We wrap up the sacraments of initiation with what is called “the Sacrament of sacraments”: the Holy Eucharist. This sacrament is called “the source and summit of the Christian life. The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it,” (CCC 1324). Because of the great emphasis placed on this sacrament, the teachings will be divided into multiple parts.
This sacrament goes by many names: Eucharist (literally meaning thanksgiving), the Lord’s Supper, the Breaking of Bread (Luke 24:13-35), Eucharistic assembly, the memorial of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection, the Holy Sacrifice, Holy and Divine Liturgy, Holy Communion, and Holy Mass (from Latin missa, literally meaning send forth). Catechism sections 1328-1332 expound on the reasoning for each of these names (feel free to ask as well!).
In all celebrations of the Eucharist by all Christians, bread and wine (or grape juice) are used. These gifts become Christ’s Body and Blood, we believe, in substance, which is known as transubstantiation (more to follow on that). They are used because it is what Jesus himself used at the Last Supper with his disciples before his Passion (CCC 1333).
References to these gifts are also made in the Old Testament. In Genesis, we read of the priest Melchizedek who brought out bread and wine to Abraham (Gen. 14:18). “In the Old Covenant bread and wine were offered in sacrifice among the first fruits of the earth as a sign of grateful acknowledgement to the Creator.” The gifts also point to the Exodus and the journey that followed when God fed the Hebrews manna in the desert. “The ‘cup of blessing’ at the end of the Jewish Passover meal adds to the festive joy of wine an eschatological (future things) dimension: the messianic expectation of the rebuilding of Jerusalem,” (CCC 1334). By instituting the Eucharist, Jesus gave new meaning to these signs.
Signs that Jesus performed also point to this feast, the Catechism teaches. “The miracles of the multiplication of the loaves…prefigure the superabundance of this unique bread of his Eucharist. The sign of water turned into wine at Cana …makes manifest the fulfillment of the wedding feast in the Father’s kingdom, where the faithful will drink the new wine that has become the Blood of Christ,” (CCC 1335).
It is in John 6 that Jesus first announces the Eucharist, which causes divisions among those following him. They ask, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60) The Catechism echoes, “The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division,” (CCC 1336). This also echoes what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:23.
Jesus instituted this great sacrament at the Passover meal with his disciples, as recorded by the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) and Paul in 1 Corinthians. t is there we hear the words that are recited each time we celebrate the Eucharist:
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us, that we may eat it…” They went…and prepared the Passover. And when the hour came, he sat at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”… And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:7-20, Matt 26:17-29, Mark 14:12-25, 1 Cor 11:23-26)
By doing this, “Jesus gave the Jewish Passover its definitive meaning. Jesus’ passing over to his father by his death and Resurrection, the new Passover, is anticipated in the Supper and celebrated in the Eucharist, which fulfills the Jewish Passover and anticipates the final Passover of the Church in the glory of the kingdom,” (CCC 1340).