st  irenaeus of lyon The Eucharist: The Heart of Christian Worship

The Sacramental Question

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

I Corinthians 10:16

John Williamson Nevin makes a most remarkable yet true statement–our view of the Eucharist (i.e., Lord’s Supper) shapes and forms our understanding of Christ, church, theology, and church history.

In other words, a low view of the Eucharist lessens my understanding of the incarnation as Christ present in a material world. A low view of the Eucharist lessens the value of the church for we fail to see the continuous, sacramental, historic nature of the Church Catholic. A low view of the Eucharist makes theological reflection purely intellectual separate from the prayer life of the church. A low view of the Eucharist disconnects table fellowship from the communion of the saints both present and past.

On the other hand, a high view of the Eucharist recognizes that Christ is present in the Body and Blood. A high view of the Eucharist leads believers into heavenly worship joining with all saints and angels in praising God. A high view of the Eucharist joins worship, prayer, and theological reflection into one united whole. A high view of the Eucharist values the historic church by building on its strengths and learning from its weaknesses.

As St. Irenaeus wrote:

Again, moreover, how do they [heretics] say the flesh will end in corruption and not receive life, that flesh which is nourished by the Body and Blood of the Lord? Therefore let them either change their opinion or cease to assert such things. Our opinion is in conformity with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist confirms our opinion . . . Just as the bread from the earth, receiving the invocation of God, is no longer common bread but rather the Eucharist consisting of two things, the earthly and the heavenly, so our bodies, receiving the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible but have the hope of resurrection to eternal life.

Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies, Book IV

As the Eucharist forms the very heart of the whole Christian worship, so it is clear that the entire question of the church, which all are compelled to acknowledge–the great life problem of the age–centers ultimately in the sacramental question as its inmost heart and core.

Our view of the Lord’s Supper must ever condition and rule in the end our view of Christ’s person and the conception we form of the church. It must influence, at the same time, very materially, our whole system of theology, as well as all our ideas of ecclesiastical history.

John Williamson Nevin, The Mystical Presence, preface.