Eucharistic theology is a branch of Christian theology which treats doctrines concerning the Holy Eucharist, also commonly known as the Lord’s Supper. It exists exclusively in Christianity and related religions, as others generally do not contain a Eucharistic ceremony.
In the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ earthly ministry, a crowd of listeners challenges him regarding the rain of manna before he delivers the famous Bread of Life Discourse (John 6:22–59), and he describes himself as the “True Bread from Heaven”. The aforementioned Bread of Life Discourse occurs in the Gospel of John, 6:30–59. Therein, Jesus promises to give His Flesh and Blood, which will give eternal life to all who receive It. In John 6:53 (RSV), Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” And continues, (v. 54–55) “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed.”
Every year, Jews in Israel celebrated the Passover Meal, remembering and celebrating their liberation from captivity in Egypt. Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his Apostles at Passover.
Saint Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:23–26) and the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew (26:26–28), Mark (14:22–24), and Luke (22:19–20) state that Jesus, in the course of the Last Supper on the night before his death, said: “This is my body”, and “This is my blood”.
For instance, Matthew recounts: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body; And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” The Gospel of John, on the other hand, makes no mention of this. One explanation offered is that John wrote his Gospel to supplement what the other evangelists had already written.
Because Jesus Christ is a person, theologies regarding the Eucharist involve consideration of the way in which the communicant’s personal relationship with God is fed through this mystical meal. However, debates over Eucharistic theology in the West have centered on the metaphysical aspects of Christ’s presence in this ritual. The opposing views are summarized below.
Main article: Real presence of Christ in the Eucharist
The substance (fundamental reality) of the bread and wine is changed in a way beyond human comprehension into that of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ, but the accidents (physical traits, including chemical properties) of the bread and wine remain. This view is taught by the Roman Catholic Church, including its Eastern Rites.
Eastern Orthodox Christians generally prefer not to be tied down by the specifics of the defined doctrine of transubstantiation, though they all agree with the definition’s conclusion about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They prefer simply to use the term “change” (Greek: μεταβολή), as in the epiclesis of the Divine Liturgy, to describe the change of the bread and wine into the actual Body and Blood of Christ. (See “Objective reality, silence about technicalities”, below.) The terminology of transubstantiation was adopted within the Eastern Orthodox Church by the Synod of Jerusalem (1672), although it is not recognized as having the authority of an Ecumenical Council and has been criticized for a perceived tendency toward Latinization.
Main article: Consubstantiation
Consubstantiation is the belief that “The bread retains its substance and … Christ’s glorified body comes down into the bread through the consecration and is found there together with the natural substance of the bread, without quantity but whole and complete in every part of the sacramental bread.” It was the position of the Lollards. It is erroneously used to denote the position of the Lutheran Church (see below), who instead affirm the doctrine of sacramental union. Some Anglicans identify with this position.
In the “use” of the sacrament, according to the words of Jesus Christ and by the power of his speaking of them once for all, the consecrated bread is united with his body and the consecrated wine with his blood for all communicants, whether believing or unbelieving, to eat and drink. This is the position of the Lutheran Church that echoes the next view with its “pious silence about technicalities” in that it objects to philosophical terms like “consubstantiation.”
Objective reality, silence about technicalities
“Objective reality, but pious silence about technicalities” (or “divine [or holy] mystery”) is the view of all the ancient Churches of the East, as well as of many Anglicans (including those of Anglo-Catholic churchmanship) and Methodists. While they agree that in the sacrament the bread and the wine are really and truly changed into the body and the blood of Christ, and while they have at times employed the terminology of “substance” to explain what is changed, they usually avoid this language, considering it redolent of scholasticism, as presenting speculative metaphysics as doctrine, and as scrutinizing excessively the manner in which the mystical transformation takes place.
Main article: Lord’s Supper in Reformed theology
“Real Spiritual presence”, also called “pneumatic presence”, holds that not only the Spirit of Christ, but also the true body and blood of Jesus Christ (hence “real”), are received by the sovereign, mysterious, and miraculous power of the Holy Spirit (hence “spiritual”), but only by those partakers who have faith. This view approaches the “pious silence” view in its unwillingness to specify how the Holy Spirit makes Christ present, but positively excludes not just symbolism but also trans- and con-substantiation. It is also known as the “mystical presence” view, and is held by some Low Church Reformed Anglicans, as well as other Presbyterian Christians. This understanding is often called “receptionism”. Some argue that this view can be seen as being suggested—though not clearly—by the “invocation” of the Anglican Rite as found in the American Book of Common Prayer, 1928 and earlier and in Rite I of the American BCP of 1979 as well as in other Anglican formularies:
And we most humbly beseech thee, O merciful Father, to hear us, and of thy almighty goodness, vouchsafe to bless and sanctify, with thy Word and Holy Spirit, these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine; that we, receiving them according to thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed body and blood.
which is unchanged from the BCP of 1552 (Second Prayer-Book of Edward VI) save for modern syntax and spelling:
Heare us O mercyefull father wee beeseche thee; and graunt that wee, receyuing these thy creatures of bread and wyne, accordinge to thy sonne our Sauioure Jesus Christ’s holy institucion, in remembraunce of his death and passion, maye be partakers of his most blessed body and bloud:
and the inclusion of some additional words from the BCP of 1549 (First Prayer-Book of Edward VI):
and with thy holy spirite and worde, vouchsafe to blesse and sanctifie these thy gyftes
The view known as memorialism is that bread and wine are symbolic of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and in partaking of the elements the believer commemorates the sacrificial death of Christ; Christ is not present in the sacrament, except in the minds and hearts of the communicants. This view, also known as “Zwinglianism” after Huldrych Zwingli, is held by most Anabaptists and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Suspension is the view that Jesus did not intend partaking of the bread and wine to be a perpetual ordinance, or that he did not intend it to be taken as a religious rite or ceremony (also known as adeipnonism, meaning “no supper” or “no meal”). This is the view of Quakers and the Salvation Army, as well as the hyperdispensationalist positions of E. W. Bullinger, Cornelius R. Stam, and others.
Efficacy of the rite
Main article: Ex opere operato
Eastern and Western eucharistic traditions generally agree with St. Augustine of Hippo in teaching that the efficacy of the sacraments as a means of divine grace does not depend on the worthiness of the priest or minister administering them. Augustine developed this concept in his controversy with the Donatists. In traditional Christianity, the efficacy and validity of the sacrament does, however, depend on properly ordained bishops and priests with a lineage from the Apostles, a doctrine called “apostolic succession”.
Theologies of different churches
Roman Catholic Church
Main article: Eucharist in the Catholic Church
In the Catholic Church, the Communion bread is fervently revered in view of the Church’s doctrine that, when bread and wine are consecrated during the Eucharistic celebration, they cease to be bread and wine and become the body and blood of Christ. The empirical appearances continue to exist unchanged, but the reality is changed by the power of the Holy Spirit, Who has been called down upon the bread and wine. The separate consecrations of the bread (known as the host) and of the wine symbolizes the separation of Jesus’ body from his blood at Calvary. However, since He has risen, the Church teaches that His Body and Blood are no longer actually separated. Where one is, the other must be. Therefore, although the priest (or other minister) says “The Body of Christ” when administering the host and “The Blood of Christ” when presenting the chalice, the communicant who receives either one receives Christ, whole and entire, body and blood, soul and divinity. This belief is succinctly summarised in St. Thomas Aquinas’ hymn, Adoro Te Devote.
The mysterious change of the reality of the bread and wine began to be called “transubstantiation” in the 11th century. The earliest known text in which the term appears is a sermon of 1079 by Gilbert of Savardin, Archbishop of Tours, (Patrologia Latina CLXXI 776). The first appearance of the term in a papal document was in the letter of Pope Innocent III Cum Marthae circa to John of Canterbury on 29 November 1202, then briefly in the decree Firmiter credimus of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and afterward in the book “Iamdudum” sent to the Armenians in the year 1341. An explanation utilizing Aristotle’s hylomorphic theory of reality did not appear until the thirteenth century, with Alexander of Hales (died 1245).
The actual moment of change is believed to be the priest’s liturgical recitation of the Words of Institution: “This is my Body …” and “This is the Chalice of my Blood …”.
The Eucharist is a sacrifice in that it literally re-presents (in the sense of “makes present again”) the same and only sacrifice offered once for all on the cross. The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice. Christ, of course, is not sacrificed again because the one sacrifice of the Cross was accomplished “once for all” and cannot be repeated. The Mass is a liturgical representation of a sacrifice that makes present what it represents through the action of God in an unbloody manner. The Eucharist is not merely a commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice on Golgotha: it also makes that sacrifice truly present. The priest and victim of the sacrifice are one and the same (Christ), with the difference that the Eucharist is offered in an unbloody manner.
The only ministers who can officiate at the Eucharist and consecrate the sacrament are ordained priests (either bishops or priestly presbyters) acting in the person of Christ (“in persona Christi”). In other words, the priest celebrant represents Christ Himself, who is the Head of the Church, and acts before God the Father in the name of the Catholic Church, always using “we” not “I” during the Eucharistic prayer . The matter used must be wheaten bread and grape wine; this is considered essential for validity.
Catholics may receive Holy Communion outside of Mass, normally only as the host. Consecrated hosts are kept in a tabernacle after the celebration of Mass and brought to the sick or dying during the week. A large consecrated host is sometimes displayed in a monstrance outside of Mass, to be the focus of prayer and Eucharistic adoration.
The Eucharistic celebration is seen as the foundation and the very centre of all Catholic devotion. One of the seven Sacraments, it is referred to as the Blessed Sacrament, and is taught to bestow grace upon the recipient, assisting with repentance and with the avoidance of venial sin. The “self-offering of the believer in union with Christ”, and the transformation of the believer into Christ which is implicit in the symnbolism, is understood as integral to the disposition needed for the fruitful reception of Communion. Reception of Communion and of the sacrament of Confession is a condition for receiving indulgences granted for some acts of piety.
For fear of desecration, the Eucharist may not be received by any in a state of mortal sin, nor (generally) by non-Catholics. However, in exceptional circumstances non-Catholic Christians who share the belief of the Catholic Church in the Eucharist are permitted to receive it.
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Eucharist is at the center of Eastern Christian faith communities, both Orthodox and Eastern Catholic. Orthodox Eastern Christians affirm the real presence in the Sacred Mysteries (consecrated bread and wine) which they believe to be the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The Eucharist is normally received in the context of the Divine Liturgy. The bread and wine are believed to become the genuine Body and Blood of Christ Jesus through the operation of the Holy Spirit. The Eastern Orthodox Church has never described exactly how this occurs, or gone into the detail that the Roman Catholic Church has with the doctrine of transubstantiation. This doctrine was formulated after the Great Schism took place, and the Eastern Orthodox churches have never formally affirmed or denied it, preferring to state simply that it is a “Mystery”, while at the same time using, as in the 1672 Synod of Jerusalem, language that might look similar as to one that is used by the Roman Catholic Church.
The Anaphora (Eucharistic prayer) contains an anamnesis (lit. “making present”) which not only recounts the historical facts of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but actually makes them present, forming an undivided link to the one unique event on Calvary. The Anaphora ends with an epiclesis (“calling down from on high”) during which the priest invokes the Holy Spirit to come and “change” the Gifts (elements of bread and wine) into the actual Body and Blood of Christ. The Orthodox do not link the moment the Gifts change to the Words of Institution, or indeed to any one particular moment. They merely affirm that the change is completed at the Epiclesis.
Communion is given only to baptized, chrismated Orthodox Christians who have prepared by fasting, prayer, and confession (different rules apply for children, elderly, sick, pregnant, etc. and are determined on a case-by-case basis by parish priests). The priest administers the Gifts with a spoon directly into the recipient’s mouth from the chalice. From baptism young infants and children are carried to the chalice to receive Holy Communion.
The holy gifts reserved for the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts or communion of the sick are specially consecrated as needed, especially on Holy Thursday. They are kept in an elaborately decorated tabernacle, a container on the altar often in the shape of a church or of a dove. Generally, Eastern Christians do not adore the consecrated bread outside the Liturgy itself. However, they prostrate to the ground during the transfer of the Holy Gifts during the Presanctified Liturgy (the “Entrance”), as a sign of utmost reverence. After the Eucharist has been given to the congregation, the priest or the deacon has to consume the Holy Gifts that are left.
In the Orthodox Churches, the Eucharistic celebration is known as the Divine Liturgy and is believed to impart the actual Body and Blood of Christ to the faithful. In the act of communion, the entire Church—past, present, and even future—is united in eternity. In Orthodox Eucharistic theology, although many separate Divine Liturgies may be celebrated, there is only one Bread and one Cup throughout all the world and throughout all time.
The most perfect expression of the Eucharistic unity of the church is found in the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy (i.e., a Liturgy at which a bishop is the chief celebrant), for as St. Ignatius of Antioch stated, where the bishop is, surrounded by his clergy and faithful, there is the church in all of her fullness.
Main article: Anglican Eucharistic theology
The historical position of the Church of England is found in the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571, which state “the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ”; and likewise that “the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ” (Articles of Religion, Article XXVIII: Of the Lord’s Supper) and that “Transubstantiation is repugnant to Holy Writ”. However, the Articles also state that adoration, or worship per se, of the consecrated elements was not commanded by Christ. It also stated that those who receive unworthily do not actually receive Christ but rather their own condemnation.
Anglicans generally and officially believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but the specifics of belief regarding the manner of His presence range from a belief in the corporeal presence, sometimes but not always affirming Eucharistic adoration (mainly Anglo-Catholics), to a belief in a pneumatic presence (almost always “Low Church” or Evangelical Anglicans). The normal range of Anglican belief ranges from Objective Reality to Pious Silence, depending on the individual Anglican’s theology. There are also small minorities on the one hand who affirm transubstantiation or, on the other, reject the doctrine of the Real Presence altogether in favour of a pnenumatic presence. The classic Anglican aphorism with regard to this debate is found in a poem by John Donne (sometimes attributed to Elizabeth I):
He was the Word that spake it;
He took the bread and brake it;
and what that Word did make it;
I do believe and take it.
An imprecisely defined view known as receptionism common among 16th and 17th-century Anglican theologians is that, although in the Eucharist the bread and wine remain unchanged, the faithful communicant receives together with them the body and blood of Christ.
An Anglican response concerning the Eucharistic Sacrifice (“Sacrifice of the Mass”) was set forth in the response Saepius officio of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to Pope Leo XIII’s Papal Encyclical Apostolicae curae.
In 1971, the Anglican and Roman Catholic International Commission announced that it had reached “substantial agreement on the doctrine of the Eucharist” in the Windsor Statement on Eucharistic Doctrine from the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Consultation and the later (1979) Elucidation of the ARCIC Windsor Statement, but this was questioned in 1991 by the Official Roman Catholic Final Response to the ARCIC Full Report.
Main article: Eucharist in the Lutheran Church
Lutherans believe that the Body and Blood of Christ are “truly and substantially present in, with and under the forms” of consecrated bread and wine (the elements), so that communicants eat and drink both the elements and the true Body and Blood of Christ himself in the Sacrament of the Eucharist whether they are believers or unbelievers. The Lutheran doctrine of the real presence is also known as the sacramental union. This theology was first formally and publicly confessed in the Wittenberg Concord. It has also been called “consubstantiation” but most Lutheran theologians reject the use of this term as it creates confusion with an earlier doctrine of the same name. Some Lutherans do believe in consubstantiation. Lutherans use the term “in, with and under the forms of consecrated bread and wine” and “sacramental union” to distinguish their understanding of the Eucharist from those of the Reformed and other traditions.
At some American Lutheran churches (LCMS and WELS for example), closed communion is practiced (meaning the Lutheran Eucharistic catechetical instruction is required for all people before receiving the Eucharist). This is also practiced in many European Lutheran churches as well. Other American Lutheran churches, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, practice open communion (meaning the Eucharist is offered to adults without receiving the catechetical instruction, as long as they are a baptized Christian).
The weekly Eucharist has been strongly encouraged by the bishops and priests/pastors and is now the common practice among some Lutherans.
Methodists understand the eucharist to be an experience of God’s grace. In keeping with Wesleyan-Arminian theology, God’s unconditional love makes the table of God’s grace accessible to all, a concept referred to as open communion (see Eucharistic discipline § Methodist practice).
According to the “Article XVIII – Of the Lord’s Supper” in the Methodist Articles of Religion:
The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ’s death; in so much that, to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ; and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ.
Transubstantiation, or the change of the substance of bread and wine in the Supper of our Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.
The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper, only after a heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is faith.
The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshiped.
There are various acceptable modes of receiving the Eucharist for Methodists. Some Methodists kneel at communion rails, which delimit the chancel in which the altar (also called the communion table) lies. In other churches, communicants approach the minister who administers the elements in front of the chancel. Most Methodist Churches use unfermented grape juice instead of alcoholic wine (though there is no official restriction for United Methodists), and either leavened yeast bread or unleavened bread. The wine may be distributed in small cups, but the use of a common cup and the practice of communion by intinction (where the bread is dipped into the common cup and both elements are consumed together) is becoming more common among many Methodists.
Methodists believe that the Lord’s Supper is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, reflecting Wesleyan covenant theology:
This covenant, the blood of Christ, that is, the pouring forth of his blood as a sacrficial victim, at once procured and ratified; so that it stands firm to all truly penitent and contrite spirits who believe in him: and of this great truth, the Lord’s Supper was the instituted sign and seal; and he who in faith drinks of the cup, having reference to its signification, that blood of Christ which confirms to true believers the whole covenant of grace, is assured thereby of its faithfulness and permanence, and derives to himself the fulness of its blessings.— Richard Watson, Methodist theologian
Methodist theology affirms the real presence of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion:
Jesus Christ, who “is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Hebrews 1:3), is truly present in Holy Communion. Through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, God meets us at the Table. God, who has given the sacraments to the church, acts in and through Holy Communion. Christ is present through the community gathered in Jesus’ name (Matthew 18:20), through the Word proclaimed and enacted, and through the elements of bread and wine shared (1 Corinthians 11:23–26. The divine presence is a living reality and can be experienced by participants; it is not a remembrance of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion only.
Methodists have typically affirmed that the sacrament of Holy Communion is an instrumental Means of Grace through which the real presence of Christ is communicated to the believer, but have otherwise allowed the details to remain a mystery. In particular, Methodists reject the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation (see Article XVIII of the Articles of Religion); the Primitive Methodist Church in its Discipline also rejects the Lollard doctrine of consubstantiation. In 2004, the United Methodist Church reaffirmed its view of the sacrament and its belief in the Real Presence in an official document entitled This Holy Mystery. Of particular note here is the Church’s unequivocal recognition of the anamnesis as more than just a memorial but, rather, a re-presentation of Christ Jesus:
Holy Communion is remembrance, commemoration, and memorial, but this remembrance is much more than simply intellectual recalling. “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24–25) is anamnesis (the biblical Greek word). This dynamic action becomes re-presentation of past gracious acts of God in the present, so powerfully as to make them truly present now. Christ is risen and is alive here and now, not just remembered for what was done in the past.
This affirmation of Real Presence can be seen clearly illustrated in the language of the United Methodist Eucharistic Liturgy where, in the epiclesis of the Great Thanksgiving, the celebrating minister prays over the elements:
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.
Methodists, in affrming the Real Presence, assert that Jesus is really present, and that the way He is present is a “Holy Mystery”; the celebrating minister will pray for the Holy Spirit to make the elements “be the body and blood of Christ”, and the congregation will sing, as in the third stanza of Charles Wesley’s hymn Come Sinners to the Gospel Feast:
Come and partake the gospel feast,
Be saved from sin, in Jesus rest;
O taste the goodness of our God,
and eat his flesh and drink his blood.
In churches of the Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Connection, the presider says the following when he individually delivers the Eucharistic elements to each of the faithful:
The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy soul and body unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on Him in thy heart, by faith with thanksgiving.
The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy soul and body unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.
Methodists believe that Holy Communion should not only be available to the clergy in both forms (the bread and the wine), but to the layman as well. According to Article XIX of the Articles of Religion in the Book of Discipline of the Methodist Church,
The cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the lay people; for both the parts of the Lord’s Supper, by Christ’s ordinance and commandment, ought to be administered to all Christians alike.
The Salvation Army, though upholding Wesleyan-Arminian theology, does not practice the sacrament of Holy Communion as it considers it to be “non-essential to Christian faith”. The Sacrament Of The Sacred Moment states that “Salvationists have proved that the deep experience of communion with Jesus can be understood and practised without the use of the elements familiar to the various symbolic rites used in most churches”.
Nicolaus Zinzendorf, a bishop of the Moravian Church, stated that Holy Communion is the “most intimate of all connection with the person of the Saviour”.
The Moravian Church adheres to a view known as the “sacramental presence”, teaching that in the Sacrament of Holy Communion:
Christ gives his body and blood according to his promise to all who partake of the elements. When we eat and drink the bread and the wine of the Supper with expectant faith, we thereby have communion with the body and blood of our Lord and receive the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. In this sense, the bread and wine are rightly said to be Christ’s body and blood which he gives to his disciples.
As with the Methodist Churches, the Moravian Church holds to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but does not define the precise way that He is sacramentally present. Many Moravian theologians though, believe that the Lutheran doctrine of the sacramental union properly defines the way that Christ is present in Holy Communion, and have historically promulgated that view.
During the Moravian service of Holy Communion, only the scriptural words of institution are used, and thematic hymns are sung during the serving of the sacrament.
The Moravian Church practices open communion. All baptized Christians who have confirmed their faith may join in Holy Communion.
Main article: Lord’s Supper in Reformed theology
Many Reformed Christians hold that Christ’s body and blood are not corporeally (physically) present in the Eucharist, but really present in a spiritual way. The elements are spiritual nourishment in Christ by faith. According to John Calvin,
The sum is, that the flesh and blood of Christ feed our souls just as bread and wine maintain and support our corporeal life. For there would be no aptitude in the sign, did not our souls find their nourishment in Christ. … I hold … that the sacred mystery of the Supper consists of two things—the corporeal signs, which, presented to the eye, represent invisible things in a manner adapted to our weak capacity, and the spiritual truth, which is at once figured and exhibited by the signs.
Following a phrase of Augustine, the Calvinist view is that “no one bears away from this Sacrament more than is gathered with the vessel of faith”. “The flesh and blood of Christ are no less truly given to the unworthy than to God’s elect believers”, Calvin said. Faith, not a mere mental apprehension, and the work of the Holy Spirit, are necessary for the partaker to behold God incarnate, and in the same sense touch Christ with their hands; so that by eating and drinking of bread and wine Christ’s actual presence penetrates to the heart of the believer more nearly than food swallowed with the mouth can enter in. The ‘experience’ of Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper, has traditionally been spoken of in the following way: the faithful believers are ‘lifted up’ by the power of the Holy Spirit to feast with Christ in heaven. The Lord’s Supper in this way is truly a ‘Spiritual’ experience as the Holy Spirit is directly involved in the action of ‘eucharist’. For the reprobate, although they receive the flesh and blood of Christ, as the elect do, the Lord’s Supper is ineffectual for the reprobate, being no different from ordinary bread and wine to them.
The Calvinist/Reformed view also places great emphasis on the action of the community as the Body of Christ. As the faith community participates in the action of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the elect among them, are ‘transformed’ into the Body of Christ, or ‘reformed’ into the Body of Christ each time they participate in this sacrament. In this sense it has been said that the term “transubstantiation” can be applied to the Faith Community (the Church) itself being transformed into the real Body and Blood of Christ truly present in the world.
Although Calvin rejected adoration of the Eucharistic bread and wine as “idolatry” later Reformed Christians have argued otherwise. Leftover elements may be disposed of without ceremony (or reused in later services); they are unchanged, and as such the meal directs attention toward Christ’s bodily resurrection and return.
Christians in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and some Christians in the United Church of Christ would reverently endorse this view.
Theology in the mainline branch of this tradition is in flux, and recent agreements between these denominations and the Lutherans have stressed that: “The theological diversity within our common confession provides both the complementarity needed for a full and adequate witness to the gospel (mutual affirmation) and the corrective reminder that every theological approach is a partial and incomplete witness to the Gospel (mutual admonition) (A Common Calling, p. 66).” Hence, in seeking to come to consensus about the Real Presence, the churches have written:
During the Reformation both Reformed and Lutheran Churches exhibited an evangelical intention when they understood the Lord’s Supper in the light of the saving act of God in Christ. Despite this common intention, different terms and concepts were employed which … led to mutual misunderstanding and misrepresentation. Properly interpreted, the differing terms and concepts were often complementary rather than contradictory (Marburg Revisited, pp. 103–104)
In the Lord’s Supper the risen Christ imparts himself in body and blood, given up for all, through his word of promise with bread and wine … we proclaim the death of Christ through which God has reconciled the world with himself. We proclaim the presence of the risen Lord in our midst. Rejoicing that the Lord has come to us, we await his future coming in glory. … Both of our communions, we maintain, need to grow in appreciation of our diverse eucharistic traditions, finding mutual enrichment in them. At the same time both need to grow toward a further deepening of our common experience and expression of the mystery of our Lord’s Supper.
According to the Presbyterian mission doctrine, the Lord’s Supper is considered “a sacrament of continuous growth, nourishment and new life”. In their understanding of the Reformed tradition, the participation in this sacrament should follow the sacrament of baptism. Just as humans need food and drink for nurture and sustenance, Calvin wrote that the Holy Meal of Lord’s Supper is God’s way of providing for the maintenance of sinful humans during the whole course of their lives after they have been received into God’s family, in what Presbyterians call “the Covenant Community”. Both sacraments (Baptism and Lord’s Supper), according to Presbyterian theology, provide a visible and graphic way of presenting God’s promises.
The Presbyterian Church quotes the words of John Calvin “a testimony of divine grace toward us, confirmed by an outward sign, with mutual attestation of our piety toward [God]”. According to them, a sacrament is a testimony of God’s favor toward the church, confirmed by an outward sign, with a mutual testifying of man’s godliness toward God. It is a primal physical act in the Church that signifies a spiritual relationship between personal beings. And this is what the Eucharist is in Presbyterian understanding.
According to Presbyterian Eucharistic theology, there is no actual “transubstantiation” in the bread and wine, but that Jesus is spiritually present in the elements of the Eucharist, authentically present in the non-atom-based substance, with which they believe that he is con-substantial with God in the Trinity. They teach that Christ is genuinely there in the elements of the Lord’s Supper to be received by them, and not just in their memories, so that it is both a memorial and a presence of Christ.
They teach that receiving the Communion elements is taking the symbolic representation of the broken body and shed blood of Jesus into the inmost being, receiving the Jesus who died for our forgiveness and transformation. That humans depend on these elements for their very life and salvation.
Presbyterians believe that the Word of God should be read, proclaimed and enacted in the Lord’s Supper as an integral part of worship. The relationship of Word and Sacrament can be understood in the context of the Emmaus Road narrative (Luke 24:13ff). While there are various interpretations of this account, the Presbyterian Church interprets the “breaking of bread” in Luke 24 as a reference to the Lord’s Supper.
Many Presbyterian churches use unfermented grape juice for Communion, which is of relatively recent practice, starting in the late 19th century or in the past one hundred years, out of concern for drunkenness and also because some congregants view any alcohol as “sinful”, so to accommodate their consciences grape juice is utilized in most Presbyterian churches instead. But recently some individual Presbyterian churches have gone back to using actual fermented wine as Christ used and commanded. Noting that wine in itself is not sinful, but that Christ made and drank it, etc., and that only excessive drinking of wine and actual drunkenness are wrong and sinful.
The Directory for Worship in the Presbyterian Book of Order encourages the “appropriateness” of frequent celebrations of the Lord’s Supper. A few Presbyterian congregations have begun celebrations of the sacrament as often as each Lord’s Day (or Sunday) and on other occasions of special significance in the life of the Christian community. And also on Presbyterian liturgical seasons, such as Holy Week and Easter, the Lord’s Supper is especially celebrated and observed in Presbyterian churches. But frequency alone is not the basic issue in Presbyterianism. Some believe that they need to restore the Biblical pattern of the Lord’s Supper on each Sunday to provide a disciplined reminder of a divine act that will help centralize and “re-focus” the rhythm of people’s daily lives.
Reformed Baptists, in agreement with Presbyterians and other Reformed Churches, hold to the doctrine of Pneumatic presence. The doctrine is articulated in the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith and the Catechism. It holds that the Lord’s Supper to be a means of “spiritual nourishment and growth”, stating:
The supper of the Lord Jesus was instituted by him the same night wherein he was betrayed, to be observed in his churches, unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance, and showing to all the world the sacrifice of himself in his death, confirmation of the faith of believers in all the benefits thereof, their spiritual nourishment, and growth in him, their further engagement in, and to all duties which they owe to him; and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other.
Independent Baptists hold to the Relational Presence.
The American Baptist Churches USA, a mainline Baptist denomination, believes that “The bread and cup that symbolize the broken body and shed blood offered by Christ remind us today of God’s great love for us”.
Edward Irving, who founded the Irvingian Churches, such as the New Apostolic Church, taught the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, emphasizing “the humiliated humanity of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.” Additionally, the Irvingian Churches affirm the “real presence of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion”:
Jesus Christ is in the midst of the congregation as the crucified, risen, and returning Lord. Thus His once-brought sacrifice is also present in that its effect grants the individual access to salvation. In this way, the celebration of Holy Communion causes the partakers to repeatedly envision the sacrificial death of the Lord, which enables them to proclaim it with conviction (1 Corinthians 11: 26).
Quakers‘ Eucharistic theology is Memorialism: “The bread and wine remind us of Jesus’ body and blood.” However, they also hold to suspension: they do not practice Holy Communion in their worship, believing it was not meant to be a perpetually mandated ritual. Nonetheless, Quakers understand all of life as being sacramental: “We believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit and in communion with that Spirit. If the believer experiences such spiritual baptism and communion, then no rite or ritual is necessary. … The Quaker ideal is to make every meal at every table a Lord’s Supper.”
Main article: Memorialism
Some Protestant groups regard the Eucharist (also called the Lord’s Supper or the Lord’s Table) as a symbolic meal, a memorial of the Last Supper and the Passion in which nothing miraculous occurs. This view is known as the Zwinglian view, after Huldrych Zwingli, a Church leader in Zurich, Switzerland during the Reformation. It is commonly associated with the United Church of Christ, Baptists, the Disciples of Christ and the Mennonites. Elements left over from the service may be discarded without any formal ceremony, or if feasible may be retained for use in future services.
The successor of Zwingli in Zurich, Heinrich Bullinger, came to an agreement theologically with John Calvin. The Consensus Tigurinus lays out an explanation of the doctrine of the Sacraments in general, and specifically, that of Holy Communion, as the view embraced by John Calvin and leaders of the Church of Zurich who followed Zwingli. It demonstrates that at least the successors of Zwingli held to the real spiritual presence view most commonly attributed to Calvin and Reformed Protestantism.
The Plymouth Brethren hold the Lord’s Supper, or the Breaking of Bread, instituted in the upper room on Christ’s betrayal night, to be the weekly remembrance feast enjoined on all true Christians. They celebrate the supper in utmost simplicity. Among “closed” Brethren assemblies usually any one of the brothers gives thanks for the loaf and the cup. In conservative “open” Brethren assemblies usually two different brothers give thanks, one for the loaf and the other for the cup. In liberal “open” Brethren assemblies (or churches/community chapels, etc.) sisters also participate with audible prayer.
The Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses views the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper as symbolically representing and commemorating the sinless body and blood of the Messiah Jesus, the Son of God. They don’t consider that the elements become supernaturally altered, or that Christ’s actual physical presence is literally in the bread and wine per se, but that the elements (which they generally call “emblems”) are commemorative and symbolic, and are consecrated for the Lord’s Supper observance, and are figurative of the body and blood of Christ, as the true “Lamb of God” who died once for all, and view the celebration as an anti-typical fulfillment of the ancient Jewish Passover celebration, which memorialized the freeing and rescuing of God’s covenant people Israel from painful bondage to sinful Egypt. The Witnesses commemorate Christ’s death as a ransom or propitiatory sacrifice by observing a Memorial annually on the evening that corresponds to the Passover, Nisan 14, according to the ancient Jewish calendar. They refer to this observance generally as “the Lord’s Evening Meal” or the “Memorial of Christ’s Death”, taken from Jesus’ words to his Apostles “do this as a memorial of me” (Luke 22:19). They believe that this is the only annual religious observance commanded for Christians in the Bible.
Of those who attend the Memorial a small minority worldwide partake of the wine and unleavened bread. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that only 144,000 people will receive heavenly salvation and immortal life and thus spend eternity with God and Christ in heaven, with glorified bodies, as under-priests and co-rulers under Christ the King and High Priest, in Jehovah’s Kingdom. Paralleling the anointing of kings and priests, they are referred to as the “anointed” class and are the only ones who should partake of the bread and wine. They believe that the baptized “other sheep” of Christ’s flock, or the “great crowd”, also benefit from the ransom sacrifice, and are respectful observers and viewers of the Lord’s Supper remembrance at these special meetings of Jehovah’s witnesses, with hope of receiving salvation, through Christ’s atoning sacrifice, which is memorialized by the Lord’s Evening Meal, and with the hope of obtaining everlasting life in Paradise restored on a prophesied “New Earth”, under Christ as Redeemer and Ruler.
The Memorial, held after sundown, includes a sermon on the meaning and importance of the celebration and gathering, and includes the circulation and viewing among the audience of unadulterated red wine and unleavened bread (matzo). Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the bread symbolizes and represents Jesus Christ’s perfect body which he gave on behalf of mankind, and that the wine represents his perfect blood which he shed at Calvary and redeems fallen man from inherited sin and death. The wine and the bread (sometimes referred to as “emblems”) are viewed as symbolic and commemorative; the Witnesses do not believe in transubstantiation or consubstantiation; so not a literal presence of flesh and blood in the emblems, but that the emblems are simply sacred symbolisms and representations, denoting what was used in the first Lord’s Supper, and which figuratively represent the ransom sacrifice of Jesus and sacred realities.
Latter Day Saint movement
Main article: Sacrament (Latter Day Saints)
Among Latter Day Saints (or Mormons), the Eucharist (in LDS theology it is “The Sacrament“) is partaken in remembrance of the blood and body of Jesus Christ. It is viewed as a renewal of the covenant made at baptism, which is to take upon oneself the name of Jesus. As such, it is considered efficacious only for baptized members in good standing. However, the unbaptized are not forbidden from communion, and it is traditional for children not yet baptized (baptism occurs only after the age of eight) to participate in communion in anticipation of baptism. Those who partake of the Sacrament promise always to remember Jesus and keep his commandments. The prayer also asks God the Father that each individual will be blessed with the Spirit of Christ.
The Sacrament is offered weekly and all active members are taught to prepare to partake of each opportunity. It is considered to be a weekly renewal of a member’s commitment to follow Jesus Christ, and a plea for forgiveness of sins.
The Latter Day Saints do not believe in any kind of literal presence. They view the bread and water as symbolic of the body and blood of Christ. Currently The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses water instead of wine. Early in their history the Sacrament wine was often purchased from enemies of the church. To remove any opportunity for poisoned or unfit wine for use in the Sacrament, it is believed a revelation from the Lord was given that stated “it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins.” After this time water was permitted in place of wine, but the church continued to use wine for the sacrament until the early 20th century. As the church’s prohibition on alcohol became solidified in the early 20th century, water became the liquid of choice for the Sacrament, although in situations where clean water and/or fresh bread is unavailable the closest equivalent may be used.
The Seventh-day Adventists believe that the Lord’s Supper is “a participation in the emblems of the body and blood of Jesus as an expression of faith in Him, our Lord and Saviour”. In the communion service “Christ is present to meet and strengthen His people.”
- Origin of the Eucharist
- Anglican Eucharistic theology
- Eucharistic discipline
- Historical roots of Catholic Eucharistic theology
- Typology (theology)
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia