Thoughts from the Second Floor Front
III Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 26, 2020
I Corinthians Part II
At the Sunday Liturgy last week we began hearing from St. Paul’s first letter to the Church of Corinth. St. Paul founded the church in that licentious port city in the ancient Roman Empire on his second missionary journey. The letter is one of the best sources of information about the early church and people in the community who, having accepted the faith, now are making great efforts to live it. In this letter it seems at times that Paul is offering answers to questions posed to him or addressing problems that have become known to him. Specifically, the questions and issues he addresses deal with four topics: factions in the community, a case of sexual immorality, a theological question about the teaching concerning the resurrection of the dead and finally, a problem with the manner in which the Corinthians were celebrating the Eucharist. Last week I addressed the first three issues; with this effort I will take up the fourth – the problem the Corinthians are having with manner in which they celebrate Eucharist. (I Cor 11:17-34).
The problem with their celebrations is the main problem that afflict many if not all theological errors – excess. Evidently there were two meals that comprised the celebration of the Agape – the love meal. We would call it a potluck supper. People would bring to the house church, for there were no buildings as such then, whatever they could contribute towards everyone’s dinner. The problem came about when some, engaging in excess, ate so much there was not enough for everyone, or even worse they drank so much that some were getting drunk: When you meet in one place, then, it is not to eat the Lord’s supper, for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk. (11:20-21)
After castigating them for their behavior of excess, lack of hospitality and selfishness, Paul launches into an instruction on the Eucharist. He reminds the people of Corinth what he received from the Lord and what it was he taught them. Then Paul repeats the words Jesus used at the Last Supper, the words we use today in celebrating the Eucharist.
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Paul is quoting the Institution Narrative – the words Jesus used at the Last Supper.
What is most interesting is that Paul was not present at the Last Supper.
What does this mean? Paul did not hear the words of Jesus from Jesus on that grace filled evening, the night before He died and the night He gave us the Eucharist. Paul did not hear the words from Jesus but he knows of them less than two decades after the event. He is offering a corrective to the Corinthians because they are doing it wrong. There must, therefore, have been a correct way to celebrate the Eucharist which had been clearly established by this time. The point is the Eucharist and its proper celebration. Within less than twenty years after the Christ event the church had firmly established and fully recognized the greatest gift Jesus has to offer which is Himself in the Eucharist.
Paul finishes his presentation on the Eucharist by admonishing the Corinthians to realize what it is they celebrate and who it is they receive. Do you? I have a theory that the casual manner in which people dress for the liturgy is an indication of their approach to receiving the Eucharist. I remember reading about Mohandas Gandhi in his reference to the Eucharist in which Gandhi said something like this: If I believed what Catholics believe about the Eucharist, nothing could tear me away from holding onto the tabernacle. Ours is a mystical religion and the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and within us is an element of that mystical experience. Share that good news with those who make \up your life this week. Share it in word and work.