The Eucharist is a Christian ordinance that dates back to the times of Jesus Christ on the earth over 2000 years ago. In the Bible, when Jesus was taking the last supper before crucifixion, He ordered His disciples to observe the Eucharist in remembrance of His life in this earth. Observation of the Eucharist entails taking of bread and wine symbolically as the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
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“Sharing in the Eucharist, like sharing in the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, is at the heart of Christian life.”1 The Eucharist provides an opportunity for Christians to assert their allegiance to God and have assurance of eternal life.
Although the practice has biblical basis, different Christian religions have attached different meanings and names to it. Depending on the Christian religion, Christians have named the Eucharist as the Holy Communion, Sacrament of the Altar, the Holy Mass, or Lord’s Supper.2 To some extent, these names indicate theological variations in the application of this doctrine.
Mainstream Christian religions such as Protestantism and Catholicism have different interpretations of the Eucharist. In a bid to enhance understanding of the variation in the Eucharistic practices among Christians, this paper examines the Eucharistic practices of St. Augustine and John Wesley, and seeks to examine how they differ and compare in the Catholic Church and Methodism way of teaching the practice respectively.
St. Augustine Eucharistic Practices
St. Augustine believed in transubstantiation where the bread and the wine become the body and the blood of Jesus Christ respectively by the power of the Holy Ghost during consecration. “The Eucharist is an intimate sharing in the real presence of Christ in a way that is truly human and truly divine.”3 The Eucharist allows humans to interact with the divine in an intimate manner that is real and nourishing to the Christians.
Since the bread and wine are symbols, St. Augustine asserted that signs and symbols are sacred things for the become real when consecrated. According to his beliefs, “language about liturgy and sacraments was about signs and symbols – in all their reality, content, and liturgical fullness of expression.”4 Hence, according to St. Augustine, bread and wine are real body and blood of Jesus Christ respectively.
St. Augustine also perceived the Eucharist as a sacrament of unity, which unites Jesus Christ and His Church. When Jesus Christ left this world, He instructed His disciples to observe Lord’s Supper whenever they are together, because the Eucharist stands for unity between Him and the church.
The use of symbols in the Eucharist has significant importance because “the Eucharist and church are gifts of God, and that our proper attitude to them is one of receptivity.”5 Disciples of Jesus Christ practiced and taught about the Eucharist as they preached the Gospel to the world. In this view, St. Augustine perceived the Eucharist as a central element in uniting God and His people.
Thus, St. Augustine held that Christians should always take part in the Eucharist to rejuvenate their relationship with God. The Eucharist is also important in uniting Christians as the body of Jesus Christ.
Essentially, “the church’s celebration of ritual meal launches a process of becoming the Eucharist, a process that is completed only when Christians recognize their own new identity as Christ’s body in the world.”6 Hence, through the Eucharist, St. Augustine believed that Christians and Jesus Christ unite as one body in the process of taking part in the Holy Communion.
St. Augustine regarded the Eucharist as a sacrifice that Jesus made when He died on the cross. When Christians practice the Eucharist, it symbolizes the sacrifice that Jesus made at the cross when He shed His blood to cleanse the sins of the world.
In viewing the Eucharist as sacrifice, St. Augustine did not imply that Jesus Christ should die every time during the Holy Communion, but perceived it as a continual memorial of sacrifice that Jesus Christ made at the cross. St. August presented the Eucharist “as a scramentum memoriae, a symbolical commemoration of the sacrificial death of Christ.”7
As Christians believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Eucharist reminds them that the agony of the cross is a sacrifice that saves humanity. Thus, frequent participation in the Eucharist in the church with other believers is imperative for the salvation of Christians.
Salvation of Christians links with the ordinance of the Eucharist for Jesus instructed His disciples to preach and practice it as a remembrance of His love towards humanity. Therefore, Christians should practice the Eucharist for it signifies acceptance of the body and the blood of Jesus Christ as a holy sacrifice that saves humanity.
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The Eucharist has importance to Christians because it symbolizes the love that Jesus Christ gave to the church and the love that Christians should have for one another. During the Eucharist, Christians come together and express the love that Jesus Christ bestowed to them.8 Since the Church is a group of believers, the Eucharist enhances love among them.
According to St. Augustine, the Eucharist practice plays a central role in enhancing love among Christians. “Therefore, just as you see that the bread, which was made, is one mass, so may you also be one body by loving one another, by having one faith, one hope, and an undivided charity.”9
Christians carry the responsibility of sharing their love among different members, since the body of Christ has many members. Through the Eucharist, Christians get an opportunity to share their love with others, thus building the body of Christ and strengthening faith among believers.
John Wesley Eucharistic Practices
John Wesley believed that the Eucharist (Holy Communion) is a sacrament of spirituality. Through the Eucharist, believers attain the grace of God. God bestows grace to all believers and through the Eucharist Christians achieve it. Hence, grace is a central aspect of the Eucharist for without grace, Christians cannot attain fellowship with God.
“Wesley agreed with those Western traditions that believed the faithful communicant actually received grace through the Eucharist.”10 Without the Eucharist, Christians would be unable to derive spiritual nourishment that God provides through the practice.
According to John Wesley, “the term Holy Communion invites us to focus on the self-giving of the Holy God, which makes the sacrament an occasion of grace, and on the holiness of our communion with God and one another.”11
By practicing the Eucharist, Christians avail themselves to the matchless and boundless grace of God that has the power to save sinners. Therefore, Christians affirm the importance of the body and blood of Jesus Christ when they practice the Holy Communion.
John Wesley also believed in the Eucharist as a holy sacrament that God gave to His Church. For the Church to coexist with Jesus Christ as one body, it must accept the sacrament of the Eucharist. In this view, John Wesley perceived the Eucharist as a form of worship through which Christians and the church can link up with God.
In his teachings, John Wesley “exhorts the Methodists to avail themselves to the means of grace and remember that whatever power and mercy accompany the sacraments come from God and not the means”12 for the power of the Holy Ghost comes only through Jesus Christ.
When Christians participate in the Holy Communion, they allow the power of the Holy Ghost to enter into their lives, and thus causing transformation, which strengthens their faith.
Therefore, according to John Wesley, the Eucharist is a form of worship that Christians should exercise in their journey as Christians so that they can receive blessings from God. Taking part in the Holy Communion enhances Christians to enjoy full fellowship with their God because Jesus Christ mediates the fellowship.
Since Jesus Christ died on the cross to cleanse the sins of humanity, the Eucharist offers an opportunity for Christians to celebrate it. “The Eucharist is a celebration of the presence of the living Christ.”13
During the Holy Communion, Christians take bread and wine as a way of celebrating the life of their savior Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to ransom the world from sin.
Before Jesus Christ died, He instructed His disciples to celebrate the Holy Communion in remembrance of his life and saving power through the Holy Ghost. In this view, Christians should participate in the Holy Communion for it reminds them about the life of Jesus Christ and His divine role in saving humanity from perishing in sins.
John Wesley also believed that the Eucharist is important to Christians because it indicates acceptance of sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on the cross. Jesus Christ made eternal sacrifice on the cross because He abolished the practices that took place on earthly sanctuaries and initiated a heavenly sanctuary. Among Christians, the sacrifice that Jesus Christ gave was a holy sacrament that invites all into His kingdom.
According to John Wesley, “the main intention of the Christ herein was not the bare remembrance of His passion, but over and above, to invite us to His sacrifice.”14
During the Holy Communion, Christians sing hymns, which recognize Jesus as the savior of Christians, who become His followers by accepting the eternal sacrifice made at the cross. Through the Eucharistic practices, Christians transform their faith and love leading to holiness in both heart and life.
John Wesley regarded the Eucharist as an experience with Jesus Christ. Christians who take part in the Holy Communion experience great changes in their lives because they encounter their creator. The encounter and experience in the Holy Communion “not only touches the five senses, but it can also radically affect the lives of those who experience it.”15
Since the Holy Ghost mediates the relationship between Christians and God, the Eucharist provides means of achieving the experience of a Christian life. Through the Holy Communion, Christians experience the transformational power of the Holy Ghost, which connects believers with Jesus Christ and God. Thus, the Eucharist is a process that Christians undergo to experience an encounter with Jesus Christ.
Differences and Contrasts of the Eucharist in Catholicism and Methodism
Catholicism and Methodism differ in the way they interpret the Eucharist. One major difference that exists between the two denominations is the doctrine of transubstantiation. “The Catholic theologians emphasize the importance of affirming the real presence of Christ and the change of elements of bread and wine.”16 Hence, Christians experience real presence of Jesus Christ in the form of body and blood.
In contrast, Methodism does not believe in the doctrine of substantiation. Instead, Methodism holds that the bread and wine are just signs and symbols that Christians use in commemoration of the real body and blood of Jesus Christ, which He gave to humanity as a sacrifice to atone their sins.
Methodism maintains, “The bread and wine acquire an additional significance as effectual signs of the body and the blood of Christ, but do not necessarily cease to be bread and wine.”17 The bread and wine are mere symbols of the body and blood rather than real substitutes. Hence, Catholicism and Methodism differ in the aspect of transubstantiation.
Although Catholicism and Methodism perceive the Eucharist as a way of commemorating the life and sacrifice that Jesus Christ made at the cross, they differ in the manner they believe in the Eucharist. Catholicism believes that the Eucharist provides a means of reliving the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. This assertion means that Christians relive the experience of the cross whenever they participate in the Eucharist.
The Catholic Church maintains, “The sacrifice of the cross and that of the mass are specifically and numerically the same, only the manner of the offering is different.”18 Catholicism holds that the Eucharist is equal to the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on the cross.
In contrast, Methodism believes that the Eucharist is a mere representation of the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made at the cross, but not the same as the sacrifice. According to Methodism, Jesus Christ made eternal sacrifice for the last time, and thus Christians do not have the ability to offer the same sacrifice through the Eucharist.
Perpetuating Christ’s sacrifice in the form of the Eucharist implies that the sacrifice made at the cross lacked power to cleanse people from sins.19 In this view, Methodists are against the perpetuation of the cross sacrifice during mass.
Another difference in the Eucharist between Catholicism and Methodism is the role of priests in consecrating the bread and wine. “In Catholic theology, the consecration is the indisputable heart of the Eucharist, from which we have Christ’s real presence.”20
Priests take bread and wine and consecrate it into the real body and blood of Jesus Christ by invoking the power of the Holy Spirit, which implies that the priest has the power to offer sacrifice just as the high priests in the sanctuary did. In Methodism, the believers hold that the priests have no power to consecrate the bread and wine into blood and body respectively.
The priest only enables the believers to take part in the Holy Communion as a symbolical practice of commemorating the life of Jesus Christ and thanking Him for His atoning sacrifice.
Among Methodists, clergy and priests have a role of administering the Eucharist, because it is just a representation of the sacrifice made at the cross.21 Therefore, Catholic priests have the ability to consecrate the bread, while in Methodism they do not have such capacity.
Methodism and Catholicism differ in the frequency of the Eucharist. Usually, Methodists schedule the Eucharist in a frequency of about once a month, but Catholics prefer taking the Eucharist every time they hold a Mass.
“Frequency of Communion increased dramatically among those groups affected by Romanticism, but together with this was tendency toward the privatization of religious experience and excessive sentimentality in Eucharistic devotion.”22 Therefore, the frequency of the Eucharist is high in Catholic Church than in Methodism.
Comparative analysis of the Eucharistic practices of St. Augustine and John Wesley shows that the two have some fundamental differences although they share same biblical origin. The views of St. Augustine and John Wesley are evident in Catholicism and Methodism respectively. The major difference of the Eucharistic practices in the two Christian religions is the doctrine of transubstantiation.
Moreover, while Catholics tend to perpetuate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Methodists just celebrate it symbolically. Other differences lie in the manner of performing sacrifices by the priests and the clergy, as well as frequency. Among Catholics, priests have a noble role of consecrating the bread and wine into the real body and blood of Jesus Christ, while Methodists do not believe in such consecration.
Additionally, Catholics hold the Eucharist as many times a possible during their masses, but Methodists hold their Holy Communion within a frequency of about once a month.
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1 Stephen Binz, Eucharist (London: Twenty-Third Publications, 2005), 110.
2 Luke Keefer, “John Wesley: The Methodists, and Social Reform in England,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 25 no. 1 (1990), 121.
3 Binz, 110.
4 Kevin Irwin, Models of the Eucharist (London: Paulist Press, 2005), 247.
5 Andrew Hamilton, “Eucharist, Theology, and Discipleship,” Pacifica 12 (1999), 148.
6 Nathan Mitchell. Real presence: The work of Eucharist (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 2001), 105.
7 Philip Schaff. Nicene and Post Nicene Christianity: History of the Christian Church (New York: Kissinger Publishing, 2009), 251.
8 William Crockett, Eucharist: Symbol of transformation (London: Liturgical Press, 2007) 34.
9 Michael Kwatera, Ministry of communion (London: Liturgical Press, 2004), 3.
10 Albert Outler, “John Wesley and Eastern Orthodoxy: Influences, Convergences, and Differences,” Asbury Theological Journal 45 no. 2 (1990), 40.
11 General Body of Discipleship, “This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion,” Gateway.
12 Stephen Sours, “Anthropology and transcendence: Wesley’s sacrificial Eucharistic theology in ecumenical context,” John Wesley Fellows.
13 Paul Chilcote, “Eucharist among the means of the grace,” Salvation Army.
15 Lorna Khoo, Wesleyan Eucharistic Spirituality: Its nature, sources and future (New York: ATF Press, 2005), 55.
16 Gordon Smith, The Lord’s Supper: Five Views (London: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 18.
17 James Puglisi, Horace Allen, and Teresa Berger, Liturgical renewal as a way to Christian unit (London: Liturgical Press, 2005), 44.
18 Giles Dimock, “The Eucharist sacrament and sacrifice,” Knights of Columbus Supreme Council.
19 James White, The sacraments in Protestant and faith (Chicago: Abingdon Press, 2010), 54.
20 Raniero Cantalamessa, and Frances Villa, The Eucharist: Our Sanctification (London. Liturgical Press, 2008), 80.
21 Laurence Stookey, Eucharist: Christ’s feast with the church (Chicago: Abingdon Press, 2010), 76.
22 Susan White, Foundation of Christian worship (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 101.