I believe, there’s a lot you know about the Eucharist — the Blessed Sacrament, Holy Communion — but have you ever heard of these 7 interesting facts about it?
1. Feast day
The solemnity of Corpus Christi — the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ — is a holy day of obligation. While it’s prescribed as such in the general law of the Church, it’s not observed as one in the United States. It, along with the Epiphany, is transferred to a Sunday. (Also not observed as holy days of duty in America are the solemnities of St. Joseph, March 19, and St. Peter and Paul, June 29).
2. Consecration customs
It was during that period that the priest began lifting the host and chalice at Mass after the consecration. Back then, people received holy Communion infrequently but at least they could see the host and cup. And, yes, that seems to be when the custom of ringing a bell at the elevation began. At some churches, it was the tower bell that was rung. The use of a handbell actually started in England.
One more item from the 13th century. That was when churches started placing the host in a monstrance to be exposed on the altar. And they started carrying it in a procession in the church or out through the streets as part of the Corpus Christi celebrations.
3. Early Christians speak
As you may know from modern-day RCIA practices, in the very early days of the Church those in the congregation who had not yet been baptized left Mass before the consecration. It was the apologist St. Justin (d. 165), among others, who exposed what came next, explaining what was what and who did this or that.
Not necessary to say, that didn’t mean the people could actually comprehend what happens to the bread and wine. (Neither can we!). He wrote: “And this food is called among us the Eucharist. … For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but … we have been taught that this food … is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”
The Eucharist has many other names, too. The breaking of the bread, Eucharistic assembly, memorial of the Lord’s passion and resurrection, Holy Sacrifice, Holy and Divine Liturgy, Holy Mass, Sacred Mysteries, Most Blessed Sacrament, and Holy Communion.
There’s no mention of those in the Catechism.
Nor is there a paragraph about coffee and donuts following in the parish hall.
5. Parts of the prayer
The Mass’ Eucharistic prayer is divided into different parts:
A prayer of thanks, including the preface. The proclamation (the Sanctus; Holy, Holy, Holy). The epiclesis, an invocation of the Holy Spirit. (Here the priest puts his hand over the bread and wine.) The institution narrative and consecration.
The memorial proclamation. (For example, one begins “When we eat this bread …”) The anamnesis, focusing on Christ’s passion, resurrection, and ascension.
The oblation, an offering from us: “Therefore as we celebrate the memorial of his death and resurrection, we offer you, Lord, the bread of life and the chalice of salvation, giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you” (Eucharistic Prayer II). Intercessions, when the priest, in our name, prays for and with all the Church.
And the concluding doxology (“through him, with him, and in him) to which the audience answers “Amen.”
6. Gluten content
Yes, the host must be made of wheat, but there are extremely low-gluten hosts for those who have celiac disease.
In 2012 the U.S. bishops wrote: “Given the serious health risk for those suffering gluten intolerance, it is relevant for pastors and other Church leaders not only to be aware of the reality but prepared to address the situation of Catholics with celiac disease who come to parishes and seek to receive Holy Communion in a safe, sensitive and compassionate manner.”
7. First Communion
St. Pius X (1835-1914) lowered the age limit for first Holy Communion. When he was elected pope in 1903, children didn’t receive until they were as old as 14. He dropped it down to the “age of reason,” or about 7.