The Eucharist is not just one of the sacraments but the pre-eminent sacrament in the Church. It is a matter of mystery and faith, a miracle worked by Christ for his people that is repeated every day throughout every Catholic community in the world. For the individual, the Eucharist is a renewal of the covenant with the Church and with other Christians around the world.
Q: What is transubstantiation?
A: The Catholic Church teaches that Christ is really present in the consecrated elements of bread and wine. Transubstantiation is the transformation that the bread and wine undergo during Mass to become the actual Body and Blood of Christ. However, during communion, Christ is also present in the community gathered for worship, in the Word of God read from the Bible, and in the person of the priest who presides in his name.
Q: Who can take communion?
A: Only Catholics confirmed as members of the Catholic Church may take communion in a Catholic Church. However, there are times when individual non-Catholic Christians may share in Eucharist with Catholics. Local bishops have the jurisdiction to establish guidelines for particular occasions like interfaith marriage, First Communion, or anniversaries. Priests may also serve the Eucharist to non-Catholics if they are dying and if they request the sacraments and share the Church's faith regarding the Eucharist.
Q: Who can administer communion?
A: In the Catholic Church, only the priest may consecrate the bread and the wine of the Eucharist. The priest has the power by virtue of his ordination to make Christ present and to reveal his death and resurrection. This power is passed on to him by the Church itself through the sacrament of Holy Orders, linking Church, priest, and laity in the Eucharistic sacrament.
In the modern Catholic Church, deacons may hold the cup during consecration, and deacons or lay ministers may distribute the communion to the congregation.
Q: What is the Eucharist made of?
A: Catholic churches serve a special wafer, unleavened bread that must be made only of wheat flour (white or brown) and water. The wine must be a natural wine made of grapes. Drops of water are mixed with the wine to symbolize Christ's humanity and divinity combined.
Q: When do the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ?
A: Consecration by a priest turns the Eucharist into Christ's body and blood. Consecration takes place when the priest says the words, “This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood.”
Q: How is the communion administered?
A: Before Vatican II, the priest placed the host into the mouths of the parishioners. Now Catholics may receive communion in their hands. Congregants usually come forward to the front of the church or to stations in the aisles manned by ministers to receive communion. The priest or minister places the host in their hand. Then they may drink from the cup.
Some churches serve Eucharist by the process of intinction, in which the priest breaks the bread and dips it in wine before giving it to the communicant. However, many Catholics only take the bread, a practice that is acceptable because both the bread and the wine incorporate the whole of Christ's presence. Only sick people may take the wine alone.
Q: How often should Catholics take communion?
A: The Catholic Church requires that the Eucharist be taken once a year — during Easter time — and before death. However, Catholics may take it as often as once a day, during daily Mass.
Q: Does Eucharist have to be given in a church?
A: The Eucharist can be served in a home or hospital, on the battlefield or in the street — anywhere there is a need. It is the ritual, rather than the place, that creates the covenant with Jesus.
Q: What do Catholics need to do to prepare for communion?
A: The Church asks that Catholics fast for at least an hour before they receive the Eucharist. This is done out of reverence for the Body and Blood of Christ. This means no food or drink, except for water. People who are ill may reduce their fast to fifteen minutes.
To receive Holy Communion worthily, the believer must be free from mortal sin. That means it is necessary to confess and receive absolution from a priest before receiving the Eucharist.
Q: Why do Catholics genuflect toward the host?
A: The genuflection is made toward the monstrance that holds the communion bread and wine. It is a way of honoring Christ's presence in the Church.
Q: What happens after the meal is over?
A: Catholics hold that the Body and Blood of Christ remain in the consecrated elements after the communion service. The best way to show respect for the Eucharist is for a congregation to consume it. If some Eucharist is not used during a service, it should be offered to the sick and those who are absent. The Catholic Church stores the host in monstrance, or ostensorium. Any wine that has not been drunk during the service is consumed by the priest, ministers, or deacons.