly Host, Real Presence, Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Blessed Sacrament, and Precious Body and Blood.

Who can receive the Eucharist?
Any baptized person that is in the state of grace and in good standing with the Catholic Church, according to the particular laws governing that Rite, can receive the Holy Eucharist. In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, the recipient of the Eucharist must be at least the age of discretion, which has been defined at the age of 7 years old. In some of the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church, the Eucharist is received as an infant along with Baptism and Confirmation.

Who is the minister of the Eucharist?
The minister of the Sacrament of the Eucharist is an ordained bishop or priest. No other person can make Christ present in the Holy Eucharist.

What is needed for the Eucharist to be validly consecrated?
The bread and wine are consecrated during the Eucharistic Canon of prayers within the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The form for the Sacrament of the Eucharist is the words of consecration, in particular “this is my body… this is my blood.” The matter for the Sacrament of the Eucharist is wheat bread and natural grape wine. The bishop or priest must intend to do what the Church intends for the Sacrament of Eucharist.

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