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This web site is intended as a resource for ideas and information on the
subject: "Reclaiming the Eucharist as a Meal." If you would like to contribute a paper,
name sources that are relevant, or wish to ask specific questions, please contact Brother
Tom Draney at


Brother Tom Draney, CFC

It should be understood from the very beginning that reclaiming Eucharist as a meal does
not mean rejecting Eucharist as a sacrifice. These two aspects of the Eucharist are
complementary, like right brain and left brain, like right hand and left hand; we are not
complete with only one aspect. In the same way, beginning to exercise the fullness of the
priesthood of the laity does not mean to reject the validity or need for an ordained clergy.
There is room and need for both.

What is the purpose of reclaiming Eucharist as a meal?

We are an Eucharistic people, and to appreciate the fullness of this we must return to the
roots, the beginning of Eucharist, which was a meal - the Last Supper and then the Lord’s
Supper. Meals were extremely important in both the Hebrew and Greco-Roman culture
of the time of Jesus. The Jews had discipleship or friendship meals called chaburahs
which started with the breaking of bread and finished with the cup of blessings; a meal
such as Paul described in Corinthians I. Some scholars hold that the Last Supper was
such a meal, for John’s gospel says it happened on the night before the Pasch.

Meals were a way of determining who you were, what you believed, who your friends
were. That is why some Jews were scandalized when Jesus ate with tax collectors! The
gospels show us that Jesus used meals as a means of building community and teaching.
Luke’s gospel is the story of Jesus going from Galilee to Jerusalem and having ten meals
on the way. When He appeared to the disciples at the lake after the resurrection, He
called them, not to the temple or a conference, but to breakfast

Even in our fast food world, meals are still important, because eating is fundamental to
life, and the social intercourse possible at a meal is also a fundamental dimension of
society and spirituality. Business lunches, Rotarian breakfasts, coffee and Danish with a
friend, the luncheon after a funeral: all these testify to that. Gathering in large groups
such as a parish Mass can give us a sense of identity as community; gathering in small
groups at a meal can give us the intimacy and personal relationships that are needed to
grow as Christians in the smaller community.

Why is the need greater today?

Our culture has become one of supremacy of the individual. The family dinner has taken
second place to all kinds of other commitments: school, athletics, business meetings,
scouts, community service, etc. The marvels of electronics has made all kinds of
communication possible, but none of it is truly personal, face-to-face, where you know
someone is really listening. Separation of church and state has resulted in religion and
spirituality being topics that are not acceptable in most settings. The need is great, and the
greatest proof is the response elicited when the permission is granted and someone sets
the ball set rolling.

Isn’t the sacrifice of the Mass also a meal?

We are fed metaphorically by the Scriptures, and physically in the communion service,
but this is a far cry from a meal. At my parish the announcement is always made. “Please
observe silence as you enter so you do not interfere with another’s communing with
God.? There may be greeters at the door, which is commendable, but once inside, there is
practically no communication between the worshipers That sets the tone: aside from the
handshake at the Kiss of Peace, the Mass is basically between the individual and God The
offering of one’s self to God in union with the sacrifice of Jesus is certainly a valid and
important aspect of our faith, but the realization that this is a communal offering, that we
are the body of Christ, is difficult to perceive for many.

What happened to the meal aspect of the Eucharist in the early Church?

The rapid growth of the communities and the radical nature of Christ’s message, plus the
sense of the universal Church emerging from the many disparate local churches all were
factors. The logistics of putting on a meal for ten people are quite different from those of
a hundred; the meal became too difficult to manage. The meeting place had to be larger,
and there was a need for a space where the slave and his master, where the Jewish man
and a woman, where the rich and the poor could meet and shed all these differences as
disciples of the Christ.

Homes no longer filled the need. Neutral buildings were erect. At the beginning of the
20th century a “bridge? between the home and the church building was discovered in the
ruins of an ancient city, Duro Europus, in Syria: a home that was remodeled to accept a
much larger group. After Constantine’s Edict of Toleration, basilicas were built by him
for Christians, because he saw Christianity as the means of restoring the failings ethics
and morality of the Roman citizens. These buildings were more reminiscent of the Greco-
Roman sacrifices or the Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem, than they were of the house
church meal.

Why did the sacrificial element gain such predominance?

Sacrifice was an important part of the Jewish religion. The first disciples were still Jews
and they went to the temple to sacrifice and pray. Acts shows the apostles going up to the
temple to prove that they were still faithful Jews, even while they believed in Jesus.
When the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E., it was natural for the
disciples to transfer the meaning of sacrifice in the temple to their service of Eucharist in
their churches. As the gentiles became predominant, they brought with them their own
expectations of liturgies that were cultural and social gatherings where gods were
honored by some type of sacrifice.

Is the Eucharistic meal also a sacrifice?

Since they had a common origin, there must be elements of sacrifice and meal in both.
Sacrifice can be thought of as offering something to God to try and appease God’s anger,
to influence God’s plans for us or others. It can also be as acknowledging and
reverencing the power and presence of God in all things. The Jewish feast of Sukkoth
was a harvest feast in which first fruits were sacrificed to God as a thanksgiving. This is
how the Eucharistic meal is a sacrifice. People come together to give thanks to God for
his many gifts to them. The Greek word Eucharistia means to give thanks. Partaking of
the cup of blessing at the end of the meal is a re-commitment to "the way," as the gospel
life was first known, and this can be seen as an offering of one’s life to God.

Who officiates at the meal?

As in the Lord’s Supper of the early church, the host or hostess would be the one to lead
the gathering. The official ordained priesthood did not develop for decades, in spite of the
impression given in the catechism that Jesus ordained twelve men and they passed on
their special powers like a baton in a race. The people selected the ones to be priests and
bishops, and that was tantamount to ordination as we know it today. We are a priestly
people, and the fullness of the priesthood of the laity is exercised in the Eucharistic meal.
This does not mean that there is no need for an ordained, professional clergy today, for
there are many aspects of priesthood that required some special training and availability.
There was development; it was of the Spirit. It was occasioned by the need for
authoritative teachers, for administrators, by the need to meet the particular type of
society the church was living in. But the source for the authority was the community
itself, as in a democracy, it does not lose it by delegating it.

Does transubstantiation take place?

The Eucharist at its very core a mystery. “Transubstantiation? is a term devised in the
Middle Ages to try to give a philosophical answer or description based on the idea that
physical reality is determined by matter and form. In the consecration, substance changes
but accidents remain the same. The Eastern Orthodox faith has never accepted this as an
adequate or meaningful description of the reality of the mystery. It contradicts itself,
because accidents must remain in the appropriate substance. It explains nothing. The
Orthodox Churches teaches that the bread and wine remain unchanged, and the Risen
Christ is added to them, so that there are two substances in one set of accidents. They
point to the doctrine of Jesus being one person with two natures. This again is not an
explanation of the mystery. (See this paper on Transubstantiation for more detail and
other efforts to put the mystery into a philosophical context.)

Some very pious Catholics think that the body of Christ they receive in communion is the
flesh of pre-resurrection body. It is not, otherwise communion would be a type of
cannibalism. The RC Church teaches that the consecrated host is the body of the Risen
Christ, but we do not know what the risen body is like. We do know that when Christ said
“this is my body,? he meant his whole being, his presence. We should tread carefully
when we try to explain the reality of the body and blood of Jesus present in the Eucharist.

The words of consecration are words of remembering. As in the Hebrew meals such as
the Passover, the remembering was to affect a re-living of the whole experience, to re-
connect with the saving presence of God. It is foolish to think of Christ not being present
with the people and priest until the consecration, and then, BAM, He comes. There is an
Eastern Catholic rite that has no specific words of consecration, but only the epiclesus, an
invoking of the Holy Spirit to come down upon the gifts and the people, an invocation we
have also in the Latin rite. When he was a Cardinal in charge of doctrine, the present
Pope declared the rite to be valid.
In the Eucharistic meal we believe and know that Christ is present in the gathering, in the
action of thanking and praising God. Whether this same Risen Lord is present in the
blessed bread and wine we do not care to argue. We do know that no one can forbid him
to come. That is enough for us.

Is a house church the same as an intentional eucharistic community, an iec?

Generally, no, the iec’s are usually set up to function as a substitute parish or a parish
within a parish. The house church is intended to be more like a base community, a cell
which is very much part of the parish. The iec’s have many facets, like a parish; the
house church is a small group, one that can fit around a table, and is focused more on
sharing the spiritual lives of its members through celebrating the Eucharist. It may adopt
some social outreach or support a particular charity as a natural development from its
There is no better way to argue that “We are the Church? than to be the Church in action

Some Source Material

Brown, Raymond E, Priest and Bishop, Biblical Reflections, Wipf and Stock, 1999,
ISBN 1 57910 277 8
Brown, Raymond E, Growth of the Early Church - 10 cd set, Welcome Recordings,
Penley, Wales, U.K.
La Verdiere, Eugene, Dining in the Kingdom of God, Liturgy Training Publiations,
1986, ISBN 1 56854 022 1
La Verdiere, Eugene, The Eucharist in the New Testament and the Early Church,The
Liturgical Press, 1996,
ISBN 0 8146 6152 1
Dix, Dom Gregory, The Shape of the Liturgy, Dacre Press, A. and C. Black Ltd.,
England, reprinted 1996,
Daley, Brian E, Early Christianity and the First Christians, 6 cd set, Now You
Know Media
Johnson, Luke Timothy, Early Christianity: The Experience of the Divine, 12 cd set by
The Teaching Company