Archdiocese Articles on the Eucharist
Christ Is Not Divided!
What do we say when a parishioner asks, “when will we receive the Precious Blood again?” because Holy Communion has been distributed only under the form of the Consecrated Host? We say, “you have been receiving the Precious Blood all along!” Church doctrine teaches, in an odd sounding term called “theology of concomitance,” that Christ is present fully, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in each and both forms of Holy Communion. So, when we receive the Consecrated Host, we are receiving the Body and Blood of Christ.
When we receive Holy Communion under either form, Christ is not divided. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “the sign of communion is more complete when given under both kinds” because in this form, the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident. As we return to reception of Communion under both forms, when we hear the minister of Communion say, “Body of Christ,” we know what is really being said is “Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.” And to that, let the Church, each and all of us in communion, say: “Amen!”
Archdiocese of Milwaukee 2023
The Eucharist and the Church
The Eucharist has been at the center of the life of the Church since apostolic times. We know from reading the Acts of the Apostles that Christians met in one another’s homes for “the breaking of the bread.” (Acts 2:42, 46) Although today’s Mass is quite different from those first early gatherings of Christians, there has always been a certain constancy in the celebration: the community comes together with a bishop or priest to hear the Word of God, to give thanks and remember the death and resurrection of Jesus, and to partake of the sanctified bread and wine that in faith have become the Body and Blood of Christ. In one sense, we could say that to be Church is to celebrate the Eucharist.
Just as our families gather to share stories around the supper table, the Eucharist is the meal at which the Christian family gathers to hear the stories of our salvation in Christ and to share a meal. No one is a stranger at the Eucharist — rich and poor, powerful and powerless, young and old — all who constitute Church are united around the altar of the Lord, who feeds us again and again with His Body and Blood.
The relationship between the Eucharist and the Church is intimate and dynamic. The Eucharist is an active celebration when we eat and drink the Body and Blood of the Lord. This we see in the oldest text we have on the Eucharist, which is from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:23-26):
“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in memory of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat of this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
This passage also shows us that the Eucharist is first an action of Jesus himself in the shedding of his blood to redeem us from our sins. It is the sacrifice of Christ that restored our relationship with God the Father. Furthermore, by the command of Christ at the Last Supper, the Eucharist is also the action of the Church. At Mass, the priest stands in the person of Christ, head of the Church, and he offers the sacrifice on the altar. In turn, we, the Church, join ourselves to that sacrifice, and in accepting of Jesus’ invitation to take and eat and take and drink, we enter into sacramental communion with the Son of God and form one body in Christ. It is in gathering for the Eucharist that individual Christians become the Church, and therefore, we can say that the Eucharist makes the Church.
The Eucharist as Sacrifice
How often do we use the word “sacrifice” to mean something we “offer up” or “do” for ourselves or someone else? The word “sacrifice” often has connotations of self-deprivation, inconvenience, or even suffering. Some examples of sacrifices are when parents lose sleep to care for a sick child, or spouses mutually cooperate to build a life together. Everyone makes financial sacrifices to ensure a more secure life in the future. During Lent, we sacrifice food to share it with those who would otherwise go hungry. Sometimes someone sacrifices a kidney so their loved one can live. The word sacrifice conveys many meanings; however, at the root of each of these examples is love.
The Eucharist is a Real Sacrifice. During the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest says the words of Jesus at the Last Supper over the gifts of bread and wine: “This is my Body, which will be given up for you,” and “This is the chalice of my Blood … which will be poured out …” These words point forward to the death that Jesus would die for us on the Cross, making the Last Supper a sacrificial meal.
The sacrifice of the Mass is not a reenactment, imitation or a dramatization of the Last Supper; rather, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says it “makes present the one sacrifice of Christ.” Scripture tells us that Jesus Christ “entered once for all into the sanctuary … with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:12) The historical sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is not repeated, but instead, the sacrifice of the Mass is a memorial in which Christ’s sacrifice is sacramentally present.
The Eucharist as sacrifice has another dimension. After the gifts of bread and wine have been presented by the assembly and placed on the altar, the priest invites us to pray in these words: “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” The privilege of participating in the Eucharist is that we take part in what we enact. God’s Love for us, manifested in the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, begs a response from us: love in response to love; sacrifice in response to sacrifice. When we participate in Mass, we offer God our thoughts, prayers, words, deeds, trust, service and charity — our very lives and everything that we are — and we pray that we may be transformed and so be gathered into one in the unity of the Body of Christ. As St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (12:1) Eucharistic Prayer IV explicitly asks that God’s people “may truly become a living sacrifice in Christ.”
The Eucharist is a Real Sacrifice — it is Christ’s once-for-all, loving sacrifice for us. It is also our sacrifice — the loving surrender of our wills and our lives to God. When we receive Holy Communion, we are strengthened by Christ’s Real Presence so that we can do the Father’s will. The Mass, which perpetuates the unbloody sacrifice of Christ, strengthens us to live the sacrifices which the Christian life demands.
Archdiocese of Milwaukee 2023
Reverence for the Eucharist
Let us Bow Down and Worship (Psalm 95)
Think of all the gestures we take for granted that have meaning attached to them. A friendly wave across the room, a head tilted in bewilderment, a thumbs-up for a job well done. Other silent gestures remind us of the dignity of another person, be it standing to order in a courtroom to acknowledge the judge, the curtsey or bow before a king or queen, the joined hands and deep bow in the Eastern tradition. If we exhibit these signs of reverence for fellow humans, how much more so should we show signs of reverence for Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in the Eucharist.
When we pass in front of a tabernacle with the reserved Blessed Sacrament, we make a profound sign of reverence. Ordinarily this is a genuflection on one knee or, if physically challenged, a deep bow. We show reverence during the celebration of the Mass by our attentive engagement in the sacrifice being offered and our active participation in it, both internally and externally. We should be in reverent awe as the priest “gathers not only the bread and the wine, but the substance of our lives and joins them to Christ's perfect sacrifice, offering them to the Father.” (USCCB, “The Eucharist,” November 2021) When we come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the form of bread and/or wine, we should walk with reverence and dignity, signifying the profound nature of what we are about to do, joining Christ’s Body to our own. Approaching the altar with folded hands, we bow our heads before receiving Holy Communion and show deep reverence as we receive. Our reverence for the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ is reflected in our solemn “Amen,” “So be it,” an act of faith in the Divine Presence. It is customary to make the sign of the cross after receiving; let us make more of an effort at a slow and meaningful one rather than a rushed sweep of the hand.
Our reverence for the Eucharist begins even before we head to church. Fasting for one hour before Communion from all solids and liquids, with the exception of water and required medicine, shows our respect and reverence for His true presence in the Eucharist. We also must be in a state of grace (not conscious of having committed any grave sins) when we approach for Holy Communion.
Reverence for the Eucharist should demonstrate our humility of heart and a loving commitment to live the Gospel values in faith in imitation of and in unity with Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord.
Archdiocese of Milwaukee 2023
Ordinary vs. Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion
The words ordinary and extraordinary have several shades of meaning in our culture and in our Church. In our cultural context, the word “ordinary” can mean “normal, standard or commonplace; having no special or significant features.” Sometimes we even associate the word “ordinary” with “plain” or “unimpressive” — It is just an ordinary day. On the other hand, our cultural use of the word “extraordinary” can mean something “remarkable, special or grand” — She is an extraordinary musician!
In the Church, we use the word “ordinary” most frequently when referring to the liturgical season, “Ordinary Time.” In this context, “ordinary” comes from the Latin term ordinalis, which means “numbered” or “ruled.” It can also be “ordered.” This is the origin of our word for “ordination.” Likewise, when the Church refers to something as “extraordinary” it simply means it is “extra,” or “outside” of the ordinary.
Every liturgical celebration is an action of Christ and the Church — that is, the faithful people, who are united and “ordered” under the bishop of a diocese. Because priests and bishops offer the sacrifice of the Eucharist in the person of Christ, and deacons assist with the distribution of the Eucharist, they are the “ordinary” ministers. That is what they are ordained to do — it is a normal part of their ministry. Lay men and women who distribute Holy Communion do so as extraordinary ministers because it is outside of their normal responsibilities as members of the liturgical assembly.
The Church allows for extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion to assist the ordinary ministers when required by the size of the congregation. Extraordinary ministers should receive adequate spiritual, theological and practical preparation so they can fulfill their role with reverence and respect for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Their extra-ordinary role is to assist the ordinary ministers in the distribution Holy Communion to the congregation. In the United States, extraordinary ministers do not purify vessels, they do not distribute Holy Communion to ordained clergy and their number should not be increased beyond what is necessary for an orderly and reverent distribution of Holy Communion.