After some preliminary studies on the sacrament of the Eucharist, I have decided to share my findings.
Firstly, I feel the need to point out that the Eucharist is actually much older than Christianity, with signs of it in Mithraism, Osirian tradition, and in the myths and tales of the vine-god Dionysus (the latter two are often grouped together as “Osiris-Dionysus” to represent all of these dying-and-resurrecting godmen). To elaborate on this, here’s a quote from the play “The Bacchae” (Bacchus was another name for Dionysus), by the Greek tragedian Euripides, who lived nearly 500 years before the birth of Christ:
“Next came the son of the virgin. Dionysus.
bringing the counterpart to bread. wine
and the blessings of life's flowing juices.
His blood, the blood of grape,
lightens the burden of our mortal misery...
it is his blood we pour out
to offer Thanks to the Gods. And through him.
we are blessed.”
This makes clear reference to the blood = wine, but also talks about the bread, which is the counterpart of this. These two food types were often considered the staple of sustenance in the ancient world, so it is no real surprise that they would be given divine correspondences. However, what I want to illustrate by the above is that this relation of food to the gods (including its popular application in Christianity over the last 2,000 years) is a strong part of the Western tradition, one that many cultures practiced for many hundreds of years, and one that I feel is a powerful and potent ritual that we, today, can continue to practice.
Next there is the notion of eating the body and drinking the blood of a man or god, which many people (especially those of different traditions) might find odd and disturbing, as it essentially a form of cannibalism. However, again, this tradition is much older than Christianity itself, and is known as theophagy. I would also like to stress that this is a symbolic act, which essentially enforces the notion of “you are what you eat”; therefore, eating that which is divine will bring divinity into you, and is also the pivotal act of Western religion: the investment of the physical with the spiritual. It’s also interesting to note that Jesus is referred to as the Lamb of God, the sacrificial lamb, which links back to the ancient Jewish tradition of sacrificing a lamb during Passover, and then sprinkling the blood along the temple door and eating the body. So, in a sense, the idea of the theophagy of Christ is a continuation of an even older Jewish tradition.
Some people will ask what the role of the priest is in this rite (and, indeed, what the role of the priestly caste is in Christianity and other traditions as a whole, a topic which I will address in a separate post sometime soon). Firstly, the Priest, in a sense, takes on the role of Christ himself (“in persona Christi”), and if we look to our Qabalah (click here for a good image of the Tree of Life), Christ is attributed to Tiphareth (with the Holy Spirit possibly equating with Yesod), and the priesthood (presbyterate) is also attributed to Tiphareth, in the sense that Tiphareth represents Adepthood (see Fr. Jordan’s+ excellent post on this and the Minor Orders for more information on this), which can be seen as synonymous with priesthood. As the priest often acts as intermediary, this represents Christ as intermediary (we can each consider our own Higher Self as our personal embodiment of Christ, or the Cosmic Christ). Since you have to pass through Tiphareth to get from Malkuth (the physical) to Kether, the Spiritual (where resides the Sacred Spark), this represents the “intermediary process” that Christ and the priest fulfil in ritual.
Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
While some people might see this as endorsing that only those who believe in the figure of Christ can commune with God, I think it is more likely that the teaching is endorsing the communion with God through our own Higher Self, which is Christ (and remember that the Eucharist is often called "Communion" in many Catholic congregations).
I will leave the theological debate between transubstantiation, consubstantiation, and the various other theories and beliefs on whether or not Christ is actually present within the Eucharist itself to another post.