What part of speech is the word Eucharist?
Well, it is both a noun and a verb (of sorts). When used as a noun, it refers to the consecrated bread and wine that have become the Body and Blood of Christ. The “verb” usage comes to the fore when we talk about the celebration of the Eucharist, the liturgical service which we attend weekly. Does one usage have prominence over the other? I would like to think so, and I suggest that the verb use is the more important one. I say that because the consecrated bread and wine can only come from the action of celebrating the Eucharist. Bread and wine cannot be validly consecrated outside of the liturgical action of the Mass, and even not outside of the Eucharistic Prayer in which it is found. The consecrated hosts that are reserved in the tabernacle to bring to the sick and the dying, or used for adoration, are what they are because they were at first elements that were consecrated at a Mass. Eucharist means “thanksgiving,” or “giving thanks,” derived from a Greek word used in the New Testament. In the New Testament books of the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul, it is always the celebration of the Eucharist that is talked about. The noun usage (referring to the consecrated bread and wine) was first used in the 2nd century in a work by St. Justin Martyr. The consecrated bread and wine are a part of a “bigger picture,” the action of people gathering for worship in which the bread and wife offered to God become the body and blood of Christ. The Eucharistic revival that the U.S. bishops have begun should not only lead us to a renewed faith in the real presence of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine, but more importantly in a deeper appreciation of the liturgical action in which that transformation takes place. Separating too greatly the “noun “usage of Eucharist from the “verb” usage, which makes the noun usage possible, prevents us from understanding the “larger picture” of the Church’s belief about and the experience of the sacrament.
“If you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle telling the faithful, ‘You are the body of Christ...
In one of his sermons (preached sometime between 407 and 411 A.D.) to the newly-initiated Church members on Easter Sunday in the North African town of Hippo Regius, Bishop Augustine of Hippo reminded them about the connection between the sacrament of the Eucharist and the community of the Church: “If you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle [St. Paul] telling the faithful, ‘You are the body of Christ and its members. [This quote is from 1 Corinthians 12:27.] So, if it is you that are the body of Christ and its members, it is your own mystery that has been placed on the Lord’s table; what you receive is the mystery of yourself! It is to what you are that you reply, ‘Amen,’ and by so replying you express your assent. What you hear, you see, is ‘the body of Christ,’ and you answer, ‘Amen!” So be a member of the body of Christ, to make that ‘Amen’ true.” Later in the same sermon, Augustine puts it more succinctly when he says, “Be what you receive, and receive what you are!” In this sermon Augustine reminds his hearers that the same term, “the body of Christ,” refers to both the sacrament of the Eucharist and to the Church. The Church community is the body of Christ washed clean in his blood, (in the sacrament of baptism) and the body and blood of Christ received in the Eucharistic celebration strengthen the union created by baptism between Christ, us, and other Christians the Church. Thus, as a little jingle puts it, “The Church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the Church,” which is another way of restating Augustine’s “Be what you receive, and receive what you are!” These two meanings of the term, “the body of Christ,” remind us that our identity and unity as the body of Christ (the Church) are founded in the waters of baptism and strengthened through the celebration and reception of the Eucharist (the body and blood of Christ).
an inexhaustible fountain, an experience of spiritual unity and nourishment that never runs dry...
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) discusses the Eucharist as one of the 3 sacraments of initiation, along with Baptism and Confirmation. In #1322, the CCC teaches that the Eucharist “completes Christian initiation.” (In many parts of the world, including much of the United States, our Church still delays Confirmation until after reception of First Eucharist, creating a very bizarre contradiction between teaching and practice.) “Those who have been raised to the royal priesthood by Baptism and configured more deeply to Christ by Confirmation participate with the whole community in the Lord’s own sacrifice by means of the Eucharist.” (CCC, #1322). The CCC goes on to teach that the Eucharist is “’the source and summit of the Christian life’”, quoting the Constitution on the Church from the Second Vatican Council (#1324). The celebration of the Eucharist “is the sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being” (#1325). The Eucharistic celebration also unites the Church on earth “with the heavenly liturgy and anticipates eternal life, when God will be all in all” (#1326). Notice that the CCC first talks about the royal priesthood of the entire believing community that exists because of Baptism, and that the Eucharist is the means by which that royal priesthood is sustained, nourished, energized, and sent on mission. The CCC then goes on to comment on the various names given to the sacrament of the Eucharist: 1) Eucharist (because it is an action of thanksgiving to God, recalling the Jewish blessings “that proclaim – especially during a meal – God’s works: creation, redemption, and sanctification” (#1326); 2) The Lord’s Supper and the Breaking of Bread, recalling the two biblical bases of the sacrament (the Last Supper, and the meal at Emmaus in the Gospel according to Luke 24:13-35), as well as the Eucharistic assembly, “because the Eucharist is celebrated amid the assembly of the faithful, the visible expression of the Church” (#1329). Other names, such as the memorial of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection, the Holy Sacrifice, the Holy and Divine Liturgy, Holy Communion, and Holy Mass, are then briefly mentioned and commented upon (#s 1330-1332). These different names for the sacrament indicate that the Eucharistic celebration is indeed a sacred mystery – not an experience that we cannot at all understand, but an experience that is so rich and deep that any one or several names do not completely exhaust its meaning or significance. The example I like to use for such a “mystery” is that it is like looking into a locked room through a window in the door that allows us to see some, maybe most, but not all of what is in the room. We can see and know some of what is in the room, but there will always some areas and objects that cannot be seen. Other such “mysteries” in our faith are the Trinity, Christ himself, the Church, and the sacraments, to name a few – I would include the Bible as one of those “mysteries” as well. So the Eucharist is (to use another metaphor) an inexhaustible fountain, an experience of spiritual unity and nourishment that never runs dry for the royal priesthood of the baptized who celebrate it.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church talk about the many ways Christ is truly present...
The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes on to talk about the many ways in which Christ is truly present in his Church. These many ways include his Word (the Scriptures); in the Church’s liturgical prayer; in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned; in the sacraments; in the sacrifice of the Mass; in the person of the minister; and most especially in the Eucharistic species (CCC, #1373). This last-named presence is unique, and is called real – “by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presences as if they could not be ‘real,’ too” – but because the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic is presence is the fullest sense – a substantial presence by which Christ makes himself wholly and entirely present. (CCC, #1374) So, while we experience the real, substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharistic bread and wine, our Catholic faith reminds us of the other ways in which Christ is truly present in our individual lives, our community life as a Church, and in the world. Hopefully our experience of Christ’s substantial presence in the consecrated bread and wine help us become more aware of those other real presences of Christ in our world – especially at this time of the year!!
One of three ways to describe the Eucharistic celebration is thanksgiving and praise...
One of three ways to describe the Eucharistic celebration is thanksgiving and praise to God the Father. The meaning of the word Eucharist is first of all thanksgiving. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes this aspect of the Eucharist as a sacrifice of thanksgiving for creation. “The whole of creation loved by God is presented to the Father through the death and Resurrection of Christ.” (CCC, #1359) In the Eucharistic celebration the Church – through Christ – can offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for all that God has made good, beautiful, and just in creation and humanity. The Church expresses thanks to God for all his benefits, and for all he has accomplished through creation, redemption in and through Christ, and sanctification (growing in holiness) through the Holy Spirit. In the Eucharistic celebration the Church sings the glory of God in the name of all creation. Such praise is possible only through Christ, who unites the faithful to himself (his person, his praise, and his intercession) so that we offer this thanksgiving and praise through Christ and with him, and to be accepted in him. (See the CCC, #s 1359-1361). So our liturgical celebration of the Eucharist is an act of thanksgiving and praise from beginning to end. Most especially we give praise and thanks for the redemption brought by Christ to humanity and all of creation through his death and resurrection. So the Eucharistic Prayer, the prayer of thanksgiving and praise in our Mass, is the central action and the highlight of the Mass.
Another way to understand the Eucharistic celebration is as the memorial of Christ’s own sacrifice on the Cross.
Another way to understand the Eucharistic celebration is as the memorial of Christ’s own sacrifice on the Cross. In the Scriptures, a memorial is not just the mental recollection of events in the past, but the proclamation of the mighty deeds of God done by God for the human race. In a liturgical celebration, those past events, through the Holy Spirit, become present and real. (This is how Israel understands its yearly celebration of Passover. The events of the Exodus are not just recalled or remembered in the mind, but are made present to believers so that those celebrating may conform their lives to those events.) So, when we celebrate the Eucharist, we not only remember Christ’s own death and resurrection; they are made present – the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present. The Eucharistic celebration is a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross. But the Eucharistic celebration is not another or new sacrifice of Christ on the cross. As St. John Paul II wrote in one of his encyclicals, “The Mass makes present the sacrifice of the Cross; it does not add to that sacrifice nor does it multiply it.” As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the Cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit,” which will be the subject of a reflection later this year. The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church. The Body of Christ, washed clean in his Blood, participates in the offering of its head. “The lives of the faithful, their praises, sufferings, prayers, and work are united with those of Christ . . . and so acquire a new value.” (CCC, #1368)