The Sacrament of the Eucharist
The sacrament of the Eucharist is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. The term “Eucharist” originates from the Greek word eucharistia, meaning “thanksgiving.”
Simply put, the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Unlike many other denominations, Catholics do not believe that the Eucharist is a symbol or remembrance of Jesus or His sacrifice for us. Rather, the Eucharist, which begins as simple bread and wine, is transformed (transubstantiated) and quite literally becomes the body and blood of Christ. Although it retains the physical properties of bread and wine (that is, it still looks, smells, tastes, and feels like bread and wine), the power of the Holy Spirit and the cooperation of the priest transform it completely.
The Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324) and is both the sign and cause of the communion we share in the Church (CCC 1325). Through God’s love, this sacrament brings us into and strengthens our communion with God and the Church, and it gives us the power and graces we need to live out our vocation as Christians in the world.
Like all sacraments, the Eucharist is about the recipient’s relationship with Jesus with their brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus instituted the Eucharist at a meal, which is an important indication of how we should continue to approach it. When we gather at table with loved ones, the food we eat is important and necessary for the building up of our bodies. But the fellowship and love we share with those around us are also necessary nourishment for our souls. Although the Eucharist can be received outside of Mass (typically for those who are unwell and unable to attend), it is most often and most appropriately received in the presence of the Christian community at Mass.
Scriptural Basis of Eucharist
Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, the Passover meal He shared with His Apostles the Thursday before His crucifixion. He did this out of His great love for us. When we partake in the Eucharist, we are united to the person of Christ: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” (John 6:56).
The gift of the Eucharist is described in all four Gospels:
John 6:22-59 (The Bread of Life Discourse)
The Eucharist is a sacrament that Catholics can receive as often as they want. However, when we talk about it in the context of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, we often refer specifically to the first time someone receives the Eucharist, or their “First Communion” or “First Eucharist.” In the Eastern Church, first communion (and confirmation) usually occurs at the same time as baptism, regardless of the age of the individual being baptized. In the Latin Rite, the Eucharist is typically reserved until recipients are around or approaching the age of reason (usually considered age seven to eight), although the exact age varies greatly depending on parish, diocese, and individual circumstance. Adult converts to the faith receive first communion at the time of their baptism, but those who have been baptized as infants will typically undergo specific formation at a later time to prepare receiving the sacrament. Like baptism and confirmation, first communion is an important milestone in the life of a Christian. It marks one’s ability to gather around the eucharistic table and fully participate with the rest of the Catholic family.