Friday, May 20, 2011

Meaning of Eucharist in Catholic & Orthodox Traditions

Russian Orthodox Eucharist
Imagine that you are a Catholic and you are meaningfully participating in a Latin mass. When the priest pronounces certain words, the bread in his hands transforms into the body of Christ. When the priest breaks the bread, the crucifixion happens. This lets you transcend the limits of time and space, and gives you the opportunity to be an eye-witness of the saving event that happened two thousand years ago. When you accept the bread from the priest, you actually accept Christ into you, and accept the salvation he gives you through his sacrifice on the cross. You realize that you are among the people who are saved. All people in the congregation go to accept the Eucharist from the priest, because if you don’t, it is like rejecting the salvation offered by Christ.

Now imagine that you are an Orthodox Christian and you are participating in a Holy Eucharist. You enter into the presence of God in the church, which represents the heaven and earth. You are no more an individual but a part of a community, which is the body of Christ--the embodiment of the invisible Christ. The people inside the church building represent the complete body of Christ of all times and places. Here you transcend the limits of time and space, and participate in the incarnation of Christ. Christ, as both the priest and the lamb, sacrifices himself. The bread and wine on the altar represent the body of Christ. As the priest places the body and wine on the altar, you, along with the entire body of Christ, sacrifice yourself to God. Thus you participate in the self-sacrifice of Christ. Not everybody go to the priest to receive the Eucharist from the priest. It is optional. Only those people who have prepared their body and mind by fasting and prayer will come forward to accept Eucharist. Not accepting Eucharist does not mean rejecting Christ.

How are they similar and different? Both are symbolic, and both let you transcend time-space limitations. But there are differences. In the first you are a mere spectator, and you are a passive recipient of the grace and salvation you are offered. In the second, as a part of the body of Christ, you sacrifice yourself to God. 

Church Building
Place where crucifixion happens
Heaven and Earth
Individuals witnessing crucifixion
Body of Christ
Bread and Wine
Becomes Christ when priest utters certain words
Represents the Body of Christ
Accepting Eucharist
Accepts Christ and his salvation
Another affirmation of the oneness with the body of Christ
Not accepting Eucharist
Rejecting Christ and salvation
Not fully prepared by fasting etc.
Purpose of continued observance
To receive God’s grace
To participate in Christ’s highpriestly vocation of representing the creation before God

This is a part of an indepth study of the meaning of Eucharist I have done. Read the complete paper  here.

1 comment:

Thomas K.Varghese said...

It is very informative. Thank you.