Because the Gospels appear as the first books of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament), we sometimes get the mistaken notion that they were composed first before the other books. This is not the case. All of the letters of St. Paul were written before even one of the Gospels were written. Consequently, sometimes the information we find in St. Paul’s letters is the earliest documentation of the teachings of our faith.
Such is the case with the reading we hear at today’s liturgy.
“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.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:23-27).
So St. Paul is the first to hand on this important information regarding the Eucharist. The evangelists use this text when they write about the Lord’s Supper or the Last Supper in their Gospels.
It is important too that we keep in mind that St. Paul is handing on to us that which he has received. In other words, even though St. Paul was not present at the Last Supper, we can be sure of the fact that he is communicating with to us that which he has heard from his own teachers, the apostles.
The very last line in the quotation cited above is also important. For St. Paul is writing about the Eucharist because he has heard some disturbing news of dissension within the community. I am sure that none of us might think for a moment that celebrating the Eucharist could have resulted in dissension within the community. However, that seems to be the case in Corinth. The wealthier members of the community don’t wait for the poorer members when they gather to celebrate. The poorer members are constrained by their employment and are not able to get to the meeting until after they are finished with the day’s labors. When they arrive, they find that those who do not need to work for a living have already celebrated and have gone home again. St. Paul speaks of this as “eating and drinking unworthily.”
The Eucharist was meant to be a means of unifying the community. Sadly over the centuries, the Eucharist has been just the opposite. Even today it can be a source of discontent. People argue over the incidentals, such as language and rite, without realizing that they are damaging the substance, the source and summit of our lives as Christians.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator