What is the Eucharist? - Definition & Overview

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  • 0:04 The Eucharist
  • 0:51 The Last Supper
  • 2:00 Eucharist References
  • 2:24 Eucharist Approaches
  • 3:11 Transubstantiation
  • 3:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about the theological term, 'Eucharist.' We will learn what the Eucharist is, and what its place is in the Christian faith. We will also discuss the wide variety of views toward the Eucharist.

The Eucharist

The word 'Eucharist' is derived from the Greek word eucharistia, meaning 'thanksgiving.' This term originated in the 1st or 2nd century A.D. as early Christians commemorated Christ's Last Supper with thanksgiving. Christians participate in the Eucharist, also known as communion, Holy Communion, or the Lord's Supper, by eating a piece of bread, which represents Christ's body, and by drinking a small amount of wine (or in some cases grape juice), which represents Christ's blood. By eating and drinking the bread and wine, Christians commemorate Christ's 'Last Supper' and are reminded of his death on the cross.

There are a variety of theological views about the Eucharist, many of which are very abstract. While not all Christians agree on some of these theological particulars, the Eucharist is generally understood as a remembrance of Jesus Christ's crucifixion.

The Last Supper

Before we dig any deeper into the theology surrounding the Eucharist, let's review the Last Supper. Perhaps you're familiar with the famous painting The Last Supper', by Leonardo da Vinci.


According to the Bible, the night before Christ was crucified, he and his twelve apostles sat down and ate a meal of bread and wine. During the meal, Christ instructed his disciplines to eat and drink in his remembrance. Corinthians 11:23-26 describes this incident:

...that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, 'This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

The bread was meant to symbolize Christ's crucified body, while the wine was meant to symbolize Christ's blood. Christians believe that Christ's death on the cross is the means by which salvation is brought to the human race. Therefore, his death on the cross is imbibed with spiritual symbolism.

Eucharist References

Within the Christian religion there are a variety of ways for naming the Eucharist. Many liturgical Protestant churches (such as the Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and United Methodists) use the term 'Eucharist.' Baptist churches refer to the practice as 'Communion' or 'Holy Communion.' In the Roman Catholic Church, the Eucharist is sometimes referred to as 'Mass,' although Mass also means the entire church service.

Eucharist Approaches

The method by which the Eucharist is administered also varies. Typically, the bread is administered first, followed by the wine, with the Catholic church and many liturgical protestant churches using wine, and Baptist churches using grape juice. In some churches the bread and wine are consumed individually upon being received, while in other churches they're consumed collectively, where everyone consumes them at the same time upon receiving permission.

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