Eucharist (yōˈkərĭst) [key] [Gr., = thanksgiving], Christian sacrament that repeats the action of Jesus at his last supper with his disciples, when he gave them bread, saying, "This is my body," and wine, saying, "This is my blood." (Mat. 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; 1 Cor. 11.) Partaking is called communion. For Roman Catholics the sacrament is a bloodless reenactment of the crucifixion and therefore an act of sacrifice, but Protestant Christians reject the idea of the Eucharist as sacrifice. The performance is called the Eucharistic liturgy; the Roman and Anglo-Catholic liturgy is the Mass. The official Roman Catholic explanation of the change taking place in the sacrament, called transubstantiation, is that the substances of bread and wine are turned miraculously into the substance of Christ himself, the elements changed retaining only the appearance, taste, etc. (the accidents) of bread and wine. Catholic doctrine holds that the Godhead is indivisible so every particle or drop thus changed is wholly identical in substance with the divinity, body, and blood of the Crucified Savior. The views of the Orthodox Eastern Church are similar. The Anglican Church has not formally defined the sacrament. In receiving communion the Christian attains union with Jesus, and all who partake are mystically united. Traditionally in the Mass (but not in Eastern liturgies of the Roman Catholic Church) others than the celebrant received the Host only, a practice that arose from the difficulty of transport and storage of wine, and perhaps also because wine is more easily spilled and dropped than bread. In this communion in one kind the believer was held to receive the same divine whole as the celebrant, who receives both kinds at the altar. Communion in two kinds was restored in the Roman Catholic Church in the liturgical renewal proclaimed at the Second Vatican Council. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches set conditions for the reception of communion, which is a sign of membership; to be "in communion with" means mutual recognition of membership in the true church. Devotion to the Eucharist (the Blessed Sacrament) is important in the Roman Catholic Church. The object of the cult of the Blessed Sacrament is the Host reserved in churches (see benediction and Corpus Christi). Every leader of the Protestant Reformation attacked the traditional teaching of the Eucharist. For the communion services in many Protestant churches, see Lord's Supper.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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