How Did the Early Church Father's View John 6:53 and the Eucharist?


I think it’s time to remind people that, despite claims to the contrary, the ECFs did not view the Lord’s Supper as a mere memorial remembrance, nor the bread and wine as mere metaphors. All selections are from the excellent Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testamant v IVa (John 1-10).

Ambrose (fl 374-97):

It has been proven that the sacraments of the church are more ancient; now realize that they are more powerful. In very fact it is a marvelous thing that God rained manna on the ancestors and they were fed by daily nourishment from heaven. Therefore, it is said, “Humankind has eaten the bread of the angels.” And yet all those who ate that bread died in the desert, but this food that you receive, this “living bread, which came down from heaven”, furnishes the substance of eternal life, and whoever eats this bread “will not die forever” for it is the body of Christ. (On the Mysteries 8.47).

Ephrem the Syrian (fl 363-73):

He called the bread his living body and he filled it with himself and with his Spirit. He stretched forth his hand and gave them the bread that his right hand had sanctified: “Take, eat, all of you of this bread that my word has sanctified. Do not regard as bread what I have given you now…eat it, and do not disdain its crumbs. For this bread that I have sanctified is my body. Its least crumb sanctifies thousands of thousands, and it is capable of giving life to all who eat it. Take, eat in faith, doubting not at all that this is my body. And he who eats it in faith eats in it fire and the Spirit. If anyone doubts and eats it, it is plain bread to him. He who believes and eats the bread sanctified in my name, if he is pure, it will keep him pure; if he is a sinner, he will be forgiven. He, however, who despises it or spurns it, he may be sure that he is insulting the Son, who has called the bread his body and truly made it so. Receive of it, eat of it, all of you, and eat in it the Holy Spirit, for it is truly my body, and he who eats it will live forever. This is the heavenly bread that has come down from high onto the earth. This is the bread that the Israelites ate in the wilderness and did not esteem. The manna that they gathered, which came down to them, was a figure of this spiritual bread that you now have received. Take and eat of it, all of you. In this bread you are eating my body. It is the true source of forgiveness.” (Memra for the Fifth Day of Great Week (Holy Thursday), Sermon 4.


St Augustine [Ps33]:

  1. Now will He speak openly of the same Sacrament, whereby He was carried in His Own Hands. O taste and see that the Lord is good Psalm 33:8. Doth not the Psalm now open itself, and show you that seeming insanity and constant madness, the same insanity and sober inebriety of that David, who in a figure showed I know not what, when in the person of king Achis they said to him, How is it? When the Lord said, Except a man eat My Flesh and drink My Blood, he shall have no life in him? John 6:53 And they in whom reigned Achis, that is, error and ignorance, said; what said they? How can this man give us his flesh to eat? John 6:52 If you are ignorant, Taste and see that the Lord is good: but if you understand not, you are king Achis: David shall change His Countenance and shall depart from you, and shall quit you, and shall depart.

He explicitly links the “Sacrament” by which Jesus “was carried in His Own hands” and quotes from John 6:52ff.



Augustine (354-430)

But are we, who eat the bread that comes down from heaven, relieved from death? From visible and carnal death, the death of the body, we are not: we shall die, even as they died. But from spiritual death, which their fathers suffered, we are delivered. Moses and… many who were acceptable to God ate the manna and did not die because they understood that the visible food in a spiritual sense, spiritually tasted it and were spiritually filled with it. And we too on this day receive the visible food. But the sacrament is one thing, the virtue of the sacrament another. Many a one receives it from the altar and perishes in receiving; eating and drinking his own damnation as the apostle said…To eat the heavenly bread spiritually then is to bring innocence to the altar. Though your sins are daily, at least let them not be deadly. Before you go to the altar, attend to the prayer you repeat, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” If you forgive, you are forgiven: approach confidently; it is bread, not poison…None then that eat of this bread shall die. (Tractates on the Gospel of John 26.11-12.

Clement of Alexandria (150-215)

God elaborates on a suitable and wholesome new diet for the newly-formed and newborn babe. He says it consists of the one who nourishes and who is the Father of all that are generated and regenerated----just as manna, the celestial food of angels, flowed down from heaven on the ancient Hebrews…But when our kind and loving Father rained down the Word, he himself became spiritual nourishment to the good. This is a truly amazing mystery; because…this is the kind of diet the Lord administers: he offers his flesh and pours out his blood so that nothing is lacking for his children’s growth. This is almost too much to take in! And then we are to throw out the old and carnal corruption, our old diet, receiving in exchange a totally new diet—Christ himself as we ingest him for him to remain hidden there. Then, with our Savior enshrined in our souls, as it were, we can correct the affections of our flesh. (Christ the Educator 1.6)


The bold part would hardly fit with transubstatiation. If to a doubter it is plain bread then it would not seem to be actually transformed. If it was, wouldn’t everyone receive the body even if they didn’t believe?



Cyprian (fl 248-58)

The body of the Lord cannot be flour alone or water alone, unless both are joined together and compacted in the mass of one bread. In this very sacrament our people are shown to be made one, so that as many grains, collected and ground and mixed together into one mass make one bread, so also in Christ, who is the heavenly bread, we may know that there is one body with which our number is joined and united. (Letter 62.13)

Cyril of Alexandria (fl 412-444)

I die (he says) for all, that I may quicken all by myself. And I made my flesh a ransom for the flesh of all. For death shall die in my death, and with me shall rise again (he says) the fallen nature of mankind. This is why I became like you, that is, human and the seed of Abraham, so that I might be made like in all things to my brothers…For there was no other way for the power of death to be destroyed, as well as death itself, unless Christ gave himself for us as a ransom, one for all, for he was in behalf of all…

Christ therefore gave his own body for the life of all, and again through that body he makes life to dwell in us. Now I will try to tell you how. For since the life-giving Word of God indwelt in the flesh, he transformed it into his own proper good, that is, life, and by the unspeakable character of this union, coming wholly together with it, rendered it life-giving as he himself is by nature. Wherefore the body of Christ gives life to all who partake of it. For it expels death when it comes to be in dying people, and [it] removes corruption, perfectly full, in itself, of the Word which abolishes corruption. (Commentary on the Gospel of John 4.2)


Earlier in the same Psalm he speaks of Jesus in a manner carrying Himself in His own hands.

But, He drummed upon the doors of the city: what are the doors of the city, but our hearts which we had closed against Christ, who by the drum of His Cross has opened the hearts of mortal men? And was carried in His Own Hands: how carried in His Own Hands? Because when He commended His Own Body and Blood, He took into His Hands that which the faithful know; and in a manner carried Himself, when He said, This is My Body.

He also wrote directly on the Gospel of John.

  1. “They said therefore unto Him, What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” For He had said to them, “Labor not for the meat which perishes, but for that which endures unto eternal life.” “What shall we do?” they ask; by observing what, shall we be able to fulfill this precept? “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” This is then to eat the meat, not that which perishes, but that which endures unto eternal life. To what purpose do you make ready teeth and stomach? Believe, and you have eaten already.-Augustine (Tractates on the Gospel of John, Tractate 25, Paragraph 12)

Wherefore, the Lord, about to give the Holy Spirit, said that Himself was the bread that came down from heaven, exhorting us to believe in Him.** For to believe in Him is to eat the living bread. He that believes eats; **he is sated invisibly, because invisibly is he born again.-Augustine (Tractates on the Gospel of John. Tractate 26, Paragraph 1)

  1. “But Jesus, knowing in Himself that His disciples murmured at it,”—for they so said these things with themselves that they might not be heard by Him: but He who knew them in themselves, hearing within Himself,—answered and said, “This offends you;” because I said, I give you my flesh to eat, and my blood to drink, this forsooth offends you. “Then what if you shall see the Son of man ascending where He was before?” What is this? Did He hereby solve the question that perplexed them? Did He hereby uncover the source of their offense? He did clearly, if only they understood. For they supposed that He was going to deal out His body to them; but He said that He was to ascend into heaven, of course, whole: “When you shall see the Son of man ascending where He was before;” certainly then, at least, you will see that not in the manner you suppose does He dispense His body; certainly then, at least, you will understand that His grace is not consumed by tooth-biting.-Augustine (Tractates on the Gospel of John, Tractate 27, Paragraph 3)

And elsewhere.

  1. If the sentence is one of command, either forbidding a crime or vice, or enjoining an act of prudence or benevolence, it is not figurative. If, however, it seems to enjoin a crime or vice, or to forbid an act of prudence or benevolence, it is figurative. "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man," says Christ, “and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” This seems to enjoin a crime or a vice; it is therefore a figure, enjoining that we should have a share in the sufferings of our Lord, and that we should retain a sweet and profitable memory of the fact that His flesh was wounded and crucified for us.-Augustine (On Christian Doctrine, Book 3, Chapter 16, Paragraph 24)


And others.

  1. Wherefore with full assurance let us partake as of the Body and Blood of Christ: for in the figure of Bread is given to you His Body, and in the figure of Wine His Blood; that you by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, may be made of the same body and the same blood with Him. For thus we come to bear Christ in us, because His Body and Blood are distributed through our members; thus it is that, according to the blessed Peter, we become partakers of the divine nature.
  2. Christ on a certain occasion discoursing with the Jews said, Except ye eat My flesh and drink My blood, you have no life in you. They not having heard His saying in a spiritual sense were offended, and went back, supposing that He was inviting them to eat flesh. .-Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 22, Paragraphs 3-4)
  1. You know that in ordinary parlance we often say, when Easter is approaching, “Tomorrow or the day after is the Lord’s Passion,” although He suffered so many years ago, and His passion was endured once for all time. In like manner, on Easter Sunday, we say, “This day the Lord rose from the dead,” although so many years have passed since His resurrection. But no one is so foolish as to accuse us of falsehood when we use these phrases, for this reason, that we give such names to these days on the ground of a likeness between them and the days on which the events referred to actually transpired, the day being called the day of that event, although it is not the very day on which the event took place, but one corresponding to it by the revolution of the same time of the year, and the event itself being said to take place on that day, because, although it really took place long before, it is on that day sacramentally celebrated. Was not Christ once for all offered up in His own person as a sacrifice? and yet, is He not likewise offered up in the sacrament as a sacrifice, not only in the special solemnities of Easter, but also daily among our congregations; so that the man who, being questioned, answers that He is offered as a sacrifice in that ordinance, declares what is strictly true? For if sacraments had not some points of real resemblance to the things of which they are the sacraments, they would not be sacraments at all. In most cases, moreover, they do in virtue of this likeness bear the names of the realities which they resemble. As, therefore, in a certain manner the sacrament of Christ’s body is Christ’s body, and the sacrament of Christ’s blood is Christ’s blood, in the same manner the sacrament of faith is faith.-Augustine (Letters, Number 98, Paragraph 9



Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386)

Failing to understand his words spiritually, [the Jews] were offended and drew back, thinking that the Savior was urging them to cannibalism. Then again in the old covenant there was the showbread. But that, since it belonged to the old covenant, has come to an end. In the new covenant there are the bread and the cup of salvation, which sanctify the body and soul. For as bread corresponds to the body, so the Word is appropriate to the soul. So do not think of them as mere bread and wine. In accordance with the Lord’s declaration, they are body and blood. And if our senses suggest otherwise, let faith confirm you. Do not judge the issue on the basis of taste, but on the basis of faith be assured beyond all doubt that you have been allowed to receive the body and blood of Christ. (Mystagogical Lectures 4,4-6)

Ignatius of Antioch (35-107/12)

Come together in common one and all without exception in charity, in one faith and in one Jesus Christ, who is of the race of David according to the flesh, the Son of man and Son of God…and break one bread, which is the medicine of immortality and the antidote against death, allowing us to live forever in Jesus Christ. (Epistle to the Ephesians 20)


And if we who preside over the Churches are shepherds after the image of the good Shepherd, and you the sheep, are we not to regard the Lord as preserving consistency in the use of figurative speech, when He speaks also of the milk of the flock? And to this meaning we may secondly accommodate the expression,“I have given you milk to drink, and not given you food, for you are not yet able,” regarding the meat not as something different from the milk, but the same in substance. For the very same Word is fluid and mild as milk, or solid and compact as meat. And entertaining this view, we may regard the proclamation of the Gospel, which is universally diffused, as milk; and as meat, faith, which from instruction is compacted into a foundation, which, being more substantial than hearing, is likened to meat, and assimilates to the soul itself nourishment of this kind. Elsewhere the Lord, in the Gospel according to John, brought this out by symbols, when He said: “Eat my flesh, and drink my blood;” describing distinctly by metaphor the drinkable properties of faith and the promise, by means of which the Church, like a human being consisting of many members, is refreshed and grows, is welded together and compacted of both, of faith, which is the body, and of hope, which is the soul; as also the Lord of flesh and blood. For in reality the blood of faith is hope, in which faith is held as by a vital principle. And when hope expires, it is as if blood flowed forth; and the vitality of faith is destroyed. Clement of Alexandria (The Instructor 1:6)

62 Doth this offend you? what and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?

From utter ignorance, certain of those who were being taught by Christ the Saviour, were offended at His words. For when they heard Him saying, Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of man and drink His Blood, ye have no life in you, they supposed that they were invited to some brutish savageness, as though they were enjoined to eat flesh and to sup up blood, and were constrained to do things- which are dreadful even to hear.- Cyril of Alexandria (Commentary on John, Book 4, Chapter III)
He gave Himself the symbols of His divine dispensation to His disciples, when He bade them make the likeness of His own Body.** For since He no more was to take pleasure in bloody sacrifices, or those ordained by Moses in the slaughter of animals of various kinds, and was to give them bread to use as the symbol of His Body, He taught the purity and brightness of such food by saying, “And his teeth are white as milk.” This also another prophet has recorded, where he says, “Sacrifice and offering hast thou not required, but a body hast thou prepared for me.”-Eusebius of Caesarea (Demonstratio Envangelica, Book 8, 380b)

And he adds: “I have preached righteousness in the great congregation.” He plainly teaches that in place of the ancient sacrifices and whole burnt-offerings the incarnate presence of Christ that was prepared was offered. And this very thing He proclaims to his Church as a great mystery expressed with prophetic voice in the volume of the book. As we have received a memorial of this offering which we celebrate on a table by means of symbols of His Body and saving Blood according to the laws of the new covenant, we are taught again by the prophet David to say:
“5. Thou hast prepared a table before me in the face of my persecutors. Thou hast anointed my head with oil, and thy cup cheers me as the strongest (wine).” ."-Eusebius of Caesarea (Demonstratio Envangelica, Book 1, 37b)


He says, it is true, that “the flesh profits nothing;” but then, as in the former case, the meaning must be regulated by the subject which is spoken of. Now, because they thought His discourse was harsh and intolerable, supposing that He had really and literally enjoined on them to eat his flesh, He, with the view of ordering the state of salvation as a spiritual thing, set out with the principle, “It is the spirit that quickens;” and then added, “The flesh profits nothing,”—meaning, of course, to the giving of life. He also goes on to explain what He would have us to understand by spirit: “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” In a like sense He had previously said: “He that hears my words, and believes in Him that sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but shall pass from death unto life.” Constituting, therefore, His word as the life-giving principle, because that word is spirit and life, He likewise called His flesh by the same appellation; because, too, the Word had become flesh, we ought therefore to desire Him in order that we may have life, and **to devour Him with the ear, and to ruminate on Him with the understanding, and to digest Him by faith. Now, just before (the passage in hand), He had declared His flesh to be “the bread which comes down from heaven,” impressing on (His hearers) constantly under the figure of necessary food **the memory of their forefathers, who had preferred the bread and flesh of Egypt to their divine calling. -Tertullian (On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Chapter 37)

Indeed, up to the present time, he has not disdained the water which the Creator made wherewith he washes his people; nor the oil with which he anoints them; nor that union of honey and milk wherewithal he gives them the nourishment of children;** nor the bread by which he represents his own proper body**, thus requiring in his very sacraments the “beggarly elements” of the Creator.-Tertullian (Against Marcion, Book 1, Chapter 14)

The sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, which we receive, is a divine thing, because by it we are made partakers of the divine-nature. Yet the substance or nature of the bread and wine does not cease. And assuredly the image and the similitude of the body and blood of Christ are celebrated in the performance of the mysteries.-Gelasius (Philp Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume 3, 95)

You are caught in the net you have woven yourself. For even after the consecration the mystic symbols are not deprived of their own nature; they remain in their former substance figure and form; they are visible and tangible as they were before. But they are regarded as what they are become, and believed so to be, and are worshipped as being what they are believed to be. Compare then the image with the archetype, and you will see the likeness, for the type must be like the reality. For that body preserves its former form, figure, and limitation and in a word the substance of the body; but after the resurrection it has become immortal and superior to corruption; it has become worthy of a seat on the right hand; it is adored by every creature as being called the natural body of the Lord. Theodret (Dialogues, 2)



Cyril of Alexandria (fl 412-44)

How he will give them his flesh to eat he does not yet tell them, for he knew they were in darkness and would never in that state be able to understand what is ineffable…But the power of learning suitably follows on those who believe…It was therefore right that faith should first be rooted in them before understanding…And it is for this reason (I suppose) that the Lord refrained from telling them how he would give them his flesh to eat, calling them to believe before they seek. For those who believed, however, he broke bread and gave it to them, saying, “Take, eat; this is my body.”…Do you see how he does not explain the mystery to those who had senselessly rejected the faith without investigation? But, to those who believe, he declares it most clearly.

Whoever eats the holy flesh of Christ has eternal life because his flesh has the Word which by nature is life. (Commentary on the Gospel of John 4.2)

Apollinaris of Laodicea (310-92)

One cannot benefit from the Word of God for eternal life, except through his flesh. For until he was joined to the flesh, all flesh was held under the power of death. But now his life-giving flesh has been given. It nourishes the whole human race to life through the power suspended in it and joined in likeness to those who share the same physical nature. (Fragments on John 28)

Irenaeus (135-202)

For we offer to him his own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit. For as the bread that is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly, so also our bodies when they receive the Eucharist are no longer corruptible, having the hope of resurrection to eternity. (Against Heresies 4.18.5)



Augustine (354-430)

Or think of it this way: Whereas people desire meat and drink to satisfy hunger and thirst, real satisfaction is produced only by that meat and drink that make the receivers of it immortal and incorruptible. He’s talking here about the fellowship of the saints where there is peace and unity, full and perfect. Therefore…our Lord has chosen for the types of his body and blood things that become one out of many. Bread is a quantity of grains united into one mass, wine a quantity of grapes squeezed together. Then he explains what it is to eat his body and drink his blood: “He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood dwells in me and I in him.” So then to partake of that meat and that drink is to dwell in Christ and Christ in you. Whoever does not dwell in Christ, and in whom Christ does not dwell, neither eats his flesh nor drinks his blood; rather, he eats and drinks the sacrament of it to his own damnation. (Tractates on the Gospel of John 26.17-18)

Hilary of Poitiers (315-67)

As to what we say concerning the reality of Christ’s nature within us, unless we have been taught by him our words are foolish and impious. For he says himself, “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” As to the verity of the flesh and blood there is no room left for doubt. For now, both from the declaration of the Lord himself and our own faith, it is truly flesh and truly blood. And these when eaten and drunk enable both that we are in Christ and Christ is in us. Is this not true? Yet those who affirm that Christ Jesus is not truly God are welcome to find it false. He therefore himself is in us through the flesh and we are in him, while together with him our own selves are in God. (On the Trinity 8.13-14)


That’s a lot of material, and a lot of typing.

I beg your indulgence to read it. Consider what the ECFs are saying here. Feel free to dig out the volume I referenced or the primary sources quoted.

As you read, ask yourself, “Does this sound like Catholic and Orthodox teaching, or does it sound like Protestant teaching?”

This is why so many of us say, “To know history is to be Catholic.”


To help with those unfamiliar with the Catholic teaching on the sacrament of the Eucharist, I beg your indulgence as I post it for your reference here as you consider the ECF passages above.


1322 The holy Eucharist completes Christian initiation. Those who have been raised to the dignity of the royal priesthood by Baptism and configured more deeply to Christ by Confirmation participate with the whole community in the Lord’s own sacrifice by means of the Eucharist.

1323 "At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.’"135


1324 The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life."136 "The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch."137

1325 "The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit."138

1326 Finally, by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all.139

1327 In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: "Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking."140


1328 The inexhaustible richness of this sacrament is expressed in the different names we give it. Each name evokes certain aspects of it. It is called:

Eucharist, because it is an action of thanksgiving to God. The Greek words eucharistein141 and eulogein142 recall the Jewish blessings that proclaim - especially during a meal - God’s works: creation, redemption, and sanctification.

1329 The Lord’s Supper, because of its connection with the supper which the Lord took with his disciples on the eve of his Passion and because it anticipates the wedding feast of the Lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem.143

The Breaking of Bread, because Jesus used this rite, part of a Jewish meal, when as master of the table he blessed and distributed the bread,144 above all at the Last Supper.145 It is by this action that his disciples will recognize him after his Resurrection,146 and it is this expression that the first Christians will use to designate their Eucharistic assemblies;147 by doing so they signified that all who eat the one broken bread, Christ, enter into communion with him and form but one body in him.148

The Eucharistic assembly (synaxis), because the Eucharist is celebrated amid the assembly of the faithful, the visible expression of the Church.149

1330 The memorial of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection.

The Holy Sacrifice, because it makes present the one sacrifice of Christ the Savior and includes the Church’s offering. The terms holy sacrifice of the Mass, “sacrifice of praise,” spiritual sacrifice, pure and holy sacrifice are also used,150 since it completes and surpasses all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant.

The Holy and Divine Liturgy, because the Church’s whole liturgy finds its center and most intense expression in the celebration of this sacrament; in the same sense we also call its celebration the Sacred Mysteries. We speak of the Most Blessed Sacrament because it is the Sacrament of sacraments. The Eucharistic species reserved in the tabernacle are designated by this same name.

1331 Holy Communion, because by this sacrament we unite ourselves to Christ, who makes us sharers in his Body and Blood to form a single body.151 We also call it: the holy things (ta hagia; sancta)152 - the first meaning of the phrase “communion of saints” in the Apostles’ Creed - the bread of angels, bread from heaven, medicine of immortality,153 viaticum. . . .

1332 Holy Mass (Missa), because the liturgy in which the mystery of salvation is accomplished concludes with the sending forth (missio) of the faithful, so that they may fulfill God’s will in their daily lives.



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,154 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.155

1334 In the Old Covenant bread and wine were offered in sacrifice among the first fruits of the earth as a sign of grateful acknowledgment 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;156 their daily bread is the fruit of the promised land, the pledge of God’s faithfulness to his promises. The "cup of blessing"157 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.

1335 The miracles of the multiplication of the loaves, when the Lord says the blessing, breaks and distributes the loaves through his disciples to feed the multitude, prefigure the superabundance of this unique bread of his Eucharist.158 The sign of water turned into wine at Cana already announces the Hour of Jesus’ glorification. It 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.159

1336 The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them: "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?"160 The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. “Will you also go away?”:161 the Lord’s question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only he has "the words of eternal life"162 and that to receive in faith the gift of his Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself.

The institution of the Eucharist

1337 The Lord, having loved those who were his own, loved them to the end. Knowing that the hour had come to leave this world and return to the Father, in the course of a meal he washed their feet and gave them the commandment of love.163 In order to leave them a pledge of this love, in order never to depart from his own and to make them sharers in his Passover, he instituted the Eucharist as the memorial of his death and Resurrection, and commanded his apostles to celebrate it until his return; "thereby he constituted them priests of the New Testament."164

1338 The three synoptic Gospels and St. Paul have handed on to us the account of the institution of the Eucharist; St. John, for his part, reports the words of Jesus in the synagogue of Capernaum that prepare for the institution of the Eucharist: Christ calls himself the bread of life, come down from heaven.165

1339 Jesus chose the time of Passover to fulfill what he had announced at Capernaum: giving his disciples his Body and his Blood:

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."166


1340 By celebrating the Last Supper with his apostles in the course of the Passover meal, 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.

“Do this in memory of me”

1341 The command of Jesus to repeat his actions and words “until he comes” does not only ask us to remember Jesus and what he did. It is directed at the liturgical celebration, by the apostles and their successors, of the memorial of Christ, of his life, of his death, of his Resurrection, and of his intercession in the presence of the Father.167

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.168
1343 It was above all on “the first day of the week,” Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, that the Christians met "to break bread."169 From that time on down to our own day the celebration of the Eucharist has been continued so that today we encounter it everywhere in the Church with the same fundamental structure. It remains the center of the Church’s life.

1344 Thus from celebration to celebration, as they proclaim the Paschal mystery of Jesus “until he comes,” the pilgrim People of God advances, "following the narrow way of the cross,"170 toward the heavenly banquet, when all the elect will be seated at the table of the kingdom.


The Mass of all ages

1345 As early as the second century we have the witness of St. Justin Martyr for the basic lines of the order of the Eucharistic celebration. They have stayed the same until our own day for all the great liturgical families. St. Justin wrote to the pagan emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161) around the year 155, explaining what Christians did:

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 brings 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: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts.

When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, 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 to those present the “eucharisted” bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent.171


1346 The liturgy of the Eucharist unfolds according to a fundamental structure which has been preserved throughout the centuries down to our own day. It displays two great parts that form a fundamental unity:

  • the gathering, the liturgy of the Word, with readings, homily and general intercessions;
  • the liturgy of the Eucharist, with the presentation of the bread and wine, the consecratory thanksgiving, and communion.

The liturgy of the Word and liturgy of the Eucharist together form “one single act of worship”;172 the Eucharistic table set for us is the table both of the Word of God and of the Body of the Lord.173

1347 Is this not the same movement as the Paschal meal of the risen Jesus with his disciples? Walking with them he explained the Scriptures to them; sitting with them at table "he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them."174

The movement of the celebration

1348 All gather together. Christians come together in one place for the Eucharistic assembly. At its head is Christ himself, the principal agent of the Eucharist. He is high priest of the New Covenant; it is he himself who presides invisibly over every Eucharistic celebration. It is in representing him that the bishop or priest acting in the person of Christ the head (in persona Christi capitis) presides over the assembly, speaks after the readings, receives the offerings, and says the Eucharistic Prayer. All have their own active parts to play in the celebration, each in his own way: readers, those who bring up the offerings, those who give communion, and the whole people whose “Amen” manifests their participation.

1349 The Liturgy of the Word includes “the writings of the prophets,” that is, the Old Testament, and “the memoirs of the apostles” (their letters and the Gospels). After the homily, which is an exhortation to accept this Word as what it truly is, the Word of God,175 and to put it into practice, come the intercessions for all men, according to the Apostle’s words: "I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings, and all who are in high positions."176


1350 The presentation of the offerings (the Offertory). Then, sometimes in procession, the bread and wine are brought to the altar; they will be offered by the priest in the name of Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice in which they will become his body and blood. It is the very action of Christ at the Last Supper - “taking the bread and a cup.” "The Church alone offers this pure oblation to the Creator, when she offers what comes forth from his creation with thanksgiving."177 The presentation of the offerings at the altar takes up the gesture of Melchizedek and commits the Creator’s gifts into the hands of Christ who, in his sacrifice, brings to perfection all human attempts to offer sacrifices.

1351 From the very beginning Christians have brought, along with the bread and wine for the Eucharist, gifts to share with those in need. This custom of the collection, ever appropriate, is inspired by the example of Christ who became poor to make us rich:178

Those who are well off, and who are also willing, give as each chooses. What is gathered is given to him who presides to assist orphans and widows, those whom illness or any other cause has deprived of resources, prisoners, immigrants and, in a word, all who are in need.179
1352 The anaphora: with the Eucharistic Prayer - the prayer of thanksgiving and consecration - we come to the heart and summit of the celebration:

In the preface, the Church gives thanks to the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, for all his works: creation, redemption, and sanctification. The whole community thus joins in the unending praise that the Church in heaven, the angels and all the saints, sing to the thrice-holy God.

1353 In the epiclesis, the Church asks the Father to send his Holy Spirit (or the power of his blessing180) on the bread and wine, so that by his power they may become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and so that those who take part in the Eucharist may be one body and one spirit (some liturgical traditions put the epiclesis after the anamnesis).

In the institution narrative, the power of the words and the action of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, make sacramentally present under the species of bread and wine Christ’s body and blood, his sacrifice offered on the cross once for all.

1354 In the anamnesis that follows, the Church calls to mind the Passion, resurrection, and glorious return of Christ Jesus; she presents to the Father the offering of his Son which reconciles us with him.

In the intercessions, the Church indicates that the Eucharist is celebrated in communion with the whole Church in heaven and on earth, the living and the dead, and in communion with the pastors of the Church, the Pope, the diocesan bishop, his presbyterium and his deacons, and all the bishops of the whole world together with their Churches.

1355 In the communion, preceded by the Lord’s prayer and the breaking of the bread, the faithful receive “the bread of heaven” and “the cup of salvation,” the body and blood of Christ who offered himself “for the life of the world”:181

Because this bread and wine have been made Eucharist (“eucharisted,” according to an ancient expression), "we call this food Eucharist, and no one may take part in it unless he believes that what we teach is true, has received baptism for the forgiveness of sins and new birth, and lives in keeping with what Christ taught."182



1356 If from the beginning Christians have celebrated the Eucharist and in a form whose substance has not changed despite the great diversity of times and liturgies, it is because we know ourselves to be bound by the command the Lord gave on the eve of his Passion: "Do this in remembrance of me."183

1357 We carry out this command of the Lord by celebrating the memorial of his sacrifice. In so doing, we offer to the Father what he has himself given us: the gifts of his creation, bread and wine which, by the power of the Holy Spirit and by the words of Christ, have become the body and blood of Christ. Christ is thus really and mysteriously made present.

1358 We must therefore consider the Eucharist as:

  • thanksgiving and praise to the Father;
  • the sacrificial memorial of Christ and his Body;
  • the presence of Christ by the power of his word and of his Spirit.

Thanksgiving and praise to the Father

1359 The Eucharist, the sacrament of our salvation accomplished by Christ on the cross, is also a sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for the work of creation. In the Eucharistic sacrifice the whole of creation loved by God is presented to the Father through the death and the Resurrection of Christ. Through Christ the Church can offer the sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for all that God has made good, beautiful, and just in creation and in humanity.

1360 The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits, for all that he has accomplished through creation, redemption, and sanctification. Eucharist means first of all “thanksgiving.”


That should give anough ammunition for the Catholic teaching, but the full teaching may be found here.

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