Rites and Ceremonies
Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka
The distinctive Christian practice of the Eucharist also dates to the first Christians. Known also as the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion, Christians believe that Jesus instituted the practice during the Passover meal he shared with his followers just before his arrest and death. As a remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus, early Christians met weekly to share meals of bread and wine, accompanied by prayer. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul instructed this early Christian congregation on the sharing of the Lord's Supper and explained the reason for the sacrament:
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
Beliefs about the Eucharist vary greatly among Christians. Some churches, most notably the Roman Catholic Church and, with less specificity, the Eastern Orthodox churches, believe that upon blessing the bread and wine in the ritual of the Eucharist, these food items literally become the body and blood of Jesus or embody his presence in a special way. Other denominations interpret the rite symbolically, believing that eating the bread and drinking the wine memorialize the sacrificial action of Christ. In either case, sharing the bread and wine is held to remember Christ's first coming, anticipate his second coming, and create a unity, or communion, of believers.
The frequency of the Eucharistic observance varies a great deal as well. The liturgical churches include the Lord's Supper in all of their weekly services and on holy days throughout the year. Some liturgical churches share the Lord's Supper daily, with the exception of Holy Saturday, the day just before Easter Sunday, when Jesus lay dead in the tomb. Non-liturgical churches prefer to highlight preaching and Bible study at their Sunday services, and usually share the Lord's Supper monthly. Most churches use bread or small wafers; many use wine, but some share grape juice or water in its place.