The centrality of Eucharist to Catholic life can’t be overemphasized. It’s “the source and summit” of Christian life. (Lumen Gentium, no.11) This means our life as disciples begins at the Table of the Lord and always returns here.
Eucharist means thanksgiving. Eucharist refers to the ritual of the Mass as a whole, or is shorthand for the Body and Blood of Christ we share in communion. The term reminds us that what brings us together is gratitude. What are we grateful for? The mystery of Christ who has died, is risen, and will come again in glory. This past/present/future reality of Christ includes us in its magnificent unfolding. We’re not bystanders at a miracle, but participants in a never-ending feast.
Like many of our Protestant sisters and brothers, Catholics celebrate Eucharist as a memorial of the last supper Jesus shared with his friends. However, we also believe this sacrament renews the sacrifice Jesus makes of his life expressed in his words: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body… Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood….” What was, now is. Our participation in this supper transforms us into the Body of Christ for the world right now.
When the early church gathered for what they called “the breaking of the bread” or “the Supper of the Lord,” they did more than eat and drink. They also listened to instruction from local leaders, prayed, supported each other, shared financial resources with those in need, and received teachings from the apostles—whether in person, delivered by an eyewitness, or by means of a letter passed among the communities. The gathering also served in a variety of ministries as the Spirit inspired the members to do. We preserve these elements of Eucharist in the prayers, Scripture readings, homily, and collection, as well as opportunities for faith formation and service practiced in various ways by each parish community.
Recent Catholic theology also directs our attention to the “dangerous memory” contained in our Eucharist. Christ’s passion points to the reality of unjust suffering, the need for its redress, and the hope of transcendence from a world marred by sin and death. Our Eucharist reminds us that the call to justice sounds every time we “proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes.”
Mark 14:22-25; Matthew 26:26-29; Luke 22:14-20; John 6:34-59; Acts of the Apostles 2:42; 4:32-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
The Eucharist: A Mystery of Faith, by Joseph M. Champlain (Paulist Press, 2005)
The Eucharist and Social Justice, by Margaret Scott (Paulist Press, 2009)