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Holy Communion refers to the Eucharist and the wine that some Christians take as a symbol of the body and blood of Christ, during a portion of a church service. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Eucharist is not simply symbolic of the body of Christ, but it is also the body of Christ. It is a sacrament. A sacrament in Catholicism is described as the symbol of the thing and the thing itself.
This means when practicing Catholics take Holy Communion, it has been transformed through prayer into the physical body of Christ. They are thus taking Christ within themselves. Other Christian denominations do not practice the Eucharist, or refer to it only as symbolic of the body of Christ as he referred to it at the Last Supper.
In Catholicism, practicing Catholics make their first Holy Communion at the age of seven or eight. This is considered the age of reason in Catholicism. Thus children making their first sacrament must understand exactly what they are doing when they first accept the host. In other Christian denominations, bread and wine may be passed to all members of a church.
If an adult joins the Catholic Church, he or she will participate in a ceremony which may include baptism, if the person has not already been baptized; first Holy Communion; and Confirmation or baptism by the spirit. Other churches may also require baptism prior to offering the sacrament to new church members. Many churches do not differentiate between baptism by one denomination or another.
Most churches ask that non-believers or those of other denominations not take Holy Communion (also called the Lord's Supper). While visitors are welcome to be in fellowship with church members, taking the Lord's Supper is a conscious act requiring belief.
Not all people who take the sacrament also drink the wine or grape juice offered. Alcoholics, for example, seldom drink the wine. Also, those who are concerned about illness may not drink since the wine is often shared from a mutual cup. Wine or juice offered at the Lord's Supper is optional. In general, a person is considered to have taken Holy Communion if he or she has eaten the "host", or bread. Churches differ on what constitutes the bread. Sometimes the Lord's Supper begins as just plain bread.
In Catholic churches, the Host is a round white wafer made of wheat. Toward the end of the mass, the priest consecrates the Host, and then people make their way toward the priest to receive the host. The Priest holds up the host momentarily and says "The Body of Christ." Those receiving the Host respond by saying "Amen."
The Host is then placed on the tongue, or in the upturned palms of the receiver, and is consumed immediately. Parishioners then make their way back to their seats and several moments of silent reflection are then observed.
Consecrated Host may be sent with those authorized by the church to administer the Lord's Supper, to take to those who cannot attend church, such as those who are ill. Either a man or woman may administer the Eucharist, but only a priest may consecrate Holy Communion. Before its consecration, the Host is simply bread.
Taking Holy Communion is a part of virtually all masses, and every other sacrament. For example, a baptism offers the Eucharist to all attending who are practicing members of that particular sect of Christianity. Marriages, even when they do not include a Mass, usually include the Eucharist. Holy Communion is also offered at every daily Mass in the Catholic church.