“My beloved ones, avoid idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14).
In writing to the Christian community of Corinth, Saint Paul is very strong in reminding them that they are to avoid idolatry. His warning is better understood by us if we remember that most of the Gentile converts to Christianity converted from religions that involved idol worship. Saint Paul was concerned that they not return to their former way of life. He stresses that now that they have begun to worship God by participating in the Lord’s Supper, eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus, they need to refrain from eating the meat of animals which have been sacrificed to the pagan deities. He makes it clear that eating the meat of such animals is not in itself a return to their former ways. However, he is concerned that they might give scandal by participating in such feasts to other members of the community.
Eating the one loaf and drinking the one cup of blessing in the forms of bread and wine has replaced that which the Corinthians have left behind. Paul’s warning about participating in pagan rituals and idol worship may seem far removed from our life experience. Most of us have never shared “communion” with a pagan deity or idol. Yet Saint Paul’s admonition applies to us just as surely as it applied to the Corinthian converts.
Unfortunately, our worship has, in many instances, become a matter of a private communing with God. We think of our time with God after receiving communion as a special time of holding within our bodies the very presence of God. While this is true, the fact is that communion can never be divorced from the action of the community. It is by its very nature a communal rather than a personal experience. The very word “communion” (which comes from the Latin cum unitas) means “with unity.” We eat from the one loaf; we drink from the one cup. They literally bind us together as we become what we eat and drink, the Body and Blood of Jesus. “Going to Mass” and “receiving communion” are, oftentimes, looked upon as purely personal actions. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Eucharist loses its meaning if it devolves into a purely devotional activity divorced from the community.
While Saint Paul’s warning was issued in a different time and under different circumstances, the lesson we learn from the warning is that we should never approach the Eucharist as a private meeting between “God and me.” When we eat and drink the Lord’s Supper, we gather around the table of the Lord and share God’s heavenly food with our brother and sisters who join us in praising and thanking God for all that we have received.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator