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What is the Eucharist? - Definition & Overview

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 religion. We will also discuss the wide variety of views toward the Eucharist.

Introduction

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In the Christian religion the Eucharist is a sacrament dedicated to the remembrance of Jesus Christ's 'Last Supper'. This rite has a variety of different names among the various Christian denominations, including communion, Holy Communion, and the Lord's Supper. 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 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 host of theological views toward 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.

Background: Jesus Christ and the 'Last Supper'

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Before we dig any deeper into the theology surrounding the Eucharist, let's review the 'Last Supper.' Perhaps you are familiar with Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting The Last Supper.' According to the Bible, on the night before Christ was crucified he and his twelve disciples sat down and ate a meal of bread and wine. During the meal, Christ instructed his disciplines to eat and drink in his remembrance. I 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 mean to symbolize Christ's blood. Christians believe that Christ's death on the cross is the means whereby salvation is brought to the human race. Therefore, his death on the cross is imbibed with spiritual symbolism.

Different Methods and Styles Toward the Eucharist

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Within the Christian religion there are a host of views toward the Eucharist. There are a variety of names for this rite. Many liturgical Protestant churches (such as the Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and United Methodists) use the term 'Eucharist.' 'Communion' or Holy Communion' is typically used by Baptist churches. In the Roman Catholic Church the Eucharist is sometimes referred to as 'Mass,' although 'Mass' also means the entire church service. Whereas the Catholic Church and many liturgical Protestant churches use wine in the Eucharist, most Baptist churches use grape juice.

The method in which the Eucharist is administered also varies. Typically the bread is administered first, followed by the wine/grape juice. In some churches the bread and wine are consumed individually upon being received, while in other churches they are consumed collectively (where everyone consumes them at the same time upon receiving permission). Some churches administer the Eucharist by intinction. Intinction involves dipping the bread into the wine/grade juice before consuming. In some churches, members walk to the front to receive the Eucharist by the priest/minister, while in others the Eucharist is passed out to members sitting in pews. Some churches administer the Eucharist periodically, while others have it on a weekly basis. Again, as you can see, there is a wide variety of styles in which the Eucharist is administered.

Theological Views Toward the Eucharist

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