The Scriptural Roots of the Eucharist: Making the Connection with Kids
Scripture and Tradition: The Heart of the Catholic Faith
The core of our belief is rooted in what we hear and read in Sacred Scripture, interpreted by the Tradition of the Church; the stories in the Bible, written millennia ago, relate to us the depth and breadth of the love that God has had and continues to have for all of humanity.
And where Scripture sits at the heart of our faith, the Eucharist reigns as the “source and summit”: the summit, because the Eucharist is ultimate peak of the Church’s faith journey, a complete and total reception of God as He pours Himself out for us, the source, because from this Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation flow all of the Church’s power of love, goodness, and peace.
When we bring these foundational truths to our classrooms, it can be challenging to help kids understand the grand connection between Scripture and the Eucharist, a connection that’s woven throughout salvation history.
Taking on this challenge and working to find the deep, meaningful connections between the Bible and the celebration of the Eucharist can give children (and you!) a profound new understanding of God’s love given through His Word. Below, you’ll find starting points for you to bring this perspective to your young people.
The Institution of the Eucharist
The Institution of the Eucharist is the most clear-cut example of Scriptural connections to the Eucharist. In chapter 26 of Matthew’s Gospel, we find an account of the first Eucharist: The Last Supper. Here, Jesus gave us a direct command as he “took a piece of bread, gave a prayer of thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. ‘Take and eat,’ he said, ‘this is my body.’” (Matthew 26:26, GNT).
And in the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians:
For I received from the Lord the teaching that I passed on to you: that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took a piece of bread, gave thanks to God, broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in memory of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup and said, “This cup is God’s new covenant, sealed with my blood
Whenever you drink it, do so in memory of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25, GNT)
Similarly, in the Gospel according to Mark, “he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.’” (Mark 14:23-24)
For kids, this Scriptural foundation of the Eucharist can be made clear by connecting the words of these Gospels and Paul’s letter to the words proclaimed in the Mass itself. These passages are used, verbatim, in the Eucharistic Prayers as the priest consecrates the bread and wine. In every Mass, we recall Christ’s words at the Last Supper, and showing young people the origin of these words gives them a framework through which they can start to understand the full depth of this Eucharistic mystery which the Tradition of the Church has handed down to us.
The Old Testament
Once the connection with the Last Supper is established, we can invite kids to travel deeper and explore the connections through salvation history, in both the Old and New Testaments.
In the Old Testament we find the origins and establishing of the signs of bread and wine “that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ’s Body and Blood.” (CCC 1333) Throughout the Old Testament, bread and wine are signs of abundance and blessing. In one of the earliest stories in Scripture, Melchizedek, the high priest, blesses Abraham and brings out bread and wine. (Genesis 14:18).
The Jewish Passover meal, the meal at which Jesus gave us his Body and Blood in the Eucharist, bread and wine were blessed as signs of the abundance and joy which freedom from slavery brought to God’s people. At our Eucharistic meal, the Body and Blood of Christ brings abundance, joy, and freedom (from slavery to sin and death) to us today.
Then, we find a prefiguring of the Real Presence in the book of Deuteronomy, when Moses tells the Israelites that “it is not by bread alone that people live, but by all that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3) As Christ’s promise of freedom is fulfilled, He, being the Eternal Word of God Himself, becomes bread for His people, but in a heightened sense: in the Eucharist, the Word becomes our True Bread from heaven.
Throughout the Old Testament, bread had been a sign of God’s faithfulness and care. Whether it was bread that was offered by the people in thanksgiving or bread that was given to them (like the manna from Heaven), the sign of bread as a gift from God, as well as the work of human hands, and a prefiguring of the great gift of the Eucharist is woven throughout the Old Testament.
The New Testament
Passing through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we’re given the Church in its infancy. The “breaking of bread” by the apostles for the people of the Church is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:42 and 20:7).
The sharing of the Body and Blood of Christ, under the signs of bread and wine, is preserved and handed on by the apostles after His ascension. This Eucharistic celebration is a memorial, a way for the people (us!) in the present day to make ourselves present at the Last Supper, at the sacrifice of Christ, and to allow Him to conform our lives to His life.
Connecting Old, New, and Today
In the Letter to the Hebrews, the author illustrates the connection between Melchizedek (mentioned above) and Jesus. “[Melchizedek’s] name first means righteous king, and he was also ‘king of Salem,’ that is, king of peace. Without father, mother, or ancestry, without beginning of days or end of life, thus made to resemble the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.” (Hebrews 7:2-3)
This Scripture passage is proclaiming exactly what is vital to a more profound experience of the Eucharist, and it’s precisely what we should be introducing kids into: references to the celebration of the Eucharist are found throughout Scripture, from beginning to end. An understanding of Scripture will give kids an understanding of the Eucharist, and an understanding of the Eucharist can welcome them into a more in-depth and joyful reading of God’s Word. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we are truly living out the Scriptures and acting on the presence of Christ in our lives, in Word (Scripture) and in Sacrament (Eucharist).
How to Make the Connections with Kids
With an understanding of the connectedness of Scripture and the Eucharist, there are a few simple ways to help kids dive into the mystery and wonder of the Sacrament:
Follow the Salvation History Timeline: While the richness of Scripture is present in every verse, not all of them are as clear as others for children, especially when there’s a goal in mind. To help guide along the most vital pieces of Scripture for understanding how Christ’s sacrifice was made known before and after the Incarnation, the salvation history timeline is a great place to start. You’ll find a clear path to show the most important people, events, and stories on the way to Christ’s life on earth.
Read the stories alongside each other: In Scripture, references to prior events are common. Saint Paul’s letters refer often to the Old Testament. In the Gospels, Jesus refers to the writings of the prophets and patriarchs. A great way to help the connections stick with kids is to guide them through the related stories together. The Bible is a narrative that can be read from beginning to end, yes, but it can be quite illuminating to read segments from different stories alongside each other. Often the footnotes in study Bibles note similar or related Scripture stories and references which would be helpful to investigate.
Share the Scripture of the Mass: Make an effort to share the specific Scripture passages that make up the Eucharistic Prayers and help kids understand where and when these passages are found in the Mass. The reception of Holy Communion is also surrounded by Scriptural passages. Helping them to understand the words they hear every week at Mass is a great way to help them engage both in the celebration of the Eucharist and in Scripture!