Part 4 Theology

Chapter e41 Theology of the Eucharist

Preliminary Questions


Hierarchy of Truths

Catechism and Eucharist

Ten Things I Learned About The Mass

FDLC Address 2002

To Think About

Note:  This chapter is concerned specifically with the Theology of the Eucharist and the teaching and catechesis of that Eucharistic theology.  Before studying this chapter, study (or review) the chapter on teaching about the liturgy in general Chapter d38 Evangelization and Catechetics  This Chapter e41 on the Eucharist presumes, and is based on, the material in Chapter d38.

Preliminary Questions

If you were asked to teach "The Eucharist"  to a group of catechumens, how would you go about it? What information would you select?

How does what you have learned during this course compare with the summary of the Church's teaching on the Eucharist as given in the Catechism of the Catholic Church?

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"The Celebration of the Christian Mystery," Catechism of the Catholic Church. Washington D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1994. nn 1066-1209. ISBN 1-55586-513-5.

"The Sacrament of the Eucharist," Catechism of the Catholic Church. Washington D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1994. nn 1212-1419. ISBN 1-55586-513-5.

Thomas Richstatter, "Liturgy and Life: Ten Things I Learned About The Mass," Catechist, 27:3 (November/December 1993), pp 42-47.

Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M., Sacramental Guidelines: A Companion to the New Catechism for Religious Educators. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1995. ISBN 0-8091-3565-5  12.95

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Hierarchy of Truths

It goes without saying that no catechetical text is perfect.  Each has its strong points and weaknesses.  The same may be said of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  One of the criticisms frequently leveled against the Catechism is that everything is presented as through it were of equal importance.  The only exception to this is that some paragraphs are printed in a smaller typed face which indicates that they are of lesser importance but other than this the teaching is presented as though everything were on an equal plane.  theologians and catechists realizes that this is not the case.  Some doctrines are more central to the core of revelations than others.  The question the student must ask (and answer) is what is this hierarchy of truths regarding the eucharist.?  How would you rank the following? 

1.  Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist are the sacraments of initiation.  Eucharist is the culmination of the initiation.  Eucharist is the repeatable part of initiation.  The Sacraments are primarily the action of God.  They are also the action of the church presided over by an authorized minister.  The Eucharist celebrates the paschal ministry.  The eucharist is the action of the Holy Spirit.  The eucharist is a celebration of the entire Christian community, the Christus totus.

2.  All lawfully recognized rites are of equal rite and dignity.  (CCC 1203)

3.  Jesus is really present to the Christian community when it assembles for Liturgy.

4.  Christ is present when the scriptures are proclaimed in a Liturgical assembly.  (SC7)

5.  Christ is to be present for the eucharist. 

6.  The change of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ at the Eucharist is aptly called transubstantiation.

7.  The eucharistic prayer is the core and summit of the Mass.  (CCC1352)

8.  God gives grace freely (it is not earned by good works)

9.  Jesus' sacrifice on the cross was the full and adequate efficient cause of our reduction. (Trent)

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Catechism and Eucharist (nn. 1322 - 1419)

Section Two.  The Seven Sacraments of the Church
Chapter One.  The Sacraments of Christian Initiation
Article 1.  The Sacrament of Baptism
Article 2.  The Sacrament of Confirmation

Article 3.  The Sacrament of the Eucharist
1322.  ...completes Christian initiation. 

TRR Comment 1322a:  The Baltimore Catechism (following the Catechism of Trent) was arranged "Creed, Code, Cult."  What we must believe (Part One:  Creed); and if that is what we believe, this is what we must do (Part Two:  Code, that is, the ten commandments); and since it is difficult to keep the commandments, God has given us Cult (Part Three:  Sacraments, the means of grace, and the Lord's Prayer).

The CCC preserves this basic structure but moves the sacraments forward to Part Two, and adds a new section on the liturgy which was not in the former Catechism.

Part One:  The Profession of Faith (The Creed)
Part Two:  The Celebration of the Christian Mystery
    Section One:  The Sacramental Economy (Liturgy in general)
    Section Two:  The Seven Sacraments of the Church
Part Three:  Life in Christ (The Commandments)
Part Four:  Christian Prayer

Were a liturgist to structure the Catechism, she or he would no doubt 1) place the Liturgy first, following the axiom Lex orandi; 2) integrate the treatment of liturgy and prayer; and 3) treat the Eucharist first, followed by the other sacraments and sacramentals (as in Sacrosanctum Concilium). 

TRR Comment 1322b:  Speaking of the Eucharist as the completion of Initiation is new to the Catechism.   The Catechism of Trent -- and the version which shaped generations of American Catholics, the Baltimore Catechism, does not see any connection between Eucharist and Initiation. 

I give a popular treatment of the use of the word "initiation" in sacramental theology in my article "Sacraments of Initiation, Sacraments of Invitation" Catholic Update, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, March 2001. C0301 

You won't find the word "initiation" in your Bible. And you won't find it in the Baltimore Catechism. But if you look at contemporary Church documents B for example, the Documents of the Second Vatican Council, the Rites of the Catholic Church, the Code of Canon Law, the Catechism of the Catholic Church B there are many references to initiation, Christian Initiation, and the Sacraments of Initiation. And all of these documents name the Sacraments of Initiation "Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist" while most Catholics reading this article received these sacraments in this sequence: Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation. What are the reasons behind these changes? A brief look at the history and meaning of the Sacraments of Initiation can help us answer this important question. 

The full text is available at:

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1323.  At the Last Supper ... sacrifice of the cross ... resurrection. 

TRR Comment 1323a:  This paragraph is the first article of the discursive section of the teaching on the Eucharist in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy

TRR Comment 1323b:  There was an important evolution in the various drafts of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.  The chapter (Chapter 2) was first titled "The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass."  In the approved text this becomes "The Most Sacred Mystery of the Eucharist."   This is a significant change.

TRR Comment 1323c:  In 1962-63 when this text was written the predominant metaphor for the Eucharist was "Good Friday"  i.e. the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Vatican Council restores a balance in the three metaphors "Holy Thursday" (Meal), "Good Friday" (Sacrifice), and "Easter Sunday" (Church).  I give a popular treatment of the balance of these three in my article  "The Sacrament of the Eucharist: What Has Happened to My Devotion?" Catholic Update, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, September, 1992. CU 0992. and in the video Eucharist: Celebrating Christ Present, Catholic Update Video, St. Anthony Messenger Press, July, 1995. Order # 2020.  This same theme has been taken up more recently by Pope John Paul II in his Holy Thursday (2003) encyclical on the Eucharist, Ecclesia de Eucharistia.

Did the Apostles who took part in the Last Supper understand the meaning of the words spoken by Christ?  Perhaps not.  Thos words would only be fully clear at the end of the Triduum sacrum, the time from Thursday evening to Sunday morning.   Those days embrace the Mysterium paschale; they also embrace the mysterium eucharisticum.  (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 2).  [TRR note:  the Triduum does not end on Sunday morning but extends to Second Vespers on Easter Sunday.] 

TRR Comment 1323d:  Note the change in translation between the ICEL text of 1982 and the Catechism translation of 2004.

eucharist - Eucharist
body and blood - Body and Blood
Bride - Spouse
is eaten - is consumed
heart is filled with grace - mind is filled with grace

TRR Comment 1323e:  Note that when quoting this and similar statements, it is often best to use the text from the Council Documents because that text gives the full list of sources.  For example CCC 1323 quotes SC 47.  Whereas the last part of the text is actually much older.  (It is the  Magnificat Antiphon for Second Vespers of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.  This Office was composed by St. Thomas Aquinas).

I.  The Eucharist -- Source and Summit of Ecclesial Life
1324 ... source and summit of Christian life. 

TRR Comment 1324a:  The Second Vatican Council, in placing the chapter on the Eucharist first, ahead of the chapter "The Other Sacraments and Sacramentals" signals an important "tip of the pistol" shift in thinking about the Eucharist.  Eucharist is the First Sacrament, not merely one of the seven. 

1325 ... communion with the divine life and unity of the People of God. ... source of grace and act of worship.

TRR Comment 1325a:  These statements in the context of the Council are statements of the then current teaching in the Baltimore Catechism with an additional emphasis.  E.g. the Baltimore Catechism taught the relation of the Eucharist to Divine Life.  The Council felt that in 1963 it was also important to emphasize the relation of the Eucharist to the Unity of the Body of Christ.  The Baltimore Catechism taught that sacraments were "outward signs.... to give grace."  The Council adds that they are also acts of worship (and they have a catechetical function).  For example:

Baltimore Catechism 304.  What is a sacrament?  A Sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.

Constitution on the Liturgy Chapter III: The Other Sacraments and the Sacramentals  59. The purpose of the sacraments is to make people holy, to build up the Body of Christ, and finally to give worship to God; but being signs they also have a teaching function. They not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen, and express it; that is why they are called "sacraments of faith." They do indeed impart grace, but in addition the very act of celebrating them disposes the faithful most effectively to receive this grace in a fruitful manner, to worship God rightly, and to practice charity.  It is therefore of the greatest importance that the faithful should readily understand the sacramental signs and should with great eagerness frequent those sacraments that were instituted to nourish the Christian life.

I think that it is important to read these statements in their historical context because the "what is going on here" is lost on readers who grew up with the newer definitions and who are not aware of what is being added and what is being balanced. 

1326 ... heavenly banquet.

II.  What Is This Sacrament Called?
1328  Twenty-one names for the Eucharist.

TRR Comment 1325a:  This section "What is it called..." is a reminder of the French origin of the Catechism.   This "What is it called..." is a classic French literary divine which is rather foreign to American English style.   The editio typica of the Catechism is the  Catéchisme de l' Église Catholique and the quotations from the Greek and Latin of the early Christian writers are translations of the French text of the Greek and Latin quotations.  There was some talk of preparing a Latin editio typica but I do not know what has happened to that project.  Currently work is being put into taking the larger French text and preparing a shorter "people's" text.  See:  A Short History of Catechisms.

1332  "Mass"

TRR Comment 1332a:  You will probably be asked more than once why we call the Eucharist "Mass."    The Catechism adopts the common theory that it is from the last words the people heard:  Ite, missa est.  Missa - Mass.   People often remember the last thing. 

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III.  The Eucharist in the Economy of Salvation
1333 The signs of bread and wine

TRR Comment 1333a:  Many contemporary catechisms would begin with the Assembly as the primary symbol and then move to the bread and wine.  Here the CCC begins in the scholastic fashion and first discusses the "things".    The CCC also uses the older term "offertory" for what the GIRM will term "Preparation of the Gifts."

1336  ... "Do this in remembrance of me." 

TRR Comment 1333a:  While many catechisms and homilists interpret these words of St. Paul (I Cor 11:24-25) to be a command to celebrate the Eucharist, Biblical scholars and liturgical theologians  usually give the words broader meaning.   Read these paragraphs in the light of Jerome Kodell. The Eucharist in the New Testament.

1337  The institution of the Eucharist
1341  "Do this in memory of me"

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IV.  The Liturgical Celebration of the Eucharist
1345 The Mass of all ages

TRR Comment 1345a:  Here the CCC treats the history of the eucharist.  I think that an excellent way to examine this history is to look closely at the eucharistic prayer as it was performed in different times and places.  An excellent text for this purpose is R. C. D. Jasper and G. J. Cuming. Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed. Third Revised Edition 1987. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press (A Pueblo Book), 1987. ISBN 0-916134-85-7. 314 pp. $17.50.

1348  The movement of the celebration

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V.  The Sacramental Sacrifice:  Thanksgiving, Memorial, Presence
1359  Thanksgiving and praise to the Father
1362  The Sacrificial memorial of Christ and of his Body, the Church
1373  The presence of Christ by the power of his word and the Holy Spirit

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VI.  The Paschal Banquet
1384 "Take this and eat it, all of you": communion
1391 The fruits of Holy Communion

VII.  The Eucharist- "Pledge of the Glory to Come"


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Ten Things I Learned About The Mass

[The following is the text of my article "Liturgy and Life: Ten Things I Learned About The Mass," published in  Catechist, 27:3 (November/December 1993), pp 42-47.]

"What are the ten most important things that you learned during this course?" I like to ask students this question in preparation for the final session of the eucharist course which I teach at St. Meinrad Seminary. The "Top Ten List" makes a good review; it helps the students appropriate the material; and, when the lists are compared and prioritized by their peers, we have some interesting discussions.

When I was invited to write this article for the Catechist, I thought of this list. Many of you reading this article do not have the opportunity to leave your work for a semester and go to a university or graduate school of theology to take a course on the eucharist and I thought that you might be interested in knowing what a contemporary, graduate course on the eucharist might embrace.

I could give you an outline of the course I offer at St. Meinrad. But while an outline might be logical and orderly, it would probably cover many things you know already. I am sure that anyone reading this article knows the basics about the eucharist. I can't imagine anyone wanting to be a catechist without a long experience of Mass and a deep love for the eucharist! Rather than offer an outline of the course, I will give you the conclusions of the course.

At the end of the eucharist courses last summer and last fall, I asked the participants (priests, lay catechists, and deacons soon to be ordained priests) to state in ten declarative sentences the ten most important things they learned during the course. Their responses are the source of the list which follows. The list presumes the basic catechism issues; I asked for things learned during the course. It is simply a list of areas where other dedicated catechists such as yourselves have found a shift in their thinking after a semester of praying, reading, reflecting, and talking about the eucharist.

Reading the conclusions without the course might be confusing, but I hope that this danger is balanced by the potential usefulness of the list to stimulate your thinking and to compare your thinking and teaching with that of the other catechists in your discussion group. [Before reading further, you might want to make a list for yourself: what would you want to learn from a course on the eucharist? What would be the ten most important things you would want your students to learn from a course you might teach on the eucharist?]

For further information on these ten conclusions I would suggest reading The Christian Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist by Kenan Osborne (Paulist Press, 1987), and Eucharist: A Thanksgiving Celebration, by Leo Hay (Liturgical Press, Michael Glazier Books, 1989). These two books were studied by the catechists who suggested the ten statements in the article that follows.

1. Eucharist is the repeatable part of baptism.

I am pleased when this statement appears on the students' "Top Ten List" because it tells me that they are moving toward a more integrated view of sacramental theology. When I was catechized, the sacraments were presented to me in seven, distinct chapters of the catechism and I did not make much connection between them. Today's catechists present the sacraments in a more unified manner: Jesus in his humanity is the visible sacrament of the invisible God. The Church is the sacrament of the body of Christ. We become sacrament by Baptism-Confirmation-Eucharist. All "other" sacraments are an expression of this basic sacrament, "celebrations of God breaking through every moment of our lives" as Joseph Martos stated in the previous article in this series. To paraphrase Aidan Kavanagh, "eucharist is the repeatable part of what we do at baptism; baptism is the way we come to eucharist."

Baptism is the reason we go to Mass. Baptism is the door of the eucharist. We encounter baptismal water at the door of the parish church. In baptism I renounced "Satan", I renounced racism and sexism and exaggerated individualism, and I was born into Christ Jesus. Each time I approach the eucharist I renew that baptismal promise. As I come to the church for eucharist, I dip my hand in the baptismal water and renew those baptismal vows. Each time I get up and go to Holy Communion I give sign to the community that I am committed to all that the eucharist stands for — I am committed to "do this" in memory of Jesus — to live as he lived, to live no longer for myself but for his Body.

In baptism we are so identified with the Risen Christ that we can say with Paul "yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me." (Gal 2:20) Today it is Christ's body the Church which is the sacrament, the revelation of the loving plan of God. As the Second Vatican Council teaches in The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church article 48, "rising from the dead, Christ sent his life-giving Spirit upon his disciples and through this Spirit has established his body, the Church, as the universal sacrament of salvation."

2. Eucharist is not only Good Friday, but Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday.

We understand abstract theological ideas by way of images and metaphors. For many Catholics, Good Friday is the predominant image by which they understand the Mass. A typical catechism of my generation taught: "The Mass is the sacrifice of the New Law in which Christ, through the ministry of the priest, offers Himself to God in an unbloody manner under the appearances of bread and wine." The words "sacrifice," "priest," "offering," "blood" bring to mind the image of Good Friday. A large crucifix often dominated the space where eucharist was celebrated. The language we used to speak about the eucharist, "the sacrifice of the Mass," "to offer Mass," etc. came from the Good Friday motif.

Today's catechist is challenged to balance Good Friday, Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday. The challenge is to balance Good Friday, not to replace Good Friday. The Good Friday motif (and all it says about sacrifice, priesthood, expiation, etc.) must be balanced with Holy Thursday (and all it says about meal sharing, participation, communion, community, etc.) and Easter Sunday (and all it says about celebration, victory, body of Christ, etc.) I find that catechists differ in the amount of importance they give to these images: some graduate students and catechists give more weight to Good Friday to the exclusion of Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday; sometimes younger students and catechists explain eucharist principally in terms of Holy Thursday. Perhaps this is a result of their own catechetical formation. In any case, the task is to achieve a synthesis and a balance.

3. The Mass is a sacrifice because it is a meal.

Twenty years ago, when the images of Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday began to gain prominence in catechesis regarding the eucharist, there were many Catholics who worried that we were loosing Good Friday. Some looked upon "Mass as a meal" as replacing "Mass as sacrifice." However, this is not an "either / or" situation. The sacramental sign (the external, visible element) which we celebrate is a meal. The meal is the sign of the sacrifice.

I never thought much about the "meal" aspect of the Mass (the Holy Thursday image) when I was a child. I remember that very few people received Holy Communion at weekday Masses, and on Sundays in my parish Holy Communion seemed to be reserved for special groups who went to Communion once a month (the Holy Name Society on one Sunday and the Altar Society on another). But because Good Friday was the dominant (and nearly exclusive) image out of which I understood the Mass, the number of people going to Communion was not an issue. After all, no one went to Communion on that first Good Friday on Calvary! My devotion to the Sacrament was shaped by the image of kneeling at the foot of the cross, gazing at the sacrifice of Jesus, and expressing gratitude for so great a love and sorrow for sins which caused so great a suffering.

4. The Eucharist is more verb than noun.

When the emphasis of the catechesis moves from the static elements of bread and wine to the mysteries of Good Friday, Holy Thursday, and Easter Sunday, eucharist will be understood in a more active, dynamic way. Eucharist will be seen to be "more verb than noun." This is consistent with developments in other areas of catechesis where, for example, grace is explained in a more active way (the constant and amazing love of the Creator for Creation) rather than in a quantitative sense (e.g. some thing or object given by the Sacraments.) Again, more verb than noun.

5. The four movements of the Mass are the model for all sacramental celebrations.

Different teachers have different ways of outline things to make them understandable and memorable to their students. There are, of course, many different ways to outline the structure of the eucharist. Perhaps the very nature of the celebration indicates that a "perfect" outline is impossible to achieve; for example, how would you outline a birthday party? or Thanksgiving dinner at Grandmother's?

In order to make the Mass understandable and memorable to our students we each find some way to outline the celebration. At the turn of the century the Mass was described as "the words of consecration with prayers before and after." When I was a child I learned that the principle parts of the Mass were "offertory, consecration and communion." ( I was never told that the gathering rites and the proclamation of the word of God were unimportant; but I was taught that to miss them on Sunday when coming late was "only a venial sin" and as a child I was given the impression that venial sins were not very important. And I transferred that "unimportance" to the beginning of the eucharist.) In the years following the Second Vatican Council I found catechists speaking of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, with introductory rites. I taught that way myself.

Now I prefer a four part structure: Gathering, Story Telling, Meal Sharing, Commissioning. I use this outline for several reasons: 1) the words are words anyone can understand; this outline does not require a specifically religious vocabulary; 2) the descriptive titles move toward "action categories" and verbs rather than nouns; 3) the outline reflects the "modes of presence" as taught by the Council (e.g. The Constitution on the Liturgy, 7): Christ is present in the gathered assembly, in the proclaimed word, in the shared meal, and in the world; and 4) I find this to be the division used in the Emmaus story: they came together on the road, told their story, shared their meal, and dashed back to tell the other disciples.

This outline (Gathering, Story Telling, Meal Sharing, Commissioning) is simple enough for catechesis to non-Catholics and Catholics alike, without oversimplifying the mystery of the Church's action. Furthermore, this four-fold structure is the model for each of our sacramental celebrations, marriage, anointing, reconciliation, etc. We gather; tell our Christian story; in response to that story we celebrate our sacramental action; and we return to the world strengthened, refreshed, empowered. The eucharist is the "model" sacrament not only theologically, but also liturgically.

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6. Real presence is experienced in various ways.

When I was catechized, Christ's real presence in the consecrated Bread was emphasized so strongly that I considered it to be the only real presence. It was only with some difficulty that I have been able to assimilate the teaching of the Second Vatican Council:

To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in his Church, especially in its liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of his minister, "the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross," but especially under the eucharistic elements. By his power he is present in the sacraments, so that when anybody baptizes it is really Christ himself who baptizes. He is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for he promised: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt 18:20). (Constitution on the Liturgy, #7)

One of the effects of a contemporary course on the eucharist is to broaden the understanding of real presence to embrace the real presence in the assembly and the word.

A parallel issue is the "who" of the presence. We all learn about the historical Jesus, the risen Christ, the mystical body of Christ, the second person of the trinity, the eucharistic body of Christ. We do not always learn how to put these ideas together so that there is one Lord, one Savior. I find that catechists often have a special difficulty in finding a unity between the mystical body and the eucharistic body.

When St. Paul experienced the risen Lord at his conversion, he experienced a Christ who was so identified with us that to persecute the Christians was to persecute Christ. "I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' I replied, ‘Who are you, sir?' And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.'" (Acts 22:7-8) The experience revealed to Paul that Christ cannot be separated from his members. The risen Lord is so united to the Christian that what we do to one another, we do to Christ.

This was the very point that was at issue in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, the earliest written account we have of the Last Supper. "When you meet in one place then, it is not to eat the Lord's supper, for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk. Do you not have houses in which you can eat and drink? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and make those who have nothing feel ashamed? What can I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this matter I do not praise you." (1 Cor 11:20-22)

Paul reproaches the Corinthians for celebrating the eucharist without recognizing the body of Christ. They were trying to remember Christ without remembering his Body, which necessarily includes the poor and the "unacceptable." They wanted to celebrate the "head" without the "body" — a risen and glorified "sacramental" Christ separated from his actual body now. It is easy to lose sight of this relation: risen Christ - mystical body - eucharistic presence. The eucharist is a celebration not merely of Real Presence, but a celebration of Real Presence which brings about unity and reconciliation in the whole body. It seems that Christians of every age need to be reminded of the relationship between eucharist and the Easter experience of the risen Lord who is one with his followers.

7. The eucharistic prayers have a common structure.

I spend a large portion of the eucharist course reading and analyzing with the students a large variety of eucharistic prayers from different historical periods and from different geographical areas, rites and churches. (For example, we read Jasper and Cuming's Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed, Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1987.) The ancient axiom "Lex orandi legem credendi constituit" ("The way we pray reveals what we believe") indicates to me that the most important place to go to find out what we believe about the eucharist is to look at how we pray eucharist, especially, what we pray in the eucharistic prayer (i.e. the prayer which begins with the dialogue "The Lord be with you... Lift up your hearts..." and continues through the doxology "Through him, with him, in him..." and the great Amen. Or, to put it another way, the eucharistic prayer follows the preparation of the gifts and continues until the Lord's Prayer and its invitation.)

The eucharistic prayer, like all liturgical prayer, is the prayer of the Church, the body of Christ; it is the prayer of Christ to God in the Spirit. The shape of the eucharistic prayer is rooted in the Hebrew prayer form Berakah (blessing): 1) we invoke the divinity; 2) we grateful remember what God has done for us; and 3) we make our petition.

In the eucharistic prayers we come into the presence of God (Preface. Latin: pre+facies = before the face) and with praise and thanksgiving (Greek: eucharist) we remember (Greek: anamnesis) all that God has done for us, especially all God has done for us in Jesus. We remember what he did for us on the night before he died; we proclaim his death; we await his return in glory and we petition. We invoke (Greek: epiclesis) the Holy Spirit and ask that the bread and wine be changed into the Body and Blood of Christ so that we who eat the bread and drink the cup may become one. Then we make other petitions: for the church, for the dead, for ourselves. We ask for the intercession of the saints. And we offer God praise and glory (Greek: doxa) in the final doxology: "Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever. Amen."

This pattern emerges from the study of the history of the eucharistic prayer; it is the pattern that was used in the composition of the new prayers which have been approved for our use.

8. The principal petition at every eucharist is for unity.

Although the words vary from prayer to prayer, in each of the eucharistic prayers we petition God to "let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ." Then we petition "may all who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit." We ask God to send the Spirit to do two things: 1) to transform the bread and wine so that, 2) we who eat the bread and drink the cup may become one body. These two petitions go together: transformation of the elements and transformation of the communicants. "Look upon this sacrifice which you have given to your Church; and by your Holy Spirit, gather all who share this one bread and one cup into the body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise." (Eucharistic Prayer IV) "Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ." (Eucharistic Prayer III)

In the past catechesis on the eucharist sometimes stopped short with the first petition; it went only "half way." For example when I was first catechized, my devotion focused on the first transformation, the change of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. The transformation of the Christians into Christ did not receive the same importance in my understanding or in my prayer. This second transformation is the purpose for the first: Christ becomes really present in the eucharist so that we may really become his Body.

In the eucharistic prayers of the Eastern Rites the two petitions are often found together in one place and are considered one. The Spirit changes the bread and wine--and those who eat and drink--into the body of Christ. In the composition of some prayers we currently use in the Roman Rite (for example, Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV), the epiclesis has been "split" by the insertion of the narrative of the institution between the two petitions. It may be more "logical" chronologically for the western mind to ask the Spirit to change the bread and wine, then ask God to remember the Last Supper, and then to pray that we who join in that supper become one body; but the separation of the two petitions in our praying can lead to the separation of the two petitions in our thinking. The Mass is more than the change of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ (transubstantiation). Christ prays not only that the bread be changed but that we be changed, that we become one, one body healed of all division.

"Dangers of the Split Epiclesis" will probably not appear as one of the chapter titles in the lesson plan you use to prepare children for First Holy Communion, but the issue has important, practical implications in the devotion of Catholics. I feel that the split epiclesis (and the emphasis on the first petition to the neglect of the second) is one of the reasons why some Catholics do not appreciate the difference between eucharist and a "communion service." After all, in both they receive a consecrated host; and the communion service is shorter and more efficient (and "doesn't need a priest").

When choosing music and acclamations for the eucharistic prayer, I am careful to use those which make it clear that the principle petition at every eucharist is for unity. I look to see if the music gives more prominence to the petition to change the gifts than it gives to the petition for unity.

9. The eucharistic prayer is our principle creed.

One result of the eucharist course is that students come to see that the eucharistic prayer is more than a "consecration formula." The prayers of the Mass, and in particular the eucharistic prayer, are the most eloquent expression of what we believe about the eucharist, and indeed, what we believe about ourselves, our Church and our God. The principle Lex orandi indicates that this central prayer of our Church reveals who we are as a Christian people. We, the baptized, are the body of Christ and never more body of Christ than when we are doing eucharist. Doing eucharist we celebrate the body we know ourselves to be. As St. Augustine reminded his fourth-century parish: "If then you are the body of Christ and his members, it is your sacrament that reposes on the altar of the Lord. ... Be what you see and receive what you are" (Sermon 272). "There you are on the table, and there you are in the chalice" (Sermon 229). If these words of St. Augustine seem new or strange, it might indicate that the eucharistic prayer is not seen as our principle creed.

10. Eucharist is the primary sacrament of reconciliation.

Many Catholic Christians find that thinking of the eucharist as the primary sacrament of reconciliation is something "new" but this understanding is as old as the Gospels: "While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.' Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for many for the forgiveness of sins.'" (Matthew 26:26-28)

St. Thomas Aquinas taught in his Summa (III,79,3) "Considered in itself, the eucharist has the power to remit all sins, and derives this power from the passion of Christ which is the source and cause of the remission of sins." Contemporary authors are again bringing this aspect of eucharist to our attention: "It is evident that the eucharist is seen as a great moment of reconciliation.... Indeed, the eucharist, next to Jesus and the Church is the sacrament of reconciliation, not the sacrament of penance, not even the sacrament of baptism. The eucharist, because of the centrality of Jesus, must be seen as the sacrament of reconciliation." (Osborne, p 171) "There is no indication in more than a thousand years of the Church's history that the eucharist could indeed forgive venial sins but only the sacrament of penance could forgive mortal sins." (Hay, p 87) The teaching of the Council of Trent (November 1551) on integral confession, "Those who have mortal sin on their conscience, no matter how contrite they may think they are, must necessarily make a sacramental confession before receiving the eucharist, provided that they have access to a confessor" (Denzinger 893), has been taught so effectively that most Catholics first think of confession, the sacrament of penance, as the sacrament of reconciliation, not eucharist.

Perhaps the connection between the eucharist and the forgiveness of sins was hidden when the Mass was in Latin; but now Catholics hear and pray, Sunday after Sunday, "May almighty God ... forgive us our sins." (Penitential Rite) "You take away the sin of the world: have mercy on us." (Glory to God) "Though we are sinners, we trust in your mercy and love. Do not consider what we truly deserve, but grant us your forgiveness." (Eucharistic Prayer I) "Our Father . . . forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." (Lord's Prayer) "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world . . . . Lord, I am not worthy . . . but only say the word and I shall be healed." (Invitation to Communion). And at the heart of each and every eucharistic prayer in the institution narrative we hear Christ's command to "Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven." These are only a few of many references to the forgiveness of sins at eucharist. And indeed, when sin is seen as a rupture in our love relation with God, the way a rupture is restored is by Communion (union+with). This is another implication of the conclusion mentioned previously: the principle petition at every eucharist is for unity.


As a teacher I find it informative to hear what students have learned during a course and to compare their statements with what I thought I had taught! As I look at this list of "Ten Things I Learned about the Mass" I realize first of all that it is simply that: a list of things that one particular group of graduate students considered their new learning. But more than that, I see in this list a compendium of the key points of development in current eucharistic theology. I hope that these ten statements might stimulate your own reflection and theological discussion with your peers. I hope that they can also serve as a means to enrich your experience of the eucharist so that you might be strengthened and empowered to hand on the mystery of faith to the generations to come.

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FDLC Address October 19 2002

Eucharist and Communion: Liturgical Issues Involved for Religious Education and Catechesis

My task this morning is relatively simple. You are catechists who teach about the Eucharist and I presume that you want to perform this ministry as well as you can. In the next hour I hope that I can help you in your ministry. In preparation for this talk I reviewed the books that were in use when I was first learned about the Eucharist, [Father McGuire's The New Baltimore Catechism and Mass, No. 2, Benziger Brothers, Inc., 1953 and the adult version that was used for "converts" Father Smith Instructs Jackson, by Rev. John Francis Noll, D.D., LL.D. and Rev. Lester J. Fallon, C.M., S.T.D., Our Sunday Visitor Press, 1948]. Then I compared these sources with my Eucharist notes on my website which I am using for the course on the Eucharist that I am currently teaching at Saint Meinrad School of Theology. Among the many differences I found, I have selected the following ten as the most significant for teaching about the liturgical issues involved in Eucharist and Communion.

1. Lex Orandi: Catechesis Starts with the Experience of the Eucharist

Lex orandi legem credendi constituit. The way we pray determines belief. This axiom which played such an important role in the early Church is once again dear to the heart of contemporary liturgists and catechists. We start with our experience of Eucharist. And we all realize that the way we pray the Eucharist has changed radically in the past 50 years. This different experience of Eucharist leads to a different theology of Eucharist.

It was not until I had the opportunity to study liturgy from a non-Roman perspective at the Saint Ephrem Ecumenical Research Institute in Kerala (India) that I began to realize how much our Western theology has been shaped by Greek philosophy and Roman legal systems. Starting with the experience of Eucharist is a different starting point than starting with a scholastic, philosophical understanding of the essence of the sacrament.

2. Eucharist Is the First Sacrament: Not Merely One of the Seven

The Baltimore Catechism asks: "How many sacraments are there? The answer is: "There are seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders, and Matrimony." (Question 305) And when Mr. Jackson asks Fr. Smith "How many Sacraments did Christ institute?" he receives the identical answer. (Instruction 31)

At home in Tell City, I have seven pairs of shoes – some for work, some for play, some for Mass, some for the garden. I store them away in seven shoe boxes in my closet. They are all "shoes"; they all go on my feet; they all have a "left" and a "right," but other than that they have little to do with one another. I wear one pair and then put them away and wear another pair.

I learned (and taught) sacraments in much the same way – seven sacraments, each in its own box; I got one out when I wanted to teach it or administer it and then put it back. They had little to do with one another.

Now I work out of a different metaphor. Have you ever dropped a stone into a pond on a quiet evening and watched the ripples go out in ever larger concentric circles, seemingly? That is how I teach sacraments today.

A sacrament is a visible sign of the invisible God. Jesus is the most perfect, the first and the last, the Alpha and Omega, sacrament. As we pray at Mass at Christmas (again: lex orandi...) "In the wonder of the incarnation your eternal Word has brought to the eyes of faith a new and radiant vision of your glory. In him we see our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see." (Mass at Christmas, Preface I) In Jesus the invisible God became visible. "In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, ... who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being." (Hebrews 1:1-3a). "For in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily." (Col. 2:9) Jesus, in his humanity is the primal sacrament.

Christ, raised from the dead, breathed this sacramental Spirit into the Church: "On the evening of that first day of the week, ... Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you. ... As the Father has sent me, so I send you.'" (John 20:19-22) Thus the Church becomes the sacrament of the Risen Lord. As the Second Vatican Council teaches in the very first paragraph of the Constitution on the Church: "the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race." (Constitution on the Church, 1)

The Church is never more authentically and visibly "Church" than at Eucharist because the eucharist "is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church." (Constitution on the Liturgy, 2)

Eucharist is the first sacrament.  Start with the Eucharist. The Eucharist says it all. Each of the other sacraments is an aspect of the central, primal, eucharistic mystery. Liturgically, the Eucharist is the model of all the sacraments. The shape of the Eucharist (Gathering, Storytelling, Meal Sharing, Commissioning) is the model shape of every sacrament.

I find this theology of sacrament embedded in the very structure of the Constitution on the Liturgy: Chapter 1. The General Principles for the Reform and Promotion of the Sacred Liturgy; Chapter 2. The Most Sacred Mystery of the Eucharist; Chapter 3. The Other Sacraments and the Sacramentals; Chapter 4. Divine Office; Chapter 5. The Liturgical Year; Chapter 6. Sacred Music; Chapter 7. Sacred Art and Sacred Furnishings. Jesus - Church - Eucharist - Sacraments - Hours - Year - Music - Art - Every Created Thing: visible celebrations of the invisible God. Like a stone dropped into a still pond and the ripples go out to the farthest shore.

3. The Structure of the Eucharist: Gathering, Storytelling, Meal Sharing, Commissioning

One of the books we had to read at the Institut Superieur de Liturgie was Dom Gregory Dix' The Shape of the Liturgy (London: Dacre Press, 1945). I have been intrigued by the shape of the eucharist ever since.

At the turn of the last century, the Mass was described as "the words of consecration with prayers before and after." This definition was pretty much in harmony with my experience of the Mass in the years before the Council. Recall the emphasis given to this "moment": the choir stopped, the rosary stopped, the servers moved, the bells rang, the priest assumed a new, more solemn and mysterious posture and tone of voice, etc.

This "moment" expanded a bit when in school I learned that the "essential" parts of the Mass were, "offertory, consecration and communion." To miss one of these on a Sunday was "mortal sin" and (by implication) to miss everything up to the "offertory" was merely a venial sin. Note what this says about the importance of the scripture reading. One could miss the scripture reading every Sunday for your whole life and it would be "only a venial sin."

The Second Vatican Council spoke of the Eucharist as having two parts: Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist – with introductory and concluding rites. We are to "be instructed by God's word and be nourished at the table of the Lord's body." (Constitution on the Liturgy, 48) "The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God's word. (Constitution on the Liturgy, 51) In the following years we learned that the "introductory" rites are more than "introductory" – their purpose is to gather the assembly into one Body. And the dismissal is more than "Goodbye."

I teach that the eucharist has a four-fold shape: Gathering, Storytelling, Meal Sharing, Commissioning. I have explained the reasons for this decision and the studied choice of these words in a article in Catechist. ("Liturgy and Life: Ten Things I Learned About The Mass," Catechist, 27:3 [November/December 1993], pp 42-47.) In brief: I looked for words that are used in common English that can be understood by ordinary contemporary, people (i.e. non-theologian types) and I tried as best I could to use verbs rather than nouns.

I stole the fourfold shape from one of my favorite catechists, Luke . When Luke explains the structure of the Eucharist in the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I find that they 1) gathered (the stranger caught up with them), 2) they told their story, 3) they shared their meal, and transformed by that encounter, 4) "they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them. ... Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread" (Luke 24:33-35). Gathering, Storytelling, Meal Sharing, Commissioning.

I find confirmation for this four fold shape in the teachings of the Fathers of the Church, e.g. in Justin Martyr, and in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, e.g. when speaking of the modes of the presence of Christ in the Church: presence in the assembly "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt 18:20); presence in the word "since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church;" (Constitution on the Liturgy, 7) presence at the meal under the eucharistic elements; and presence in the world.

But even closer to the lived experience of most Americans is the structure of Thanksgiving Dinner – perhaps our best secular model of the shape of the Eucharist. 1) The family gathers; 2) we tell our stories; 3) we move to the table, pray, eat and drink; and 4) take our leave and return to our homes. This is the image I use in the Catholic Update and the video "Walk Through the Mass."

As the Eucharist is the "model" sacrament, I teach that these same movements shape the liturgical celebrations for all of the sacraments: baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, marriages, anointings, and even the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

4. Berakah: The Grace Before the Meal Has a BRK Shape

When we sit down to eat, we first say grace. The Eucharistic Prayer fulfills this role at the Eucharistic Meal. The prayer is our principle source of Eucharistic Theology.

Some time ago, someone asked me "What is the most important new thing you have learned in your study of theology in the past 10 years?" I replied: "That Jesus was a Jew." The cultural origins of Jesus, the fact that he was born in Asia, not Europe, played little role in the theology I studied in school. The implications of the fact that Christianity has Hebrew roots came late to my theological understanding.

As Jesus was a Jew, he would have prayed Jewish prayers. The berakah shape of praying with which he would have been familiar is the shape of the central prayer not only of the Eucharist but of each of the sacraments. When I teach courses on the eucharist or give workshops or retreats on the eucharist I now make the analysis of the eucharistic prayer the center piece of my presentation.

When I explain "Berakah" I make sure that they understand that it is a shape, a literary form. I describe it as having three parts. We 1) name God 2) gratefully recall all that he has done for us 3) petition for the gift of the Holy Spirit. When expressed in Hebrew and Greek terms the berakah shape with its naming, remembering (anamnesis), and petition (epiclesis) can seem strange and esoteric but actually it is quite simple and ordinary. It is what a teenager might say to his dad on a Saturday night: "Dad, you are the best dad a guy could ever have. You work so hard for us all week. You probably want to stay home tonight and watch television. Can I have the keys to the car?" This is a simple example of the berakah shape: naming, remembering, petitioning.

This berakah shape is a key to understanding the meaning of the eucharistic prayer, and indeed the meaning of the eucharist. When I am presenting this material during graduate courses on the eucharist, when I am presenting this material in retreat talks or a liturgical workshop, when I am presenting this material in high school and grade school, I begin with an analysis of the eucharistic prayer.

I first explain that, from looking at the history of the prayers that have been used over the centuries, we can conclude that the Eucharistic prayer is the prayer of Christ addressed to God; it is public prayer; it is a prayer with different roles; it is prayer led by the presiding minister; it is a dialogical prayer; it is one unified prayer; the entire prayer is consecratory; and most important: it is a creed, a statement of faith.

Then I distribute copies of the currently approved eucharistic prayers. I start with Eucharistic Prayer III and ask the participants to follow along as I walk them through the various elements of the berakah structure. I identify the dialogue, preface, pre-Sanctus, Sanctus, Vere Sanctus, anamnesis of Holy Thursday / Good Friday / Easter Sunday, the offertory, the epiclesis, the other intercessions, the doxology, and the Great Amen. I then ask them, working in groups, to identify the various elements of the berakah in Prayers II, IV, and I. I think it is an important exercise. In order to participate in the prayer intelligently one needs to know when it is time to thank, when it is time to remember, when it is time to petition.

5. Anamnesis: We Remember God's Eternal Self-offering in the Word

In the eucharistic prayer we ask God to remember the great events for our salvation which culminated in the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In remembering these events we pass from our ordinary, chronological time of past, present, future and enter the "acceptable time" in which this transitus of Jesus to the Father is eternally present. The Holy Spirit enables our sharing in the sacred meal to be an icon through which we become present to this transitus and are taken up into it. Thus the eucharist enables us to be present to the once and for all unrepeatable events of our salvation.

I no longer think of the Mass as "repeating Calvary or even making Calvary present on the altar." Anamnesis enables us to be present to the once and for all event. I think this language is preferable to "making the even present to us" and much more preferable to "repeating Calvary" in an unbloody manner. I find that it help students to understand anamnesis by exploring the role of remembering in an oral culture.

And what is it we remember? Not just the Last Supper, or Calvary. We remember the entire Christ event: all God did to save us. This is why the Story Telling is so important; without familiarity with the story, we have nothing to remember.

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6. Epiclesis: the Holy Spirit Makes Us the One Body of Christ

An important result of the analysis of the eucharistic prayer is the rediscovery of the role of the Holy Spirit. The petition of each eucharistic prayer is to ask God to send the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ so that we who eat and drink the body and blood of Christ may be changed into his Body.

I first present the Epiclesis united [its original form] and then show why and how [for pastoral reasons] it has been split in our Roman prayers. As an exercise, I then have the participants un-split the Epiclesis and examine how the prayer would read when the two haves are joined. For example: "We ask you to make [the bread and wine] holy by the power of your Spirit, that they may become the body and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose command we celebrate this eucharist. ... Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ." (Eucharistic Prayer III) Or: "Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. … May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit." (Eucharistic Prayer II)

One of the results of this exercise is seeing Eucharist as reconciliation. For the great majority of good practicing Catholics, the Eucharist is the primary, ordinary, and usual sacrament of Reconciliation. At each Eucharist we ask the Holy Spirit forgive our sins by making us one with Christ and one another, one Body healed of all division.

7. The Theology of the Eucharist Is Best Understood in the Balance of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday

If the shape of the Eucharist is "gathering, story telling, meal sharing, commissioning," the theology of the Eucharist can best be understood by balancing three metaphors: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. A lot of books attempt to explain the Eucharist. In my opinion those that succeed balance meal, sacrifice, and body of Christ. (presence)

I use "Holy Thursday" as a metaphor for the "meal dimension of the Eucharist." The shape of the Eucharist is that of a Meal (with its gathering, story telling, bring the food to the table, saying grace, eating and drinking, and commissioning). I do not imply that Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper or that the Last Supper was the first Eucharist. While these statements can be understood, there are too many who understand them (and teach them) in a strictly historical sense that is not compatible with our Christian understanding of the Eucharist.

By "Good Friday" I refer to the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist.

By "Easter Sunday" I mean the Easter experience of the early Church that they were so identified with the risen Christ that what they did to one another they did to Christ, for they were one Body.

In our recent Catholic past, Good Friday dominated our understanding of Eucharist. "The Mass is the unbloody sacrifice of Calvary." At Mass I stand at the foot of the cross and adore as our Lord gives his life for my sins. This was the common understanding of the Eucharist as presented in the Baltimore Catechism. Our talk about the Mass was dominated by sacrificial terminology. "Priesthood," "altar," "sacrifice," "offering," are a part of the vocabulary of the Good Friday dimension of Eucharist. Once when I was speaking on the eucharist a woman asked during the question period, "Father, why are we singing all those happy songs while Jesus is dying on the cross." Today's catechetical task is to recover the balance with Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday.

When I was a child I never thought much about the "meal" aspect of the Mass. I knew the Holy Thursday story and many a morning, as a server, I knelt and stared at the carving of the Last Supper on the front of the high altar of Saint Anthony Church in Wichita, Kansas. But in my head the Mass was certainly more Good Friday than it was Holy Thursday. Perhaps it was because the food was so meager. The host was small. I never thought of it as bread. And no one drank from the cup. In fact, very few of us went to communion at all! The host was to be seen and adored, not eaten.

8. Holy Thursday: the Shape of the Eucharist Is That of a Meal"

I think it is important to stress the fact that the shape of the eucharist is that of a meal. I find that still today many Catholics consider Holy Communion as something "added on" to the Sacrifice of the Mass. Most Catholics think of "going to Communion" as their individual reception of the host – rather than sharing a meal.

First of all in relating the eucharist to Holy Thursday we must emphasis that this is a theological connection not a historic one. Too many people teach that "Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the last supper or that the last supper was the first Mass". There is a way in which these sentences can be understood but there are those who present them as historical facts.

Second, I do not believe that all Catholics, or even most, have shifted their thinking about the Mass from an individual act to a collective act. The Lex Orandi reminds us that the Eucharist a "we" (collective, plural) action. Sharing a meal is much more than simply "eating." The eucharist is much more than simply "receiving Communion." The theology has shifted from an individual action to a communal action; from eating to sharing a meal; from receiving Holy Communion to celebrating the Eucharist; from receiving something to giving something: thanks and praise.

This is an area where the lex orandi needs further development. As the shape of the eucharistic sacrifice is that of a meal, everything possible should be done to make the celebration more "meal-like." Bread should look and taste like real bread. The wine should be good wine. And there should be lots of both! Important symbols are the one loaf of bread and the one cup of wine. It is important that each communicant experience the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the one loaf. The posture and movement of the congregation should point to the fact that we are eating and drinking together at a meal.

The rubrics clearly state that: "The sign of communion is more complete when given under both kinds, since in that form the sign of the eucharistic meal appears more clearly. The intention of Christ that the new and eternal covenant be ratified in his blood is better expressed, as is the relation of the eucharistic banquet to the heavenly banquet." (General Instruction on the Roman Missal 1975, #240)

"The nature of the sign demands that the material for the eucharistic celebration appear as actual food. The eucharistic bread, even though unleavened and traditional in form, should therefore be made in such a way that the priest can break it and distribute the parts to at least some of the faithful. When the number of communicants is large or other pastoral needs require it, small hosts may be used. The gesture of breaking of the bread, as the eucharist was called in apostolic times, will more clearly show the eucharist as a sign of unity and charity, since the one bread is being distributed among the members of one family." ( #283 )

Why is it that we are so concerned about one part of this directive (the ingredients of the bread recipe) and so unconcerned about the main part of the directive "that the material for the eucharistic celebration appear as actual food"?

9. Good Friday: Sacrifice as "Joyful Union with God"

The issue is not whether the Mass is a sacrifice or a meal. Sacrifice is best understood biblically as "joyful union with God". It is on the cross that we see this union of Jesus of Nazareth and the will of his Heavenly Father graphically demonstrated. We celebrate this union in the sacred meal, Holy Communion, communion with one another, the Church, the risen Christ and the Trinity. Eating and drinking together is the sign and the reality of our divinization.

The question to ask is not whether the mass is a sacrifice or a meal. The two are intimately connected as sacrament and reality. Meal is to sacrifice as sign is to signified – as sacrament is to reality. The meal is the sign of the sacrifice. In our eating together and the sharing of the meal we achieve the end of sacrifice, joyful union with God.

To approach sacrifice from the perspective of "death of the victim" leads to the false quest for finding the symbolic death of Jesus in the eucharist for example in the fact that the bread is the Lord's body, the wine his blood; the body and the blood are separated and thus Jesus is dead; ergo, sacrifice. Or in the theory that the death of Jesus is seen in the breaking of the bread and the breaking becomes a symbol of death rather than a symbol of the sharing of communion.

10. Easter Sunday: The Assembly Is the Primary Symbol

If it has taken us some time to recover the Holy Thursday metaphor, Easter Sunday has had an even more difficult time. I believe that this is a result of the split epiclesis and the tendency to stop short with the first half of the epiclesis (the change of the bread and wine) and not continue to the full epiclesis (the change of the people). But more importantly it is a result of the fact that it is simply easier to love Jesus than to love our neighbor! St. Paul, who is perhaps the first Christian who tried to explain what Eucharist means, was convinced that we, who are baptized into Christ, are the Body of Christ. It is this Body that is present in the Eucharist. Whoever worships the glorified Christ in heaven without similar reverence for the members of his Body here on earth "eats and drinks judgment" on themselves (1 Corinthians 11:29). Paul tells the Corinthians, "I hear that when you meet... it is not to eat the Lord's supper, for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk... Do you show contempt for the church of God and make those who have nothing feel ashamed? What can I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this matter I do not praise you." (1 Corinthians 11:18-22).

No doubt Paul's conversion experience played a major role in his understanding of the Eucharist. He tells us how one day on the road to Damascus, he "fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me." (Acts 9:4-5) The experience revealed to Paul that the Risen Lord is so united to the Christian that what we do to one another, we do to Christ himself.

Paul reproaches the Corinthians for celebrating the Eucharist without recognizing the Body of Christ – the poor who go hungry while the rich get drunk. His criticism of their Eucharistic devotion is not directed toward some rubric, or toward the songs they were singing, or whether they received communion standing up or kneeling down – or any of the issues that might disturb some Catholics today – the issue was much more important. They were trying to remember Christ without remembering his Body, which necessarily includes the poor and the "unacceptable." They wanted to celebrate the "head" without the "body" – a risen and glorified "sacramental" Christ separated from his actual Body, here and now. Paul's experience at his conversion had convinced him that the Risen Lord is so identified with the disciples that they cannot be separated.

This Easter Sunday dimension of Eucharist is sometimes neglected in our teaching and preaching about the Mass. St. Augustine reminded his fourth-century parish that: "If then you are the body of Christ and his members, it is your sacrament that reposes on the altar of the Lord.... Be what you see and receive what you are." (Sermon 272) "There you are on the table, and there you are in the chalice". (Sermon 229) If these words seem new or strange, it may be an indication that "Easter Sunday" dimension of the Eucharist has not yet been fully integrated into our understanding of the Mass.

The rediscovery of the Easter Sunday dimension of the Eucharist moves the emphasis from the bread and wine to the assembly. The primary change takes place in the assembly. The ultimate test – the final exam, if you will – of our understanding of the eucharist is not whether or not we can explain transubstantiation, but wither or not we love – love one another, ourselves, creation, and yes, even our enemies. "As long as you did it to one of these... you did it to me..."

When we hear the command "Do this in memory of me" we are asked to make the same offering – the same sacrifice – that Jesus made: To live as he lived, to live the same life of Spirit-filled generosity, that we ourselves become sacraments of unity and ambassadors of reconciliation.

That we become that presence of the God of Love who embraces all God's children, a God before whom no one can strike out.  The abused or damaged are not rejected or discarded but embraced, held to the breast as a mother embraces her new born enfant. "This is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. This is my body." This is the Communio that is the fruit of the Eucharist.

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To Think About

1.  Kennan Osborne in Sacramental Guidelines (page 71) asked the following question.  If as the Vatican Council states the Eucharist is the summit and source of the churches life (Lumengencian, 11)  How can this be true when in the lives of most Catholics the eucharist means about one hour weekly and a late Saturday afternoon or on a Sunday.  How would you answer such a question?

2.  Vatican II speaks of the ministry of Jesus as profit priest and king.  "Teaching and preaching the kingdom of god was the major mission and ministry of Jesus himself, and therefore the major mission of ministry of his following (Osborne page 72).  What implications does this statement have for the structuring of the eucharist and the role of the Priest presiding.

3.  Have you learned anything new about teaching the Eucharist? Would you be able to critique a traditional presentation?

4.  Regarding the treatment of the Eucharist, how does the Catechism of the Catholic Church differ from the Catechism of Trent?  From the Baltimore Catechism?  What do you think will be changed in the next Universal Catholic Catechism?

5.  Outline a one hour presentation on the Eucharist that you might give to a group of catechumens.

6.  Critique the presentation of the Eucharist in Catechism of the Catholic Church:  Read the following two sections in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The Celebration of the Christian Mystery," nn 1066-1209; and "The Sacrament of the Eucharist," nn 1212-1419. Examine the sources (footnotes) of the presentation and answer the following four sets of questions in the light of your study of the history of eucharistic theology [i.e. = this course]:

7a.  Scripture references: What theology of the eucharist emerges from these sources? Which passages of Scripture are quoted? Is Scripture used to "prove" the text of the Catechism? Are the passages used in harmony with what you have learned of their meaning in your Scripture courses?

7b.  Citations from the Early Church Writings: What theology of the eucharist emerges from these sources? Are the sources used in harmony with the author's meaning or are they cited to solve problems the author had not envisioned? What do these authors say about real presence? sacrifice?

7c.  Citations from the Council of Trent and Canon Law: What theology of the eucharist emerges from these sources? Which liturgical, theological, and eucharistic topics are most supported by these citations? Which sections of the Catechism uses these sources less frequently? Compare/contrast these sections of the Catechism with those which rely more heavily on the Second Vatican Council. What do these authors say about real presence? sacrifice? How do these authors balance meal/sacrifice? Holy Thursday / Good Friday / Easter Sunday? Eucharist as action, eucharist as object? Which aspects of current eucharistic understanding are not found in these citations?

7d.  Citations from the Documents of the Second Vatican Council: What theology of the eucharist emerges from these sources? Which liturgical, theological, and eucharistic topics are most supported by these citations? Which sections of the Catechism uses these sources less frequently? Compare/contrast these sections of the Catechism with those which rely more heavily on the Council of Trent. What do these authors say about real presence? sacrifice? How do these authors balance meal/sacrifice? Holy Thursday / Good Friday / Easter Sunday? Eucharist as action, eucharist as object? Is the emphasis in the quotation the same as in the original text?

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter.  All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 03/20/15.  Your comments on this site are welcome at