Eucharist may refer to either the actual elements of the biblical Last Supper, or the modern Christian ritual which commemorates it. The word itself comes from the Greek word for "thanksgiving." Catholics and some Protestant denominations use "Eucharist" interchangeably with "Mass" to describe their Sunday morning Communion services. Other Protestant denominations may describe the Eucharist ceremony as "The Lord's Supper," "The Great Thanksgiving," or "Holy Communion."
When Jesus Christ assembled his disciples for a final meal during Passover, He used the common elements of bread and wine to illustrate a point. As the disciples consumed a portion of bread, Jesus told them they were actually eating His flesh, at least in a spiritual sense. The communal wine would represent His blood, which would soon be spilled as an atonement for man's sins. These elements of bread and wine, along with the intimate communications between believers and God, formed the basis of the Eucharist ceremony.
Modern Christian denominations have varying opinions on this ritual. The Eucharist is considered to be an essential sacrament for Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox followers. Some believe that the physical bread and wine are mystically converted into the actual blood and flesh of Jesus Christ. This literal translation of the ritual is called transubstantiation. Although the bread and wine do not undergo changes in their outward appearance, a priest's blessing is believed to draw the real essence of Christ into the elements.
There are Protestant churches which support the idea of the Eucharist inheriting some spiritual qualities, but these qualities are more symbolic than literal. Christians of all denominations are encouraged to re-examine their spiritual health during the Lord's Supper. Certain denominations believe that participants in the ceremony should only partake of the elements if they have developed a true relationship with God. The Eucharist ceremony is not something to be taken lightly or irreverently.