Chrough Satan’s work over the centuries to divide the people of God, we find that there are billions of Christians living on earth today who would have been considered to be heretics by the early Church of the Apostles. If these same Christians were to enter a time machine and go back to the first and second centuries they would find that many their beliefs about Christian doctrine are not in union with the only community of Churches that Jesus established through His Apostles. That is very problematic! Why wouldn’t a Christian desire for their theology to be in union with the early Church?
This brief article is going to look at what the Catholic Church teaches about the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist (what some non-Catholics call ‘Communion’) and compare it to what the Fathers of the Church taught and wrote on this subject, to demonstrate the consistency of our doctrine.
What the Catholic Church teaches about the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist today is what it has always believed about it. Following Baptism and Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist completes Christian initiation. The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” While all the other sacraments are oriented to the eternal mystery of our Lord’s work in us and through us, the Eucharist is actually and truly the Lord Himself that we consume into our bodies. The Holy Eucharist is the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch. Jesus gave us the meal of the consumption of His Body and Blood to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages until He should come again.
At the Passover Meal, on the night he was betrayed, Christ Jesus instituted the Eucharist sacrifice of His Body and Blood:
- “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” (Lk. 22:7-20; cf. Mt. 25:17-29; Mk. 14:12-25; 1 Cor 11:23-26).
In his first letter to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul confirms that the communion meal contains a supernatural blessing, or a sad consequence for those who receive it unworthily:
- “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? . . . . For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread for drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. (Cf. 1 Cor. 10:14-22 1 Cor. 11:23-32).
More from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The Eucharist in the Economy of Salvation
a. The signs of bread and wine
1333 At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ’s Body and Blood. Faithful to the Lord’s command the Church continues to do, in his memory and until his glorious return, what he did on the eve of his Passion: “He took bread. . . .” “He took the cup filled with wine. . . .” The signs of bread and wine become, in a way surpassing understanding, the Body and Blood of Christ; they continue also to signify the goodness of creation. Thus in the Offertory we give thanks to the Creator for bread and wine, fruit of the “work of human hands,” but above all as “fruit of the earth” and “of the vine” – gifts of the Creator. The Church sees in the gesture of the king-priest Melchizedek, who “brought out bread and wine,” a prefiguring of her own offering.
1334 In the Old Covenant bread and wine were offered to sacrifice among the first fruits of the earth as a sign of grateful acknowledgement to the Creator. But they also received a new significance in the context of the Exodus: the unleavened bread that Israel eats every year at Passover commemorates the haste of the departure that liberated them from Egypt; the remembrance of the manna in the desert will always recall to Israel that it lives by the bread of the Word of God; their daily bread is the fruit of the promised land, the pledge of God’s faithfulness to his promise. The “cup of blessing” at the end of the Jewish Passover meal adds to the festive joy of wine an eschatological dimension: the messianic expectation of the rebuilding of Jerusalem. When Jesus instituted the Eucharist, he gave a new and definitive meaning to the blessing of the bread and the cup.
1342 From the beginning the Church has been faithful to the Lord’s command. Of the Church of Jerusalem it is written:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. . . . Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts.
SOME OF WHAT THE FATHERS OF THE CHURCH TAUGHT AND WROTE:
* year A.D. around the year 107 – St. Ignatius of Antioch – Letter to the Smyrneans:
- “They abstain from the Eucharist and from the public offices; because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ; which suffered for our sins, and which the Father of his goodness, raised again from the dead. And for this cause contradicting the gift of God, they die in their disputes: but much better would it be for them to receive it, that they might one day rise through it.”
* year A.D. around the year 155 – Saint Justin Martyr – First Apology (letter to pagan emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161) explaining what Christians did at Mass):
- “On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place. The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits.
“When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things. Then we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves . . . and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation. When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss.
“Then someone bring bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren. He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (in Greek: eucharstian) that we have been judges worthy of these gifts. When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgiving, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: ‘Amen.’
“When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give those present the “eucharsited” bread, wine and after and take them to those who are absent.”
* year A.D. 180/199 – St. Irenaeus (140/141-202, second Bishop of Lyons, Martyr?), ‘’Detection and Overthrow of the Gnosis Falsely So-Called or Against Heresies’:
- “Again, giving counsel to His disciples to offer to God this first-fruits from among His creatures, not as if He needed them, but so that they themselves might be neither unfruitful nor ungrateful, He took from among creation that which is bread, and gave thanks, saying, “This is My Body.” The cup likewise, which is from among the creation to which we belong, He confessed to be His Blood.
“He taught the new sacrifice of the new covenant, of which Malachias, one of the twelve prophets, had signified beforehand: “’You do not do My will,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will not accept a sacrifice at your hands. For from the rising of the sun to its setting My name is glorified among the gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to My name, and a pure sacrifice; for great is My name among the gentiles,’ says the Lord Almighty.” By these words He makes it plain that the former people will cease to make offerings to God; but that in every place sacrifice will be offered to Him, and indeed, a pure one; for His name is glorified among the gentiles.”
* year A.D. 383 – St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-394, Bishop ), ‘Sermon on the Day of Lights or on the Baptism of Christ’
- “The bread again is at first common bread; but when the mystery sanctified it, it is called and actually becomes the Body of Christ. So too the mystical oil, so too the wine; if they are things of little worth before the blessing, after their sanctification by the Spirit each of them has its own superior operation. This same power of the word also makes the priest venerable and honorable, separated from the generality of men by the new blessing bestowed upon him. Yesterday he was but one of the multitude, one of the people; suddenly he is made a guide, a president, a teacher of piety, an instructor in hidden mysteries.”
* year A.D. 391/430 – St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430, Bishop), ‘Sermons’:
- “What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the Body of Christ and the chalice the Blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does desire instruction. . . . How is the bread His Body? And the chalice, or what is in the chalice, how is it His Blood? Those elements, brethren, are called Sacraments, because in them one thing is seen, but another is understood. What is seen is the corporeal species; but what is understood is the spiritual fruit. If, then, you wish to understand the Body of Christ, hear the Apostle speaking to the faithful: “You, however, are the Body of Christ and His members.” If, therefore, you are the Body of Christ and His members, your mystery is presented at the table of the Lord: you receive your mystery. To that which you are, you answer: “Amen”; and by answering, you subscribe to it. For you hear: “The Body of Christ!” and you answer: “Amen!” Be a ember of Christ’s Body, so that your “Amen” may be the truth.”
* year A.D. 523/526 – St. Fulgence of Ruspe (461-527, monk, Bishop), ‘The Rule of Faith’:
- ““Hold most firmly and never doubt in the least that the Only-begotten God the Word Himself become flesh offered Himself in an odor of sweetness as a Sacrifice and Victim to God on our behalf; to whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in the time of the Old Testament animals were sacrificed by the patriarchs and prophets and priest; and to whom now, I mean in the time of the New Testament, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, with whom He has one Godhead, the Holy Catholic Church does not cease in faith and love to offer throughout all the lands of the world a sacrifice of Bread and Wine. . . . In those former sacrifices what would be given us in the future was signified figuratively; but in this sacrifice which has now been given us, it is shown plainly. In those former sacrifices it was fore-announced that the Son of God would be killed for the impious; but in this present sacrifice it is announced that He has been killed for the impious.”
Recommending Reading On What the Fathers of the Church Taught and Wrote:
– – – Jurgens, William A., Faith of the Fathers (Vols. 1, 2 and 3), The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota (1970).
- Click Here to Read More from the ‘Does Your Belief Line Up Series’.