The Last Supper
According to the Gospels, the Last Supper (also called Lord's Supper) was the last meal Jesus shared with his apostles before his death. The Last Supper has been the subject of many paintings, perhaps the most famous by Leonardo da Vinci. In the course of the Last Supper, and with specific reference to taking the bread and the wine, Jesus told his disciples, "Do this in remembrance of Me", (1 Cor 11:23-25). (The vessel which was used to serve the wine, the Holy Chalice, is considered by some to be the "Holy Grail"). Many Christians describe this as the institution of the Eucharist.
According to tradition, the Last Supper took place in what is called today The Room of the Last Supper on Mount Zion, just outside of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
The meal is considered by most scholars likely to have been a Passover Seder, celebrated on the Thursday night (Holy Thursday) before Jesus was crucified on Friday (Good Friday). This belief is based on the chronology of the Synoptic Gospels, but the chronology in the Gospel of John is regarded by many as placing the Last Supper on the evening before the Passover (John 13:1, 18:28). References in John's Gospel to the Day of Preparation of the Passover (John 19:14, 31, and 42), are also taken by many to indicate that Christ's death occurred at the time of the slaughter of the Passover lambs (this latter chronology is the one accepted by the Orthodox Church). However, those that place the Last Supper during a Thursday evening Passover Seder generally regard Mark 14:12 and Luke 22:7 as the only explicit references in the Gospels to the slaying of Passover lambs at the time of Christ's crucifixion, and take the Day of Preparation in the Gospel of John as a likely reference to the Passover Friday during which preparations were made for the weekly Sabbath rest. Additionally, several scholars have questioned these chronologies, and have rejected the assumption that the synoptics refer to the Passover Seder and held that they are harmonious with John. Some Christians believe that a thorough examination of the Gospels indicates that the Last Supper was on a Tuesday, and that Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday.
The meal is discussed at length in all four Gospels of the canonical Bible. The Synoptic Gospels state that it was the seder for the Passover, and are interpreted by some scholars to state that in the morning of the same day the Paschal lamb, for the meal, had been sacrificed. However, under the Jewish method of reckoning time, the day was considered to begin straight after dusk, and so the Passover feast would be regarded as occurring on the day after the lamb was sacrificed. This implies that either the synoptics are not written with an awareness of the Jewish method of time reckoning (Kilgallen 264), or that they used the literary technique of telescoping events that actually happened on different days into just happening on single ones (Brown et al. 625). Others interpret the language of the Synoptic Gospels as sufficiently broad to allow for an evening sacrifice of the Passover lambs.
By contrast, in the chronology of the Gospel of John, the meal is stated to have occurred before the Passover, and before the Paschal lamb has been slaughtered, according to some interpreters, and consequently implying that Jesus himself died at the time when the Pascal lamb was due to be slaughtered. Almost all scholars view John's Gospel as later than the others, and most scholars see it as at least partly dependent on the Synoptics, and consequently some view John's chronology as highly contrived. Nevertheless, in Eastern Orthodoxy it is the chronology of John that is used in the traditional celebration of Easter, and similarly some have argued that a thorough examination of the Gospels indicates that the Last Supper was on a Tuesday, rather than a Thursday.
The institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper is remembered by Roman Catholics as one of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, and by most Christians as the "inauguration of the New Covenant", mentioned by the prophet Jeremiah, fulfilled by Jesus at the Last Supper, when He said, "Take, eat; this [bread] is My Body; which is broken for you. Par-take of the cup, drink; this [wine] is My Blood, which is shed for many; for the remission of sins". Other Christian groups consider the Bread and Wine remembrance as a change to the Passover ceremony, as Jesus Christ has become "our Passover, sacrificed for us" (I Corinthians 5:7). Partaking of the Passover Communion (or fellowship) is now the sign of the New Covenant, when properly understood by the practicing believer.
Each major division of Christianity has formed a different theology about the exact meaning and purpose of these remembrance ceremonies, but most of them contain similarities.
Development in the Early Church:
Early Christianity has created a remembrance service that took place in the form of meals known as agape feasts: perhaps Jude, and the apostle Paul have referred to these as your love-feasts, by way of warning (about who shows up to these). Agape is one of the five main Greek words for love, and refers to the idealised love, rather than lust, friendship, hospitality, or affection (as in parental affection). Though Christians interpret Agape as meaning a divine form of love beyond human forms, in modern Greek the term is used in the sense of I love you - i.e. romantic love.
These love feasts were apparently a full meal, with each participant bringing their own food, and with the meal eaten in a common room. Early Christianity observed a ritual meal known as the "agape feast" held on Sundays which became known as the Day of the Lord, to recall the resurrection, the appearance of Christ to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the appearance to Thomas and the Pentecost which all took place on Sundays after the Passion. Jude, and the apostle Paul referred to these as "your love-feasts", by way of warning (about "who shows up" to these). Agape is one of the Greek words for love, and refers to the "divine" type of love, rather than mere human forms of love. Following the meal, as at the Last Supper, the apostle, bishop or priest prayed the words of institution over bread and wine which was shared by all the faithful present. In the later half of the first century, especially after the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, passages from the writings of the apostles were read and preached upon before the blessing of the bread and wine took place.
These meals evolved into more formal worship services and became codified as the Mass in Catholic Church, and as the Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Churches. At these liturgies, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox celebrate the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The name Eucharist is from the Greek word eucharistos which means thanksgiving.
Within many Christian traditions, the name Holy Communion is used. This name emphasizes the nature of the service, as a "joining in common" between God and humans, which is made possible, or facilitated due to the sacrifice of Jesus. Catholics typically restrict the term 'communion' to the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ by the communicants during the celebration of the Mass.
Another variation of the name of the service is "The Lord's Supper". This name usually is used by the churches of minimalist traditions; such as those strongly influenced by Zwingli. Some echoes of the "agape meal" may remain in fellowship, or potluck dinners held at some churches.
The Last Supper celebrated by Jesus and his apostles on the day before His crucifixion, began as a traditional Jewish Passover feast of the unleavened bread, up until the point when Jesus broke the bread and said: "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And offering the wine said: "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." [1 Corinthians 11:23-25]. Jesus hereby instituted an entirely new ritual - a ritual which is reenacted in every Christian mass considered as being the very center of Christian life.
The name Eucharist derives from the Greek word "eucharisto" which means to give thanks or to rejoice. Roman Catholics typically restrict the term 'communion' to the distribution to the communicants during the service of the body and blood of Christ.
When consecrated by an ordained priest, the bread and the wine are believed literally to become the flesh and Blood of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit (although they retain the physical appearance, taste, texture, etc. of bread and wine). Once the words “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood” are said by the priest, the bread and the wine are thus supernaturally transformed into the body and blood of Jesus,. This mystical transformation is called transubstantiation (a transformation of substance).
Transubstantiation was officially defined as a dogma by Pope Innocent III at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.
While The Roman Catholic, The Orthodox and most other Christian Churches of the East believe in the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine, based upon the literal meaning of the bibles narrative of the Last Supper, other Christian denominations profess a mere symbolic meaning to the words. Most Protestant churches thus believe that Holy Communion merely symbolically commemorates Jesus' Last Supper with the disciples; this belief is known as "symbolism," "commemoration," or "transignification."