How to Teach the Eucharist Part 1: The Bible
Updated: Mar 30, 2022
Have you ever tried to teach anyone about the Eucharist?
How did that go?
I'm guessing that you either:
Overwhelmed your students with lots of detailed information, or
Focused on how they should prepare to receive it
The first one is something that I think a lot of people do the first time they try to teach it, and it's no wonder--there's so much to say!!! The problem with this is that your students end up overwhelmed with information, and it's far too much for them to take in all at once.
The second one is also very important, but no one will care about how they're supposed to receive the Eucharist if they don't already know what it actually is or what is so important about receiving the Eucharist.
Before you can even begin to explain why both of those are important, you have to explain how it’s even possible that bread and wine become God Himself during the consecration at the Mass.
Think about how difficult that is! You have to explain:
Before Mass begins (or the Divine Liturgy, for the Eastern Churches), bread and wine are just bread and wine
When the priest consecrates them during the Eucharistic Prayer, they become God Himself: body, blood, soul, and divinity
How it can be true that what was bread and wine before the Mass is no longer bread or wine, even though they still look like bread and wine
How does that make any sense?
It doesn't make any sense as long as we only think about the natural world and what is possible within the world. Christians know that there is one God, and that God is not part of this world even though He interacts with us. But how on earth is it possible for any human being to change bread or wine into that very God?
The short answer is that it isn’t possible!
It’s completely impossible for any human being to turn bread and wine into God, because no human being has the power to change anything—much less grains and fermented grape juice—into God.
But God does have the power to do that, without also creating another divine being
Even though we know that God can do anything, how do we know that He actually does change the bread and wine into the Eucharist?
There are two ways that He uses to tell us that He does this, and how He does this:
So how do you teach that?
It IS a lot of information to sift through, so I'm using two posts to explain how you can get started teaching people about the Eucharist from each of those sources. They're just overviews for each one of them, but they should be enough to help you get started and develop a framework for teaching.
In this post I’m going to focus on the Eucharist in the bible. In the next post, I'll focus on how to explain the Eucharist using what we know from sacred tradition. I’ll add a link here to that second post once it's posted.
How to Teach the Eucharist from the Bible
If you want to go deeper into the subject of the Eucharist in the Bible, you can cite many more scriptural references than I do here, but since this post is only intended to help you get started I'm just going to use a few references—from Genesis, John, and Revelation.
Begin at the beginning
Whether you're teaching from the scriptures or the sacred tradition (it's almost always a combination of the two), you always want to begin with the reason why we need the sacraments. We need the sacraments because of the separation between God and man that is a result of the Fall.
That's why Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) said that every catechesis (teaching of the Faith) should begin with Genesis and the Fall so that they know why we need a savior (1).
The Eucharist is mentioned in all four gospel accounts, and if you start with the Last Supper in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), you'll focus on Jesus as the one who instituted the sacrament because those three books record the words of Christ when He did that.
John’s Gospel was written later than the others, so he didn't include the account of the Last Supper. Instead, He shows how Jesus taught the Pharisees about the Eucharist, and places a much greater emphasis on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
You can start with any of them, but in this post I’m going to focus mostly on John’s Gospel, using both his emphasis on Jesus as God in John 1, and his account of Jesus teaching the Pharisees about the Eucharist in John 6.
In the Beginning...
In the very beginning of John's gospel, he emphasizes that Jesus is the very same God who created heaven and earth. You can see that if you read both John 1:1-3 and Genesis 1:1-3 closely and compare those two passages.
That comparison between the beginning of creation in Genesis is really important to understand the new creation that we are in Christ, because that new creation comes about through the sacraments.
When the Pharisees approach Jesus after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves in John 6, they ask Him if he’s a prophet because they recognized that He had just performed a miracle similar to that of the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 4:42–44.
Jesus, however, isn't just a prophet who acts under the power of God. He is God, so when He performs miracles it is by His own power, and these miracles show how He heals people by overcoming the effects of the Fall.
He heals the sick, forgives sin, reunites the lost sheep to God, and brings the dead back to life. Death, division, and sin are all effects of the Fall which will ultimately be healed at the end of time. Jesus is giving us all glimpses of what it will be like at that point and giving us hope by showing that He will heal and unite the world to Himself in the end.
Jesus responds to the Pharisees by reminding them of yet another event from the Old Testament where He began preparing His people for the Eucharist: the manna from Heaven that fed their Fathers while they wandered in the wilderness of the desert before entering the Promised Land.
Then He shows the Pharisees what He has planned for when He institutes the sacrament of the Eucharist:
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Caper′naum (3)
When Jesus says this to the Pharisees, He's showing that He has a plan for us, that His plan is for every one of us to be happy with Him forever in heaven, and that has been His plan for us from the beginning.
The reason for the Eucharist is to reunite us with God, which heals the separation between God and man that Adam and Eve caused at the Fall.
When Jesus reveals His fulfillment of prophecies that He gave to His people in the Old Testament, He is showing everyone that He is the very same God who acted in the world and guided His people from the beginning.
God's Plan and the Eucharist
Emphasizing God's plan for us means showing that from the beginning He wanted every single one of us to be perfectly united with Him. The reason we're not, is because we live after the Fall of Adam and Eve.
When you start with that, remind your students that even though God knew that Adam and Eve had sinned, He wasn't going to allow that to separate them and all of us from Him for all eternity.
That's why He protected them, and everyone else from that, when He removed them from the Garden of Eden and prevented them from entering it again by having a cherubim with a fiery sword guard the entrance (for more on that, see the post, Why Do Catholic Churches Have So Many Images of Angels?).
God was preventing Adam and Eve from eating the fruit of the Tree of Life:
And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever (Genesis 3:22)
That last part, "live forever" means that they--and all of their descendants--would live apart from God forever if Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Life, since they had committed a mortal sin by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
God wasn't about to let that happen, which is why he prevented them from entering the Garden of Eden again...until He sent the savior that He promised. When Jesus died and rose again from the dead, He conquered death and re-opened the gates of Heaven.
The Garden of Eden symbolizes being in the presence of God, so being outside of the garden and on the other side of that gate shows that there is a separation between God and man.
St. Ephraim the Syrian, a Doctor of the Church, compared Christ hanging on the cross with the fruit hanging from the Tree of Life. The Cross is made out of wood, and Christ hung from a cross made of wood for 3 hours. Now, when we receive the Eucharist, we are also eating from the Tree of Life because we are receiving Christ who is also symbolized in the fruit of the Tree of Life (4).
You can see this in the Bible, when you compare Genesis 3 with Revelation 22:2, where the Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden is now seen in heaven.
The last three chapters of Revelation are referencing Genesis 1-3, and show God's fulfillment of His promise not to allow the division between God and man to continue forever, by showing the healing of the rift between God and man.
Those who choose to be with God are welcomed into Heaven to live with Him forever in perfect happiness--just as He intended when He created human beings in the beginning.
THAT is what the end (or goal) of receiving the Eucharist is: union with God.
Continued in: How to Teach the Eucharist Part 2: Sacred Tradition
Blog Series: Teaching Grace, the Sacraments, and the Church
How to Teach the Sacrament of Eucharist Part 1: the Bible (this post)
How to Teach the Sacrament of Marriage
How to Teach the Sacrament of Holy Orders
How to Teach the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick
How to Teach About the Catholic Church
How to Teach About Sacramentals
If you want to know more about how to do that, I highly recommend the book, "'In the Beginning...': A Catholic Understanding of Creation and the Fall," by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (he later became Pope Benedict XVI). It's a collection of some talks he gave during the 1980s on the Book of Genesis.
You can break down the word "eucharistia" into: "eu" which means "good" and "charis" which is transliterated into the word "grace." Using "eu" in the beginning of that word places a very strong emphasis on the goodness of the grace being given.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1965, 1966 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Linked to: https://bible.usccb.org/bible/john/6
St. Ephraim is better known in the Eastern Churches than the West, but he is known especially for his hymns on Genesis. Fr. Hezekias (Sabatino) Carnazzo has a short reflection on St. Ephraim the Syrian’s hymn on the Tree of Life and Jesus in the Eucharist here: https://stjosaphateparchy.com/the-tree-of-life-the-holy-eucharist/