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also known as
"The Eucharist" or
"The Lord's Supper"


Words of Institution
Real Presence
Sacramental union

Theologies contrasted
Eucharist (Catholic Church)
Anglican Eucharistic theology

Important theologians
Paul ·Aquinas
Augustine · Calvin
Chrysostom · Cranmer
Luther · Zwingli

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Catholic Historic Roots
Closed and Open Table
Divine Liturgy
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Mass · Sacrament

Altar set for the celebration of the Eucharist.

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.

Biblical foundation

The Eucharist is believed to be prefigured in the Old Testament by the miraculous rain of manna from Heaven (Exodus 16:13-36) and by the event of the Passover (in Exodus), where the Lord commanded the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb so the Angel of Death would "pass over" their homes (and spare their firstborn sons). The Eucharist has also been held to be prefigured in the showbread (lit. "bread of the presence") and in the offerings of bread and wine made by Melchizedek, who is himself a type of Christ.

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 6:31), and he describes himself as the "True Bread from Heaven" (John 6:32). 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, Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, 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) "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink." Every year, the nation of Israel celebrated the Passover Meal, remembering and celebrating their liberation from captivity in Eygpt. It was at the Passover, that Jesus Christ celebrated the Last Supper with his Apostles.

Christ is believed to have instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist at the Last Supper on the night before He died on the cross. This is recorded by Saint Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26) and in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew (26:26-28), Mark (14:22-24), and Luke (22:19-20). St. John is believed to have omitted the institution because he wrote his Gospel to supplement what the other evangelists had already written. The Eucharist was instituted in this way: "Jesus took some bread and when He had said the blessing He broke it and gave it to the disciples. 'Take it and eat,' He said, 'this is my body.' Then He took a cup and when He had returned thanks He gave it to them. 'Drink all of you from this,' He said, 'for this is my blood'" (Matthew 26:26-28).

Other places in Scripture which are believed to support the Real Presence in the Eucharist include John 6, Ephesians 5, 1 Corinthians 11, and Luke 24.

Theories of the real presence

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 not on the personal aspects of Christ's presence but on the metaphysical. The opposing views are summarized below.


The substance (fundamental reality) of the bread and wine is transformed 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, by the Eastern Orthodox Synod of Jerusalem, and is held by many Anglicans especially in Anglo-Catholic circles. The Assyrian Church of the East and the Oriental Orthodox Church also believe in Real Presence, but do not explicitly use the word "transubstantiation".


"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 medieval scholastic doctor Duns Scotus[1] It is erroneously used to denote the position of the Lutheran Church, although some Lutherans, Anglicans and non-Lutherans identify with this position.

Sacramental union

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" is the view of all the ancient Churches of the East, including the Eastern Orthodox, the Oriental Orthodox, the Eastern Catholic Churches) and the Assyrian Church of the East as well as perhaps most Anglicans and Lutherans. These, while agreeing with the Roman Catholic belief that the sacrament is not merely bread and wine but truly the body and blood of Christ, and having historically employed the "substance" and "accidents" terminology to explain what is changed in the transformation,[2] usually avoid this terminology, lest they seem to scrutinize the technicalities of the manner in which the transformation occurs.

Pneumatic presence

"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 most Reformed Christians, such as Presbyterians, as well as some Methodists and some Anglicans, particularly Low Church Reformed Anglicans. See Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. 29. This understanding is often called "receptionism". Some argue that this view can be seen as being suggested — though not by any means 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.


The 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 is also known as "memorialism" and "Zwinglianism" after Ulrich Zwingli and is held by several Protestant and Latter-day Saint denominations, including most Baptists.


The partaking of the bread and wine was not intended to be a perpetual ordinance, or was not 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

Western eucharistic tradition generally follows 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 of minister administering them. Augustine developed this concept in his controversy with the Donatists.[3]

Theologies of the different Churches

Eastern Orthodox Church

The Eucharist is at the center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Orthodox 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 the 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",[4] 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.[5]

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 case-by-case basis by parish priests). The priest administers the Gifts with a spoon directly into the recipient's mouth from the chalice.[6] From baptism young infants and children are carried to the chalice to receive Holy Communion.[7]

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. Generally, Eastern Christians do not adore the consecrated bread outside the Liturgy itself. After the Eucharist has been given to the congregation, the priest or the deacon has to eat and drink everything that is left.

Russian icon of the Last Supper (1497).

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, 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.

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. Orthodox theology does not make use of the term "transubstantiation" to systematically describe how the Gifts become the Body and Blood of Christ; rather, they state that it is a Sacred Mystery, and prefer to use only the word "change". The Orthodox do not link the moment of transformation of the Gifts to the Words of Institution, or indeed to any one particular moment. They merely affirm that the change is completed at the Epiclesis.

Roman Catholic Church

Pope Benedict XVI celebrating Mass at São Paulo, Brasil.

In the Roman Catholic Church, reverence for the Eucharist is quite fervent and the doctrines of the Church thereof are immutable, despite common dissent from them. In the Catholic Church, the Holy Eucharist is taught to be the "Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ" (this doctrine is referred to as transubstantiation). The actual transformation of bread and wine occurs at the priest's recitation of the Words of Institution: "This is My Body…" and "This is My Blood…." At that point, the accidents of bread and wine remain, i.e., it would appear to all senses that these continue to exist, while the substance has been entirely altered, a position succinctly summarised by St. Thomas Aquinas' hymn, Adoro Te Devote (see Catholic Encyclopedia article Adoro Te Devote). Consequently, for fear of desecration, the Eucharist may not be received by any in a state of mortal sin, nor (generally) by non-Catholics. However, it is permitted on extremely rare occasions that a Protestant or schismatic acknowledging the teachings of the Church on Communion may receive It.

Additionally, the Eucharist enables perpetuation of Christ's Sacrifice on Golgotha, which is the intent of the Mass. Despite anti-Catholic claims to the contrary, this perpetuation does not imply that the Saviour dies again; transubstantiation posits an "unbloody sacrifice", in that the sacrifice of Christ was accomplished "once for all".

The consecrated Host is quite frequently kept in a monstrance outside of Mass to encourage Eucharistic adoration.[8] The Eucharist is believed to constitute both the foundation and the center of all Catholic devotion. It is one of the Seven Sacraments, referred to as the Blessed Sacrament, and is taught to bestow grace upon the recipient and remove venial sin. When received following Confession and preceding an act to which an indulgence is attached, It contributes to a plenary indulgence.

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates the Eucharist at the canonization of Frei Galvão in São Paulo, Brazil on 11 May 2007

In the teaching of the Catholic Church, the Eucharist is one of the seven sacraments. The Eucharist is believed to not only commemorates the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, but to also make them truly present. The priest and victim of the sacrifice are considered the one and the same (Christ) and the only difference is that the Eucharist is offered in an unbloody manner.[9] The institution of the Eucharist is one of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary.

The only ministers authorized to celebrate the Eucharist and consecrate the sacrament are ordained priests (either bishops or presbyter)s acting in the person of Christ (in persona Christi). In other words, the priest celebrant represents Christ, who is the Head of the Church, and acts before God the Father in the name of the Church. The matter used must be wheaten bread and grape wine; this is considered essential for validity.[10]

At a celebration of the Eucharist at Lourdes, the chalice is shown to the people immediately after the consecration of the wine.

According to the Catholic Church, when the bread and wine are consecrated in the Eucharist, they cease to be bread and wine and become the body and blood of Christ: although the empirical appearances are not changed, the reality is changed by the power of the Holy Spirit who has been called down upon the bread and wine. The consecration of the bread (known as the host) and wine represents the separation of Jesus' body from his blood at Calvary. However, since he has risen, the Church teaches that his body and blood can no longer be truly 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.[11]

The mysterious[12] change of the reality of the bread and wine began to be called "transubstantiation" in the eleventh century. It seems that the first text in which the term appears is of Gilbert of Savardin, Archbishop of Tours, in a sermon from 1079 (Patrologia Latina CLXXI 776). The term first appeared in a papal document in the letter Cum Marthae circa to a certain John, Archbishop of Lyon, 29 November 1202,[13] then in the Fourth Lateran Council (1215)[14] and afterward in the book "Iam dudum" sent to the Armenians in the year 1341.[15] An explanation utilizing Aristotle's hylomorphic theory of reality did not appear until the thirteenth century, with Alexander of Hales (died 1245).

Catholics may receive Holy Communion outside of Mass, but then it is normally given only as the host. The consecrated hosts are kept in a tabernacle after the celebration of the Mass and brought to the sick or dying during the week. Occasionally, the Eucharist is exposed in a monstrance, so that it may be the focus of prayer and adoration.[16]


The historical position of the Anglican Communion 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". The fact that the terms "Bread" and "Wine" and the corresponding words "Body" and "Blood" are all capitalized may reflect the wide range of theological beliefs regarding the Eucharist among Anglicans. 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 that belief range from transubstantiation, sometimes with Eucharistic adoration (mainly Anglo-Catholics), to something akin to a belief in a "pneumatic" presence, which may or may not be tied to the Eucharistic elements themselves (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 hand, reject the doctrine of the Real Presence altogether. 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.[17]

Anglican belief in the Eucharistic Sacrifice ("Sacrifice of the Mass") is set forth in the response Saepius officio of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to Pope Leo XIII's Papal Encyclical Apostolicae curae.

Anglicans and Roman Catholics declared that they had "substantial agreement on the doctrine of the Eucharist" in the Windsor Statement on Eucharistic Doctrine from the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Consultation and the Elucidation of the ARCIC Windsor Statement.


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Manner of the Real Presence

Lutherans believe that the Body and Blood of Christ are "truly and substantially present in, with and under the forms" of the consecrated bread and wine (the elements), so that communicants eat and drink both the elements and the true Body and Blood of Christ Himself (cf. Augsburg Confession, Article 10) in the Sacrament of Holy Communion whether they are believers or unbelievers ("manducatio indignorum": "eating of the unworthy"). The Lutheran doctrine of the Real Presence is formally known as "the sacramental union." This theology was first formally and publicly confessed in the Wittenberg Concord. It has been called "consubstantiation" by some, but this term is rejected by some Lutheran Churches and theologians as it creates confusion with an earlier doctrine of the same name. Lutherans sometimes use the terms "in, with and under the forms of consecrated bread and wine" and "sacramental union" to distinguish their understanding of the Lord's Supper from those of the Reformed and other traditions.

Use of the sacrament

For Lutherans, there is no sacrament unless the elements are used according to Christ's mandate and institution (consecration, distribution, and reception). This was first formulated in the Wittenberg Concord of 1536 in the formula: Nihil habet rationem sacramenti extra usum a Christo institutum ("Nothing has the character of a sacrament apart from the use instituted by Christ"). As a consequence of their belief in this principle, some Lutherans have opposed in the Christian Church the reservation of the consecrated elements, private masses, the practice of Corpus Christi, and the belief that the presence of Christ's body and blood continue in the "reliquæ" (what remains of the consecrated elements after all have communed in the worship service). This interpretation is not universal among Lutherans. The consecrated elements are treated with respect, and in some areas are reserved as in Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican practice, but Eucharistic adoration is not typically practiced. To remove any scruple of doubt or superstition the reliquæ traditionally are either consumed or poured into the earth. In some Lutheran congregations a small amount or the reliquæ may be kept for delivery to those too ill or infirm to attend the service (private communion). In this case, the consecrated elements are to be delivered quickly, preserving the connection between the communion experienced by the ill person, and the communion of the rest of the congregation. In other Lutheran congregations the administration of private communion of the sick and "shut-in" (those too feeble to attend service) involves a completely separate service of Holy Communion for which sacramental elements are consecrated by the administrant.

Close(d) or Open Communion

More liberal Lutheran Churches tend to practice open communion, inviting all who are baptized to participate. Conservative Lutheran Churches such as the Confessional Lutherans are more likely to practice closed communion (or "close communion"), restricting participation to those, who are more or less in doctrinal agreement with them. This might involve the formal declaration of "altar and pulpit fellowship," another term for Eucharistic sharing coupled with the acceptance of the ministrations of one another's clergy.

The term "Eucharist"

While the word "Eucharist" does appear in early Lutheran teachings, some Lutherans object to it because it emphasizes human response (thanksgiving) rather than the traditional Lutheran theological emphasis on God's grace and activity in the sacrament.[18] They note that this point -- the distinction between the human act of thanksgiving and God's activity in the sacrament -- is clearly presented in Article XXIV.66 of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession which reads in part, "But they openly testify that they are speaking of thanksgiving. Accordingly they call it a eucharist."

On the other hand, the term "Eucharist", which comes from the Greek word "εὐχαριστήσας" in the Words of Institution (cf. 1 Cor. 11:24; Mt. 26:27; Mk. 14:23; Lk. 22:19), appears in catechisms of conservative Lutheran Churches.[19] In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, which distinguishes "eucharistic sacrifice" from "propitiatory sacrifice" (Article XXIV.19),[20] Lutherans declare that speaking of the Lord's Supper as Eucharist denies that it is a propitiatory sacrifice that the church offers to God to earn the forgiveness of sins:

... piety looks at what is given and at what is forgiven; it compares the greatness of God's blessings and the greatness of our ills, our sin and our death; and it give thanks. From this the term "eucharist" arose in the church. The ceremony is not a thanksgiving that can be transferred to others ex opere operato [by the deed done] to merit the forgiveness of sins for them or to free the souls of the dead. The theory that a ceremony can benefit either the worshiper or anyone else without faith conflicts with the righteousness of faith.[21]


Methodists understand the eucharist to be an experience of God's grace. God's unconditional love makes the table of God's grace accessible to all.

According to the Articles of Religion in the Book of Discipline of the Methodist Church,

A United Methodist Elder presides at the Eucharist, assisted by a Deacon.

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.[22]

There are various acceptable modes of receiving the Eucharist for Methodists. Some Methodists kneel at the altar, sometimes referred to as the communion table. In other churches, communicants stand or are served in the pew. 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.[23]

The United Methodist Church believes in the real presence of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion:[23]

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.[23]

The followers of John Wesley, himself an Anglican clergyman, 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,[24] but have otherwise allowed the details to remain a mystery.[23] In particular, Methodists reject the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation (see "Article XVIII" of the Articles of Religion, Means of Grace). 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 (for example: Word and Table 1) where, in the epiclesis of the Great Thanksgiving, the celebrating minister prays over the elements:

A United Methodist Elder consecrates 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.

For most United Methodists — and, indeed, for much of Methodism as a whole — this reflects the furthest extent to which they are willing to go in defining Real Presence. They will assert that Jesus is really present, and that the means of this presence 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 even 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.[25]

Methodists believe that Holy Communion should not only be available to the clergy in both forms (the Bread and the Cup), 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.[26]


Communion service in the Three-kings Church, Frankfurt am Main.

Many Reformed Christians hold that Christ's body and blood are not actually present in the Eucharist. The elements are only symbols of the reality, which is spiritual nourishment in Christ. 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.[27]

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.[27] 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'.

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 they 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.[27]

Christians in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and some Christians in the United Church of Christ would reverently endorse this view.

Zwinglian Reformed

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. As with the Reformed view, elements left over from the service may be discarded without any formal ceremony, or if feasible may be retained for use in future services.

Some of the Reformed hold that Calvin actually held this view, and not the "spiritual feeding" idea more commonly attributed to him; or that the two views are really the same.

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.

Some Christian denominations that hold this view include the United Church of Christ, the Baptist Church, the Disciples of Christ, and the Mennonites. 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 enjoyed 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.

Latter Day Saint movement

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 blest with the Spirit of Christ.[28]

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."[29] After this time water became the liquid of choice for all Sacrament uses, although in situations where clean water and/or fresh bread is unavailable the closest equivalent may be used.

Seventh-day Adventists

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."[30]

Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists

The Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists base their belief on the Bible and reject later traditions. They teach that the Lord's Supper is not a sacrificial ceremony, but the common Agape feast.

See also


  1. Bengt Hägglund, History of Theology, Gene J. Lund, trans., (St. Louis: CPH, 1968), 194
  2. "after the consecration of the bread and of the wine, there no longer remaineth the substance of the bread and of the wine, but the Body Itself and the Blood of the Lord, under the species and form of bread and wine; that is to say, under the accidents of the bread" (Confession of Dositheus, Synod of Jerusalem); "the word transubstantiation is not to be taken to define the manner in which the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord; for this none can understand but God; but only thus much is signified, that the bread truly, really, and substantially becomes the very true Body of the Lord, and the wine the very Blood of the Lord" (The Longer Catechism of the Orthodox, Catholic, Eastern Church. Augsburg Confession of Lutheran Church); the Catechism of the Eastern Orthodox Church also uses the term transubstantiation.
  3. Justo L. Gonzalez (1987), A History of Christian Thought, volume 2, Nashville:Abingdon Press 
  4. Ware pp. 283-285
  5. For instance, "after the consecration of the bread and of the wine, there no longer remaineth the substance of the bread and of the wine, but the Body Itself and the Blood of the Lord, under the species and form of bread and wine; that is to say, under the accidents of the bread" (Chapter VI of Acts and Decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem).
  6. Ware p. 287
  7. Ware p. 279
  8. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was especially imperative in the Year of the Eucharist, declared by Pope John Paul II from October 2004 to October 2005.
  9. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1367; Council of Trent: Session XXII, chapter 2
  10. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1412; Code of Canon Law, canon 924; Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 705
  11. Council of Trent, Session XIII, canon 3;Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1390; Catholic Encyclopedia, Communion under Both Kinds
  12. The Catholic Church holds that no explanation is possible about how the change from bread and wine to the body and blood of Christ is brought about, and limits itself to teaching what is changed: "The signs of bread and wine become, in a way surpassing understanding, the Body and Blood of Christ" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1333, emphasis added).
  13. Denzinger 416
  14. Denzinger 430
  15. Denzinger 544
  16. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1378-1380, 1418
  17. Donne, John. Divine Poems — On the Sacrament, (Flesher's Edition)
  18. Cf., e.g., "Lift Up Your Hearts website": "But I like 'Holy Communion'; I actually prefer it, even over the now-almost-universally familiar 'Eucharist.' Why? 'Eucharist' (Greek for "Thanksgiving") suggests, to its credit, the aspect of joy too often missing (Lord knows!) in our so-called 'celebrations' of the Supper. But it's one-directional: it spells out nicely what we do: that is, give thanks. But the term 'Holy Communion' is multi-directional: me toward God, God toward me, me toward you, you toward me. 'Holy Communion,' that is, suggests a mutuality and a relationship lacking in the term 'Eucharist.'"
  19. A Short Exposition of Dr. Martin Luther's Small Catechism, (St. Louis: CPH, 1912), 141, q. 320; A Short Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther's Small Catechism: A Handbook of Christian Doctrine, (St. Louis: CPH, 1943), 193.
  20. Theodore G. Tappert, ed. and trans., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 252.
  21. Article XXIV.76-77 in ibid., 263
  22. The United Methodist Church: The Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church — Article XVIII — Of the Lord's Supper
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 "This Holy Mystery: Part Two". The United Methodist Church GBOD. Retrieved 2007–07–10. 
  24. "This Holy Mystery: Part One". The United Methodist Church GBOD. Retrieved 2007–07–10. 
  26. The United Methodist Church: The Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church — Article XIX — Of Both Kinds
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 4, chapter 17, points 10-11 [1]
  28. Doctrine & Covenants 20:75-79 (see also Moroni 4:3, Moroni 5:2)
  29. Doctrine & Covenants 27:2
  30. 28 Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists

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