Sacrament of the Blessed Eucharist
(From the Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Jesus said " I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life... For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed" (John 6:51, 54-55). The Eucharist (from the Greek word "eucharistia" meaning "thanksgiving") is the centre and high-point for the Church's life and of her members. At this rite, the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ upon the cross is made ever-present and real to the Church's members, associated with us by Christ himself through our thanksgiving and praise. The essential signs of the Eucharistic sacrament are wheat bread and grape wine, upon which the blessing of the Holy Spirit is invoked and the priest pronounces the words of consecration (a sacred dedication) using the actual words of Christ during the Last Supper:
"For this is my body, which will be given up for you...
for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant,
which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins."
In these words Christ explicitly linked the Last Supper - with its bread and wine - to his very body, and the sacrifice of himself upon the cross which was to follow afterwards.
The sacrament of the Eucharist, commonly called the Mass, always includes the proclamation of the Sacred Scriptures (the Bible) - assembled by the Catholic Church at the Synod of Hippo in AD 393, and authoritively canonised at the Council of Trent (AD 1545-1563). It also includes thanksgiving to God the Father for the gift of his Son; the consecration of bread and wine to undergo the miracle of transubstantiation (see below) and where faithful Catholics are able to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord. All these parts of the Mass make up a single act of worship.
The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ's Passover; that is his death upon the cross for the remission of the sins of the world. In Jewish history and the Old Covenant, the Passover was the commemoration and re-presentation of Israelite liberation from slavery in Egypt, in which the blood of a lamb was marked over their homes. God sent his angel to take the lives of all the Egyptians' first-born sons, while the Israelite families were spared, or 'passed-over'. Later, Israelite priests would sacrifice a lamb, shedding its blood in commemoration of this event. and for the sins of the Israelite nation. The lamb's body would later be consumed by the priesthood themselves. In a similar way Christ's death causes the wrath of God to 'pass over' Christians in all times and places, where the sacrifice of Christ has covered their sins (propitiation). As with the Old Covenant, the Eucharistic sacrifice of Christ is also offered in reparation for the sins of the dead, and to request spiritual and earthly benefits from God.
This is understood not merely as symbolic, but actually makes his work of our salvation literally present to those in attendance. It is Christ himself, the 'Lamb of God' and the eternal high priest of the New Covenant who offers the sacrifice to God the Father. This is done through the ministry of validly ordained priests, acting 'in persona Christi' or 'in the person of Christ', with Jesus acting through the priestly celebrant of the Mass to consecrate the bread and wine (the eucharistic elements). By this consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ occurs. Transubstantiation (Latin: "trans" - change, "substantia" - substance) is the changing of the physical 'stuff' of the bread and wine into another kind, that of the resurrected body and blood of Christ: complete with his soul and divinity.
At this point only the appearances of bread and wine remain. They remain from that point onwards, essentially something different: Christ himself, living and glorious; present in a true, real and tangible manner. Due to this reality, anyone who wishes to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in a state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally, that is, having committed a sin with the character of: 1) a grave nature, 2) full knowledge, and 3) with full consent, must receive absolution in the sacrament of confession. Communion with the Body and Blood of the Lord increases our union with Christ, forgives us our venial sins, and preserves us from grave sins.
The Church warmly recommends that the faithful receive Holy Communion when they attend the Eucharist; indeed, they are obliged to do so at least once per year. Because Christ himself is present in the sacrament of the altar, he is honoured with the worship of adoration. "To visit the Blessed Sacrament is... a proof of gratitude, an expression of love, and a duty of adoration toward Christ our Lord" (Pope Paul VI, 1965). Both during the Eucharist and outside of the celebration, we express our faith in the real presence of Christ through bowing deeply as a sign of our adoration of Jesus Christ. If not kept visible for solemn worship, then the Blessed Sacrament is kept in a sacred tabernacle within all Catholic church buildings. We cannot understand this truth by our senses, but only by faith, as Christ told us "This is my body which is given for you" (Luke 22:19). It is highly fitting that Christ should remain with us in this form, to consume his Body and Blood under their typical appearance would otherwise be repugnant to us, and following his death, resurrection and ascension into Heaven he wanted to leave us with us with his sacramental presence - a memorial of his love by which he would remain with us to the end.
Preparation for the Holy Eucharist
It is most often celebrated by children around the age of seven or eight, when they have reached the age of reason and are capable of participating in the sacramental life of the Catholic Church. First Holy Communion is to be preceded by the sacraments of Baptism and Confession. The preparation of children for these sacraments is a collaborative effort of home, school and parish. In the autumn of each year an invitation will be made to parents to apply for a place for their child on the forthcoming programme. Detailed arrangements are made within each of the three churches of the St Mary's Parish and will be provided to families who request such. At school the candidates will receive a general religious education that includes information about the sacraments in the life of the Church. School staff also participate in some aspects of the Preparation Programme and in the actual celebration of the sacraments.
For those not in Catholic schools the Preparation Course takes place in the Parish and runs over several months. Meetings are held during term time, out of school hours, and are led by parish catechists with appropriate parental involvement. There are also activities to be undertaken at home by each family. Regular participation at Sunday Mass is expected of all candidates with the active support of their parents. Preparation for the sacrament of Confession is included in the course and this sacrament is usually celebrated during the season of Lent. First Communion usually takes place in the period after Easter.
Christ was seen in a vision by St John the disciple as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 5:6) in Heaven, his sacrifice is eternally present before the Father on the "golden altar", where his once-for-all historical sacrifice is made ever-present to those in heaven and on earth. The early Church clearly linked the Paschal Lamb (Christ) with the bread consumed at the last supper, "For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast..." (1 Corinthians 5:7). St John (present in the icon opposite Mary) also referred to the 'Marriage Feast of the Lamb" in his vision of Heaven, in which Christ becomes eternally one with his bride the Church, for whom he died, while at the same time being the food for this supreme banquet. These themes link together to form the Catholic understanding of the Eucharistic: re-presented, eternal sacrifice and nourishment for our souls.
"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?.... Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died." - 1 Corinthians 10:16, 11:27-30.
The Eucharistic elements of bread and wine become the true Body and Blood of Christ, otherwise it would be silly to say that we have profaned Christ's Body and Blood if we receive mere 'symbols' while in a state of sin. These verses refer to the true reception of Christ's person at holy communion, and the need to be in a state of grace - to 'discern the body' and 'examine oneself' - beforehand. It also shows that it is only necessary to receive either the body OR the blood, the soul soul and divinity of Christ is fully given under either kind - whoever 'eats OR drinks' without discernment 'profanes the body AND the blood'.
"[Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.... Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself." Hebrews 7:24-25, 7:27
Christ's sacrificed himself on the cross at Calvary for the sins of the world, purchasing mercy for God's People of the New Covenant (Christians). This sacrifice occurred once in history, though Christ makes himself present through the unbloody sacrifice of the Mass. He is an eternal priest, and priests by definition offer sacrifice. Christ's sacrifice is never repeated, but is rather offered without end in Heaven and made present to the faithful on earth.
"And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine, he was priest of God Most High.... The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, "you are priest of the order of Melchizedek." - Genesis 14:18, Psalm 110:4
Melchizedek was a type of 'prototype' for Christ, both King and Priest of ancient Jerusalem, Salem. He offered up bread and wine as a 'meat and blood offering' to God (Leviticus 23:13). Psalm 110 linked his priesthood with that of Christ, which was confirmed by the New Testament (Hebrews 7). Jesus made a similar offering at the Last Supper, significantly on the Jewish feast of Passover, while explicitly calling it his body and his blood. He also commanded his followers to continue doing this, so that "from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place, incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nation, says the Lord of hosts." (Malachi 1:11)