IMAGES OF EUCHARIST

 

Eucharist is the most common and the most complex of the Christian sacraments. Most common because eucharistic celebrations in one form or another occur in Catholic and Orthodox churches every Sunday, and somewhat less frequently in Protestant churches. Most complex because it is a relatively lengthy ritual with numerous prayers, various and changing scripture readings, a memorial of the Last Supper, a homily or sermon, and very often music. Getting to understand this sacrament is complicated by the fact that the ritual goes by many names: eucharist, liturgy, mass, Lord's supper, and communion. Moreover, the special bread used in the ritual also has many names: the eucharist, the body of Christ, the sacrament, the blessed sacrament, communion, and holy communion.

Eucharistic celebrations can be traced back to the first century and to Jesus himself, who at his final meal gave thanks (eucharistesas in Greek) over the bread and wine that he shared with his companions. His followers continued to meet weekly for a meal they called the Lord's supper, but the full meal soon evolved into a symbolic meal referred to as eucharist. In the fourth century, the small eucharistic meal expanded into a liturgical celebration lasting sometimes for hours. Then during the Dark Ages of early medieval Europe, the liturgy shrank to a clerical ritual popularly called the mass. Protestant reformers rejected the mass as they found it in the 16th century and returned to what they believed was closer to the Lord's supper of the early church.

The reforms of Vatican II returned Roman Catholic worship to a form closer to the patrisic liturgy while retaining elements of the medieval mass. Orthodox worship today looks very much like the way it did in the sixth century. There are also eastern rite Catholic churches (sometimes called uniate churches because they are in union with Rome) whose style of worship is similar to that of the Orthodox churches.

The following images primarily depict the sacrament from the Middle Ages to today. Unless otherwise noted, the rituals are those of the Roman Catholic Church.



Mass

Lifting up the consecrated bread at mass in the Middle Ages
Detail from the baptismal font of St. Margaret’s Church in Norfolk, England



Mass

Priest lifting up the host at mass in the Middle Ages (artist unknown)
The high point in this form of worship was the consecration of the elements
and their elevation so they could be seen by the faithful.



Mass

Sacrifice of the Mass as understood during the Renaissance
Detail from The Seven Sacraments by Rogier van der Weyden (1545)
The sacrifice of Christ on the cross is shown in the foreground,
while the priest offers the euchristic sacrifice at the altar in the background.



Mass

The Catholic mass before the Second Vatican Council
was very similar to the mass in the Middle Ages,
and it was also said in Latin.



Mass

Some Catholics prefer the older style mass offered by a priest facing an altar
that is located on the far wall of the sanctuary.



Mass

A Tridentine high mass being offered in Latin
by a priest, deacon and subdeacon



Papal Mass

Catholics who cherish the older style of liturgy take some inspiration from papal masses
such as this one in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.



Eucharistic Liturgy

After the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, the liturgy underwent a number of revisions.
Now the priest faces the people and modern languages are used.



Eucharistic Liturgy

The altar is thought of as a eucharistic table rather than as a place of sacrifice.



Eucharistic Table

Some parishes have made a eucharistic table out of an altar
that was built for the liturgy before Vatican II.



Eucharistic Liturgy

Sometimes the eucharistic table can be quite simple,
as in this missionary chapel in Africa.




Eucharistic Liturgy

Sometimes it can even be an ordinary table,
as at this informal mass with students.



Liturgical music

Catholics who prefer more contemporary worship also prefer more contemporary music.
This group is rehearsing for the Easter Vigil celebration.



Eucharistic Liturgy

In a church setting, the liturgy begins with a procession to the altar.



Lectionary of Scripture Readings

Scripture readings are given special prominence in the first part of the liturgy.



Old Testament Reading

The Sunday liturgy has one reading from the Old Testament,
one from the epistles, and one from the gospels.


New Testament Reading

Lectors of all ages can proclaim the Word of God.



Homily

Unlike a sermon, which can be on any topic, a homily is supposed to
explain and apply the scripture passages proclaimed in the liturgy.



Homily

A good homilist brings things down to the level of the people.
Here a priet is speaking with children who are making their first communion.



Eucharistic Liturgy

In the revised liturgy, receiving communion is emphasized more than it was in the past,
when great emphasis was put on the consecration and elevation.



Eucharistic Liturgy

Eucharistic ministers do not have to be priests.
Here communicants are receiving the blood of Christ in the chalice.



Holy Communion

Lay people also bring communion to shut-ins at home.



Eucharistic Liturgy

Age is no obstacle to serving in the liturgy, as in this Catholic high school mass.



First Communion

Receiving communion for the first time is an important event.
These children are posing for the cameras after their first communion in Pennsylvania.



First Communion

Some children receive their first commuion when they are older.
These first communicants and their catechists are in a Catholic parish in Malaysia.



First Communion

In this parish in England, the pastor is very Anglo-Saxon and the children
are mostly of African descent, but the tradition continues.



Eucharistic Liturgy

Catholics often celerbrate important events with a eucharistic liturgy.
At this mass concluding a religious educators’ congress in Los Angeles,
notice how much wine is needed for communion!



Eucharistic Liturgy

Special eucharistic celebrations can be enhanced by liturgical dance.
These dancers are interpreting the meaning of the words in the sung response to a scripture reading.



Eucharistic Liturgy

Eucharstic celebrations may also be enhanced with cultural adaptations.
Presentation of the gifts in an African American style during liturgy at the congress



Eucharistic Liturgy

Native American elements being incorporated into the liturgy
for a special celebration in a California mission church



Eucharistic Liturgy

Because of the flexibility of the Catholic liturgy, it can be made available wherever it is needed,
such as at the site of temporary housing for migrant farm workers.



Communion Service

Many Protestant churches modernized their liturgical services in the 1960s,
which are sometimes very similar to the Catholc liturgy.
Communion service in a Lutheran seminary



Communion Service

But sometimes they can look very different,
as at this Protestant communion service in Birmingham, England.



Communion Service

A Protestant communion service is sometimes called the Lord's supper.
A Baptist service in London, England



Communion

Often the bread and wine at a Lord's supper
are in the form of small biscuits and grape juice.



Communion Service

But sometimes regular bread is used,
as at this Methodist church conference.



Bread, wine and water

In contrast, the sacred food and altar vessels used in the Orthodox liturgy
have remained constant for centuries.



Patristic liturgy

Depiction of the eucharistic liturgy during the patristic period in the basilica of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia)
built by the Emperor Justinian in Constantinople (now Instanbul, Turkey).
The Orthodox liturgy today is still very similar to that ancient form of worship.



Divine Liturgy

In Orthodox churches, the altar stands behind an icon screen,
such as this elaborate gilded one.



Divine Liturgy

Entrance procession toward the iconostasis and altar



Divine Liturgy

The altar is behind the icon screen, where only the ordained may enter.



Divine Liturgy

Many prayers in the Orthodox liturgy are chanted by various ministers or the choir.



Divine Liturgy

The Orthodox receive communion in the form of a cube of bread dipped in wine
and offered on a long gold spoon.



Divine Liturgy

Since infants receive communion when they are baptized,
Orthodox children do not celebrate a first communion but can receive the eucharist any time.



Divine Liturgy

Even more ancient than many Orthodox churches is the Coptic Church in Egypt.
A community of Coptic monks at worship



Divine Liturgy

Notice how the prayer position of these Coptic monks is similar to
the prayer position common to Muslims in the Middle East.



Eucharistic Liturgy

From age to age and from culture to culture, eucharist has been
a sacrament of the mystery at the heart of Christianity.
Family eucharistic celebration at an Episcopal church in New Jersey



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Last modified: Wednesday, 17 February 2016, 5:52 PM