What it the intent of the Eucharist?
It is communion. Pure and simple. The Real Presence of Christ, which is the Catholic doctrine enshrined in the Articles, is there to be received. In Saint Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians we read of the Eucharist still embedded in a communal meal, and Paul is concerned that those who came to the Lord's Table did not discern the presence of Christ that they were partaking of nor their Communion with Christ and with one another that was achieved through the bread and the cup. Please read these comments from our learned doctor Richard Hooker taken from his Ecclesiastical Polity:
"Take, eat; this is my body; drink ye all of it; for this is my blood." [Mat. 26. 26–28.]
If we have any doubt as to what is expressed by these admirable words, let that one be our teacher as to the meaning of Christ, to whom Christ himself was a schoolmaster. Let our Lord’s Apostle be his interpreter, and let us content ourselves with his explanation, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" [1 Cor. 10. 16.] Is there anything clearer and easier than the fact that just as Christ is called our life because we obtained life through him, so the parts of this sacrament are called his body and blood because when we receive these elements we do receive the body and blood of Christ?
We say that the bread and the wine are his body and his blood because through their instrumentality we participate in his body and blood, and that is a valid assertion because we quite properly give the name of the effect to the cause which produces it, for the cause is in the result which grows out of that cause. Our souls and bodies receive eternal life, and this life in them has as its source and cause the Person of Christ, and his body and blood are the source from which this life flows. The influence of the heavens is in plants, animals and men, and in everything which they make alive; but the body and blood of Christ are in that communicant to which they minister in a far more divine and mystical kind of union, a union which makes us one with him, even as he and the Father are one.
We all agree that Christ really and truly carries out his promise by means of the sacrament; but why do we trouble ourselves by such fierce contests about consubstantiation and the question whether the elements themselves contain Christ or not? Even if consubstantiation or transubstantiation are true, it does not benefit us, and if they are not true it does not handicap us. Our participation in Christ through the sacraments depends upon the cooperation of his omnipotent power, and that power makes the sacrament a means of creating his body and blood in us. Whether there is or is not such a change in the elements themselves, as some people imagine, need not make any great difference to us.
Let us, then, accept that in which we all agree, and then consider why the rest should not be considered superfluous rather than urged as necessary. In the first place, it is generally agreed that this sacrament is a real participation in Christ, and that by its means he imparts his full Person as the mystical head of every soul who receives him and thereby becomes a very member incorporate in his mystical body, which is the blessed company of all faithful people.
In the second place, it is also agreed that the communicant who receives the Person of Christ through the sacrament also receives the Holy Spirit who sanctifies the communicant as it sanctified Christ who is the head of all those who participate in him. In the third place, it is commonly held that whatever power or virtue there is in Christ’s sacrificed body and blood we freely and fully receive this sacrament.
In the fourth place, it is agreed that the result of the sacrament is a real transmutation of our souls and bodies from sin to righteousness, from death and corruption to immortality and life. In the fifth place, all believe that the sacramental elements are only corruptible and earthly things; therefore, they must seem to be an unlikely instrument to work out such admirable effects in man. For that reason, we must not rest our confidence in these elements themselves, but put our trust altogether in the strength of his glorious power, which he can and will give us."
Now read these comments from a learned theologian and presbyter of the Orthodox communion, the late Father Alexander Schmemann taken from his excellent text The Eucharist (the complete text of which I urge everyone, especially clergy, to read and digest) and see the same points that were made by Hooker. The first comment will strike many as "rather protestant" due to the similarity of the argument made to some of the same arguments made by Cranmer and Hooker (indeed, one could easily misatribute Schmemann's quote to Hooker), but realize that Father Schmemann is speaking past the arguments made in the West, as Hooker was attempting to do. Both men, Hooker and Schmemann, are trying to reach past the disagreements based on scholastic logic to the real crux of the matter, the purpose of the Eucharist:
"The purpose of the eucharist lies not in the change of bread and wine, but in our partaking of Christ, who has become our food, our life, the manifestation of the Church as the body of Christ.
This is why the holy gifts themselves never became in the Orthodox East an object of special reverence, contemplation and adoration, and likewise an object of special theological "problematics": how, when, in what manner their change is accomplished. The eucharist--and this means the changing of the holy gifts--is a mystery that cannot be revealed and explained in the categories of "this world. . ." It is revealed only to faith. . .
We find the answers to these questions in the epiklesis. But the answer is not "rational," built upon the laws of our "one-storied" logic; it is disclosed to us by the Holy Spirit. . .
Thus the epiklesis concludes the anaphora, the part of the liturgy that encompasses the "assembly as the Church," the entrance, the proclamation of the good news of the word of God, the offering, the oblation, the thanksgiving and remembrance. But with the epiklesis begins the consummation of the liturgy, whose essence lies in the communion, in the distribution to the faithful of the holy gifts, the body and blood of Christ."