Eucharist as a Communal Meal
Receiving Both the Bread and the Cup
As we once again begin to offer the cup at daily and Sunday liturgies, we might pause for a moment to consider the importance of receiving the Eucharist regularly and receiving under both species. Receiving both the bread and the cup allow us a more complete experience of actions Jesus commanded at the last supper. Specifically, Jesus commanded us to “Take and eat…Do this in remembrance of me; take and drink, do this in remembrance of me.” The Last Supper occurred within the context of Passover – so we remember not only Jesus actions on that night but the movement from slavery to freedom contained in the Passover and all of salvation history.
A Source of Unity and Commitment to Social Justice
In his First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul appeals to the Eucharistic celebration as a source of unity and a commitment to social justice. Paul wrote this letter sometime around 53-54 CE – so just 20 years or so after the Last Supper. Clearly, this practice of breaking bread together in the Eucharistic celebration goes back to the earliest history of the Church. Paul is critical of the Corinthians practice because it has become a source of divisions. Some in the community are eating well while others go hungry. The servants are not included at all in the Eucharistic celebration because they are preparing the meal or cleaning up after the meal. Such divisions, Paul tells us, create more harm than good.
In addressing who should receive Communion, Paul suggests that each person discern for themselves their worthiness to receive the Eucharist. “A person should examine oneself and so eat the bread and drink the cup” 1Cor 11:28. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on oneself” (1 Cor 11:27-28). This passage suggests that the worthiness to receive the Eucharist is rooted in our belief in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Similarly, Paul is very critical of the socio-economic divisions within the community, particularly the practices in Corinth that resulted in some going hungry while others feasted and others missed the celebration altogether. Rather, Paul asks that the celebration of the Eucharist be a source of unity. “Therefore when you come together to eat, wait for one another.”
Celebration of the Eucharist Over Time – Structure and Frequency
Within about 100 years, the Eucharist was no longer celebrated as part of a larger meal and the basic structure of the celebration began to resemble what we know today: prayers, scripture readings with a homily, a Eucharistic prayer, and dismissal. Specific practices have changed over time including the texts of prayers said, the language of the prayers, and the frequency of reception. For example, Ignatius of Loyola’s practice of receiving the Eucharist frequently was unusual for a lay person at that time. More common would be weekly or even annual reception of the Eucharist (thus we have an “Easter Duty” to receive the Eucharist at least once between Easter and Pentecost Sunday). Pope Pius X, in the early 20th century, encouraged frequent reception of the Eucharist.
Our Lady of Hope’s parish community, both individually and collectively, is strengthened and unified by frequent reception of the Eucharist. Our reception under both species allows a more complete participation in the Eucharistic meal – both eating and drinking. We look forward to sharing this meal with you often.
Fr. Brian Conley, S.J.