The Eucharist

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Introducing

The Eucharist

The Eucharist is the central and greatest sacrament of the Church. It is the means by which the Church is continually maintained in communion with Jesus Christ the Lord and the means by which each Christian participates in the once and for all sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. The Catechism of the Catholic Church following a document of Vatican II calls the Eucharist the ‘source and summit of the Christian life’.

The word ‘Eucharist’ from the Greek word for ‘thanksgiving’ is commonly used in various ways: You might read a sign outside a church that says: “Sunday Eucharist: 8.00, 9.30 and 11.00 am”. Here the word Eucharist means the Mass – the act of worship through which Catholics re-present and participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Or you might ask a child, “When did you receive your first Eucharist”? Here the word refers specifically to the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ: the bread and wine consecrated during the Mass through the eating and drinking of which we are drawn into communion with Jesus Christ and the Church, hence it is also referred to as Holy Communion.

There are actually many titles for the Eucharist each with it own special emphasis. The Catechism of the Catholic Church #1328-1332 provides a list of these titles with a brief explanation of each.

An outline and basic texts of the Mass can be found on Fr. Felix Just’s site while a good general introductionto the Eucharist is provided by Fr Anthony Kain as part of his site ‘Exploring the Sacraments’. The US Bishops site provides a Question and Answer style article which responds to frequently asked questions about the ‘real presence’ of Christ in the Eucharist.

Human dimensions of the Eucharist

Like all the sacraments the Eucharist has parallels in ordinary human experience and yet expands and transcends every human experience. It is an inexhaustible source of significance.

In no particular order it is about:

  • remembering and offering
  • proclaiming and listening
  • giving praise and thanks
  • forgiveness and reconciliation
  • hungering and being fed
  • the sacrificial death of Jesus and his resurrection
  • our own death and resurrection.
  • receiving the body of Christ
  • being the Body of Christ
  • identifying with those who suffer
  • justice and the love of others
  • the presence and absence of Christ
  • being gathered together and being sent out
  • the past and the future crystallised in the present moment
  • the life of this world and the life of the world to come

The Mass: a meal and a sacrifice

Two crucial ways the Church speaks of the Eucharist are as a meal and as a sacrifice.

Each of these ways of understanding the Eucharist expands the other. The Mass is a ritual representation of the last supper of Jesus and takes the form of a meal. Yet the Last Supper gains its true significance from the fact that Jesus associates his words and actions at that supper with the sacrifice of his life on the cross that he would make on the next day. Both these aspects of the Mass speak to the human dimensions of our lives.

The Mass as a Meal

The most obvious human dimension of the Eucharist is that of the meal. While on one level meals are very much taken for granted in the affluent society in which we live, on another level they represent a human necessity – eating – without which we would simply die. Hence bread (which represents all food) is a potent sign or symbol of our dependence on what is beyond ourselves – God – for life.

Meals are also occasions when a family or a community group come together to converse, share experiences, laugh or complain or simply sit. Research shows that members of families who regularly eat together experience a stronger sense of belonging and security, are more resilient and less likely to feel to alienated and depressed. Yes I’ll take a Happy Meal Please’ looks at the ways in which the family meal and the Eucharist correspond.

Another Catholic Update site further explores the Mass as a meal.

The Mass as a Sacrifice

Sacrifice means giving up or setting aside something exclusively to God. The word comes from the Latin ‘to make holy’. Jesus’ death on the cross was a sacrifice because Jesus freely offered his whole life and self toGod, and for others. His death was an act of freedom and trust totally consistent with his life of love and service. And yet the initiative was God’s. God ‘shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.’ (Rom 5:8). Jesus death on the cross is of universal significance for all time and all history.

The Eucharist is understood as a sacrifice because it re-presents throughout the ages Jesus’ self-offering on the Cross. Through the Eucharist we can share in this sacrifice as if we had been present there. It is explicitly there that we make Jesus’ prayer of self-offering to the Father our own, and join our prayers to his.

What does the sacrifice of Jesus have to do with our ordinary human experience?

Human hunger, the longing for community, the search for justice, the desire for self-giving even willingness to give one’s life for what is right are just some of the human impulses and longings which find expression in the sacrifice of the Mass. But so do the daily efforts of dying to selfishness and living for God and other ‘sacrifices’ which are part of every ordinary Christian life.

The Eucharist is where we learn, little by little, to model our lives on the paschal mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Eucharist invites all of us who belong to the Church to see ourselves as we are before God, to make sense of our lives in the light of Jesus’ self-giving, to unite ourselves with his offering to God, to become more and more the Body of Christ by receiving his Body, to accept all he accepted and refuse all he refused, to be his presence in the world.

A Catholic Update site explores the Mass as a sacrifice further.

A note about the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross:

It is important to understand that Jesus did not offer his life to appease an angry, vengeful God. It was not the Father who inflicted torture and death on Jesus but sinful humanity. God not only does not destroy us for our sinfulness but in the person of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, absorbs the violence and sinfulness of all human beings. Jesus’ death shows us the utter injustice and wrongness of human violence and sin; Jesus’ resurrection shows us God affirming the innocence and righteousness of Jesus. In Jesus, God suffers for the life of the world.

 So the Mass is

  • not simply a communal meal but a sacrificial meal;
  • not simply of local but of universal significance;
  • it happens in time but is beyond time.

It does not matter that we do not always appreciate the full significance of what we are doing at Mass – no-one ever can. What matters is that we are there and that we open ourselves as much as we can to the central mystery of our faith.

FURTHER READING

Three quite demanding articles explore various aspects of the Eucharist: The Responsible Body: A Eucharistic Community discusses among other things the relationship between hunger and the Eucharist.

An article entitled Eucharist God’s Absolute ‘No’ to Violence presents the key points about the relationship between the Eucharist and violence made by the papal chaplain Fr Raniero Cantalamessa OFM.

The article by William Cavanaugh The Social Meaning of the Eucharist suggests that the Eucharist proposes to the world not only a religious and ethical truth but a whole new social reality.

A fourth article It is accomplished attempts an explanation from an anthropological point of view the universal significance of the crucifixion of Jesus and how Christians have sometimes undermined this by looking for someone to blame for his death.

Reflections &  Responses

What is your own experience of the Eucharist? Think of Masses that have been important in your journey of faith. What has helped you be alert to what is really being celebrated in the Eucharist. What sometimes makes it more difficult to enter into a celebration of the Eucharist?

Could you describe the Eucharist as ‘the source and summit’ of your life?

Explore the meaning of bread and or wine. Why are these used in the Eucharist?

What connections can you see between

  • the Eucharist and a family meal?
  • the Eucharist and your deepest hopes and longings?
  • the Eucharist and your efforts to offer your life for God and others?

Look at the list offered above of aspects of the Eucharist. Which aspects are most meaningful for you? Can you add to this list?

As a class project prepare a collage on the Eucharist which reflects the different aspects listed above plus any other insights of the class members.

How would you explain the Mass as a meal to a first communion class?

How might you also explain the Mass as re-presenting the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross to a parent formation meeting.

What light does the following poem cast on the mystery of redemption?

And God held in his hand
a small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
as through water,
he saw
a scorched land of fierce
colour. The light burned
there; crusted buildings
cast their shadows; a bright
serpent, a river
uncoiled itself, radiant
with slime.
On a bare
hill a bare tree saddened
the sky. Many people
held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
for a vanished April
to return to its crossed
boughs. The son watched
them. Let me go there, he said.

R.S. Thomas, The Coming

At the heart of the Eucharist is the celebration of the paschal mystery. Express your understanding of the paschal mystery in story form, poetry, or images.

Choose a saint or another Christian whose life story you know well and show how he or she lived out the paschal mystery.

In God’s Story

The Eucharist in the Scriptures

Naturally the most significant references to the Eucharist occur in the gospels and the apostolic letters of the New Testament though many stories of the Old Testament prefigure it. The Gospels of MatthewMark and Luke and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (11:23-26) all tell the story of Jesus’ words and actions at the Last Supper. Jesus, solemnly gave the disciples bread and wine, already charged with paschal significance because of the Passover setting. He explicitly associates the bread and cup with his own body and blood, relating them to his own self-giving on the next day and making this ritual a memorial of him. In the New Testament there are five ways in which the Eucharist is referred to. It is the ‘breaking of bread‘, ‘giving thanks’ (in Greek, ‘eucharistein’), the ‘table of the Lord’, ‘communion’ and ‘the Lord’s Supper’.

 

The ‘Bread of Life’ Discourse in the Gospel of John

The gospel of John does not mention the Eucharist in the account of the Last Supper yet this fourth gospel (John 6:22-66) contains the most sustained teaching and explanation about Jesus as the Bread of Lifeanywhere in the New Testament. A guided study of this ‘Bread of Life’ discourse would help senior classes examine it in some detail.

Meals in the New Testament

The New Testament reference in the Acts of the Apostles suggests that in addition to usual Jewish observances, from earliest times believers came together, initially in each others homes to encounter the Risen Lord in the breaking of bread together and to share in each other’s faith, hospitality and love. A precedent for these meals was set by Jesus’ own example of regularly sharing meals with both his followers and with ‘tax-collectors and sinners’ who invited him while the account in Luke of the meal at Emmaus on the evening of the resurrection day itself associates the experience of the presence of Jesus with the breaking of bread.

Sacrifice and sacrificial language in the New Testament

John’s gospel in its very first chapter identifies Jesus as ‘the Lamb of God’ who takes away the sin of the world’ Lambs were sacrificed and eaten at Passover. The synoptic gospel writers Matthew, Mark and Luke identify the last supper of Jesus as an actual Passover meal. Jesus himself speaks of a new covenant in his blood while John’s gospel has the death of Jesus coincide with the time the lambs were slaughtered in preparation for Passover. Each of the gospels is offering a theological interpretation of the meaning of the death of Jesus and in each case the death of Jesus is interpreted in a sacrificial way. Paul too speaks of Jesus as a paschal lamb who has been sacrificed, and speaks of our ‘cup of blessing’ (a Passover reference) as a communion with the blood of Christ. And it is Paul also who writes ‘as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes’ (1Cor 11:26). The Eucharist prolongs the mystery of the death of Jesus until the consummation of time. Hebrews is full of sacrificial language using images of Christ the high priest and the final book of the New Testament the book of Revelation celebrates Christ as the Lamb who was slain yet lives victorious to preside over the liturgy of heaven.

FURTHER READING

A comprehensive Readers Guide to Meals, Food and Table Fellowship in the New Testament
by Jerome Neyrey SJ would answer any questions you might have about this topic while a Canadian Anglican site has a well set out site discussing the history of the Eucharist as a Meal which traces its development from New Testament times into the second century.

Jesus the Lamb of God surveys the New Testament references to Jesus as Passover Lamb and as Victorious Lamb and comments on their significance. Should you want to examine Passover in a little more detail, a Jewish site explores Passover further. Eucharist and Seder is another helpful article.

Reflections & Responses

Compare the last supper accounts of the three synoptic gospels. What do they have in common? How do they differ? A coloured synopsis shows the differences and similarities visually: Mark is blue, Matthew pink and Luke light green. Text they share in common is yellow. Scroll through the text to the Last Supper account.

Imagine you were waiting at the table during the last supper of Jesus and his disciples. Tell the story in your own words.

Find four different pieces of art depicting the last supper either online or elsewhere. Match a verse from the gospels to each of these. What is Jesus doing in each? How are the disciples responding? Is the viewer included in or excluded from what is happening? Is the art influenced only by the scriptural account of the supper or by how the liturgy has developed or by the way the artist has interpreted the moment?

The ‘Bread of Life’ discourse (John 6:22-66) provides the gospels read at Mass in Year B from the 17th Sunday of the Year until the 21st . Each gospel is introduced by an Old Testament reading chosen to cast light on it. These are from the book of Kings, the book of Exodus, the book of Kings again, the book of Proverbs and the book of Joshua. Read each of these and explain why you think these particular extracts were chosen to accompany the ‘Bread of Life’ gospels.

Eating and drinking are mentioned over 80 times in the gospels. Search the verbs ‘eat’ and ‘drink’ on the Michigan RSV site for references to eating and drinking. Choose three references and note the setting, the persons present, the words or teaching of Jesus and the significance of the extract in relation to the Eucharist.

Express a response to one of these gospels in

  • mime, dance or movement
  • paint, clay or photography
  • story or verse
  • music or song

Use the Michigan RSV site to research the lamb symbol often used of Jesus. What does an understanding of the lamb motif in both Old and New Testaments contribute to an understanding of Jesus’ role in the work of salvation?

The Adoration of the LambPaschal LambAgnus Dei are three very different depictions of the Lamb of God. Look carefully at each picture describe its setting and symbolism. What are each of these pictures saying about Jesus?

In the Church’s Story

The Eucharist in the History of the Church

A brief overview of the development of the Eucharist in the life of the Church is provided on the Catholic Update site. We have seen how the Eucharist was celebrated in New Testament times within the context of a meal. Naturally such meals would have been situated within prayer and thanksgiving and used forms of Jewish domestic prayer familiar to the members of the first communities.

A natural progression into more ritual memorial and prayer happened after the exclusion of Christians from the synagogues (c.85) as elements of the synagogue service were incorporated into the community ‘breaking of bread’. By the time of Justin Martyr (c.150), another early source on the Eucharist there is no mention of an actual meal at all.

The Didache, a kind of catechism of the early Church written between 50 and 130, even earlier than Justin, was re-discovered in 1883 and casts light on early celebrations of the Eucharist. It shows a Eucharistic celebration which is quite simple, reserved to baptised Christians and concerned for unity and holiness. The prayers are still closely related to Jewish prayer forms. Early Christian liturgy emerged from Jewish prayer. This site provides audio examples of early Christian liturgical music.

The Fathers on the Eucharist

By the 4th century much had been written on the Eucharist by the great leaders of the church – they are known as the Fathers of the Church – and the ritual itself assumed a form which would be easily recognised by present day Catholics. Fr Tony Banks OSA describes a celebration of the Eucharist as it might have taken place in the 4th Century while an outline of Mass celebrated in 4th Century Africa is very similar to the structure of Mass today.

You may wish to look at some quotations from the Fathers on the Eucharist which show the faith of the Church from earliest times in the true presence of Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. St Cyril of Jerusalem and St Augustine are two key thinkers on the Eucharist. A site from Yale University recapitulates some of the early history of the Eucharist in providing an interesting Introduction to Medieval Liturgy in the West.

The Eucharist in the Middle Ages

Faith in the Mass as a sacrifice and in the presence of Christ in the sacrament of his body and blood remained constant in the Church through succeeding centuries yet, partly because of a gradual separation of the ritual of the Mass from the people, inadequate catechesis and a lack of clarity of theological thought, the mystery of the mode of Christ’s presence in the sacrament began to be understood in ways that differed from the early Church’s sense of presence. Many claimed a grossly material presence of Christ in the Eucharist, while others, on the contrary, denied the reality of the presence of Christ in the sacrament or made it dependent on the faith of the receiver of communion.

St Thomas Aquinas on the Eucharist

St Thomas Aquinas brought great precision to enunciating an authentic understanding of the reality of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Read a brief extract from his teaching here.

Note how Aquinas in his explanation makes the point that Christ is present in a sacramental not a material sense, how Christ’s flesh and blood are set before us as bread and wine, how the whole Christ is contained in this sacrament. The word he used to describe the conversion of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ was transubstantiation, a term which, though it was unknown to the first millennium of the Church helped many in the second millennium to describe the mode of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.

The Protestant Reformation and the Council of Trent

There was a wide spectrum of belief concerning the Eucharist among the protestant reformers of the 15th and 16th century. The majority denied the Mass as a sacrifice and held that Christ was only spiritually present in the elements of bread and wine. Others, like the Anglican divines, held to a more Catholic view. The Council of Trent, called to address the great rift caused by the Reformation movement, reaffirmed the Mass as a sacrifice and used St Thomas Aquinas’ theology to reassert Catholic teaching on the Eucharist. However, in all the controversies about the mode of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, the reason for his presence in the sacrament was sometimes obscured.

Vatican II on the Eucharist

Theologically, Vatican II added little to what Catholics believe about the Eucharist but it did re-invigorate the sense that Christ is present in the Eucharist not only to be worshipped but also to continually animate the Church, to be its centre of unity and to continue his work in the world.

A further contribution of Vatican II to our understanding of the Eucharist was a renewed sense that the Eucharist is an action of the people of God presided over by the priest in which all play their proper roles. Prior to Vatican II, barriers of language and the gradual appropriation by clergy, servers and choir of many of the responses and actions of the Mass meant that it took a real effort to stay in touch with its prayer and actions. Many people resorted to their own prayers as Mass went on, only occasionally ‘touching base’ with what was happening, helped by changes of posture, ringing of bells and the occasional greeting or invitation to prayer.

The explicit call of Vatican II for ‘full, conscious and active participation’, the provision for the Eucharist in the vernacular, the restoration of the dialogues, responses and acclamations of the Mass to the people, the opening of various liturgical ministries to lay men and women presented a recovered understanding of the Eucharist as an ordered action of the whole Church.

The vision is of the Eucharist as the work of Christ in the midst of his people, presided over by the priest, re-presenting the new covenant of love throughout time and space, inviting those present to unite themselves to him and his offering and to return to their daily lives to continue his work in the world. Vatican II also enlarged the notion of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist drawing attention to his presence in the gathered community, in the proclaimed word and the ordained minister as well as to the par excellencepresence in the consecrated bread and wine. (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 7 CCC #1088)
Pope Benedict speaks well of the effect that the Eucharist ought to have on us in part of his recent exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis The Eucharist: a Mystery to be Proclaimed.

FURTHER READING

The section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the Eucharist is essential reading for those involved in teaching others about this sacrament.

The idea that ‘the Church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the Church’ is explored in two articles: Vatican II and the Eucharist and in Eucharist makes the Church.

Reflections & Responses

Sometimes the spaces and places where Christians gathered for the Eucharist can tell us much about the way in which they understood and celebrated this sacrament. Wikipedia’s  Church Architecture provides an outline of the development of Christian churches from the early house churches to the present time.  House Churches, the Catacombs and an article on the Basilica are other helpful sites. Look at these articles and suggest the style of celebration of the Eucharist each setting fostered.

 

Numbers and how they are accommodated Texts and structure of celebration Leadership and other roles Singing Style of the celebration
House Church
Basilica
Monastic Chapel
Cathedral
Parish Church

 

What would St Augustine notice that was different from Sunday Mass in Hippo in 402 if he came to your parish church to celebrate the Eucharist next Sunday?

Not many ordinary Catholics have read St Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica but millions have sung his hymns in praise of the mystery of the Blessed Sacrament. Look at the text of his hymn Pange Lingua(pronounced parnjay lingwa) to see how theology translates into song:

Verse 1: What is the ‘mystery’ Thomas is inviting us to honour here? What do the words kingimmortaldestinedredemption tell us about the person of Jesus?
Verse 2: This verse is the briefest summary of the life of Christ. It contains what truths about the identity and mission of Jesus?
Verse 3: Jesus is portrayed sharing his last meal with his disciples. What indication do we have here that he was a devout and observant Jew?
Verse 4: Thomas juxtaposes the mystery of the incarnation (Word made flesh) and the mystery of the Eucharist (bread made flesh) emphasising that it is the heart of faith that recognises Christ in the sacrament not the senses.
Verse 5: The translator uses the word ‘Host’ to translate Thomas’s word ‘sacramentum’. We think of the word meaning simply the circle of unleavened bread used at Eucharist. But this name for the Eucharistic bread comes from the Latin word ‘hostia’ meaning victim or sacrifice. What are the ‘ancient forms’ Thomas refers to, and what are the ‘newer rites’ which now prevail?
Verse 6: The hymn ends with praise of the Trinity the source and end of all life. Notice how many strands of the teaching of the Church Thomas weaves together in six short verses of this hymn.

 

Ask students to speak with grandparents or older friends about what Mass was like when they were children. Not only about similarities and differences but also about what they miss about the old rite and what they value most in the new rite.

Why does Pope Benedict, following a long tradition, speak about the Eucharist as a ‘mystery’? Divide students into three groups and invite each group to consider their own experience of the Eucharist

  • as a mystery to be believed, (what we believe about the Eucharist)
  • as a mystery to be celebrated (how we celebrate it)
  • as a mystery to be lived (how we live it out).

Today

The Eucharist in the Church Today

The American Catholic site contains many very accessible articles on various aspects of the Eucharist which reflect present day understandings and insights and would help you explore its riches further.

Symbol and sign

Understandably there is a certain amount of controversy and misunderstanding about the use of the words ‘symbol’ and ‘sign’ in relation to the Eucharist. There are at least four significant reasons for this anxiety:

  • The mystery of the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist simply defies human effort to describe it adequately. We are always trying to grasp it in words and ways that we can understand and always falling short
  • Language changes and so do the worldviews which it reflects. For example, St Augustine, bishop and pastor, influenced by Plato in the 4th century, thought about the Eucharist in different categories and language to St Thomas Aquinas, professional theologian, influenced by Aristotle in the 13th Century. Inevitably the questions and sensibilities of our age are different again.
  • The words ‘sign’ and ‘symbol’ were used by some who denied the Catholic Church’s understanding of the Eucharist at the time of the Reformation and the words continue to make many Catholics feel uncomfortable about using them.
  • Finally, a weak understanding of the words themselves makes them mean much less than they could. For example, sometimes the Eucharistic bread and wine are referred to as ‘only a sign’ of Christ’s presence or as ‘mere symbols’ of his body and blood. Both of these understandings fall far short of the Church’s richly developed sacramental understanding of the words which is that through symbol and sign we are drawn into intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church.

It is clear that the mode of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is not an ordinary human presence but a presence mediated through the sacrament itself. We do not experience Jesus’ human presence as did the disciples of the first century – that presence was limited by the constraints of time and space. But we believe that just as his human body once mediated his presence to those people of first century Palestine, so bread and wine, the sacrament of his body and blood, now convey the real presence of the Risen Lord to the whole Church throughout the world and for all of history.

Presence and Absence – Christ here present yet still to come

At the very heart of the Mass, the moment of Christ’s closest sacramental presence, we have the Memorial Acclamations two of which cry out for a Lord, present indeed but still to come:

We proclaim your death o Lord and profess your resurrection until you come again.
When we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim your death O Lord until you come again.
These acclamations and other prayers of the Mass express the eschatological dimension of the Mass, the realisation that this world is not all there is, the longing for a future perfected in God, a future of which the Eucharist is a foretaste.

Two documents on the Eucharistic Prayer, Lift Up Your Hearts Part One and Lift Up Your Hearts Part Twowould help your understanding of this central act of the Mass. The Eucharistic Prayer is the context in which we offer to God the sacrifice of our prayer and praise and represent the offering of Christ on the Cross. These two documents explain the structure and meaning of the great prayer.

The format of the US Bishops resource on the real presence of Jesus Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist might help you sort out the important questions and answers on this topic while a short article from Taizesums up the essence of the Eucharist.

FURTHER READING

Symbol, sign and sacrament are discussed in much greater detail in Symbols And Sacraments: Their Human Foundations. Read extracts on the Eucharist from the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium.

Even the index of Pope Benedict’s Sacramentum Caritatis gives an indication of the richness of the Eucharist and the Pope writes clearly and well on a topic close to his heart. Arranged in three parts, its main headings stimulate thought on the Eucharist as a Mystery to be believed, a Mystery to be celebrated and a Mystery to be lived.

Reflections & Responses

What’s happening in your life today?
What’s to celebrate, to lament, to respond to, to struggle with?
What’s happening in Australia and in the world that has to do with being hungry for life, with rejoicing, with suffering, with yearning for justice and peace, with finding love and coming to grips with hate and seeking out the meaning of it all.
Almost everything we do relates in some way to the Eucharist which we call ‘source and summit’.
The Eucharist has ramifications for all aspects of our life: the following suggest just some of them.
What are your own questions?

Eucharist and the Earth

At the Eucharist we eat and we drink. We use a bit of bread and a sip of wine: produced from grapes and grains. The raw materials themselves are provided by the mysterious cycle of rain and sun, by the miracle of shoot and vine taking root in the earth and growing to ripeness in the sun. They represent all food on which we depend for life. What does using bread and wine the ‘fruit of the earth’ say to us about our relationship with the earth?
What new relationship with the earth (scroll to page 13/15) is formed by our celebration of the Eucharist? .

Eucharist and Justice

Bread and wine are drawn from the earth but are also the work of human hands. The labour of human beings is involved in their production. What does this tell us about the relationship between Eucharist and the right to work, just labour arrangements, fair wages and the responsibility to work honestly and to best of our ability. At the Eucharist all alike receive a fragment of bread and a sip of wine. What implications does this have for the struggle for justice and the equitable distribution of the gifts of the earth?

Eucharist and Relationships

Every Eucharist celebrates the fact that we are ‘we’ not ‘I’. We are not alone. We live in relationship to God through and with Jesus in the Spirit and we are joined in every Eucharist to the whole church living and dead in that act of remembrance and praise. All our relationships are brought to the presence of God and are renewed there. What impact might this have on our friendships and enmities, romances and rejections, on relationships within our families and with those beyond our families?

Eucharist and Life

The Eucharist celebrates the victory of life over death: Jesus is the crushed and broken grain the ‘God who dies’ but also the bread, broken and shared ‘the God who lives’ come to bring us life and bring us to life. What does this tell us about the value of our own lives and of all human life?

Eucharist and human brokenness

We receive Christ as bread that is ‘broken’, wine that is poured out. What do these actions suggest to us, the body of Christ formed by the Eucharist? To what purpose was he broken? Where are we broken and to what purpose? At the Eucharist, the story of human suffering is placed beside another story of suffering. What might come from this for those who are living the Passion and those who accompany them? What is a Eucharistic response to our own suffering and pain, to that of others?

Eucharist and Peace

The Eucharist shows the depths of Jesus. love and the peacemaking gift of himself to humanity. Even though those who were at the table with him at the last supper will within hours betray, deny and desert him he gives himself into their hands as bread and wine. Moreover his first words to them after their desertion are ‘Peace be with you’. We no less than they are forgiven and restored in the Eucharist. Peacemaking is an obligation for us. In what ways are you a peacemaker?

Eucharist and Sacrifice

The Eucharist re-presents the sacrifice of Jesus, his self-giving on the cross. Those who commune in his body and blood are committed to sharing in this self giving. What evidence do you see in the Church, the body of Christ, of this self-giving and can you think of day to day ways in which people sacrifice their own interests for the good of others. A story collection provides some brief accounts of love and self-giving (some better than others) that could stimulate thought and discussion.

Online Resources for the Classroom

Together at One Altar is a valuable local resource for those teaching the Eucharist in Primary and early secondary school. While a little uneven in content and presentation it provides many fine visuals and explores different aspects of the Eucharist in a helpful way.

promotional site for an American DVD explaining the Mass contains sufficient material, to provide a brief visual introduction to each part of the Mass. Click on each of the headings, DVDMusic and Commentary to check out the considerable amount that is accessible to the online viewer.

There are a number of sites which may help you in your class work. These are principally directed to primary students. . A site on breadmaking might help you explore the richness of this element used in the Eucharist. A Glossary of Mass terms could be helpful while the Faith First site offers various materials to support their published courses but which can also be used in their own right or as adjuncts to your own curriculum.