Essay: Paul on the Eucharist and Community

 

Apostles First Eucharist

       In the first letter to the Corinthians, The Apostle Paul wishes to convey to the Christians there, the importance of Unity within the Body of Christ.  The Apostle speaks of the need for the community to be concerned for one another, and to assure that when they come together, that all are welcomed equally.  First, he discusses the problems that had been reported to him in a letter he received from the parish in Corinth, “I hear that there are divisions among you” (1 Cor.11:18).  Paul chastises the community for being divided.  He speaks about the way in which they come together to eat before the liturgy, as like a feast in which some receive a meal and others do not (1 Cor.11:20-22).  There is a strong possibility that this disunity was related to divisions between the prosperous and poor of the community. This does not sit well with him.  In receiving the Eucharist, the believers are required to discern the body (1 Cor.11:29).  In this, I know the obvious interpretation, to discern the body refers particularly to the discernment of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but, within the text, there is another discernment that Paul is pointing to. Right after he talks about the disunity among them, Paul mentions, whoever partakes of the bread or drinks the cup unworthily, will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor.11:27). Afterwards, he tells them that when they come together, they should wait for one another. Therefore, to discern the body of Christ, includes the discernment of the members of the Body of Christ as well. To be concerned for one another, is to discern the Body.  When we discern the body we see Christ within the Eucharist and within our Brothers and Sisters in Christ.  In Matthew 5:23-24, Christ clearly states that we should be reconciled to our “brother”, before offering our gifts at the altar. How then should the state of our soul be before we offer that most precious gift, of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ? We must, as The Apostle says, “examine” ourselves and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  There is a correlation between reconciliation and the Eucharist.  When we think about reconciliation we most likely think about the confession to the Priest “In Persona Christi” (John 20:23), but this reconciliation must not only be thought of in regards to our Confession of mortal sin, but reconciliation with our community in Christ.

We then move to the very next chapter in 1 Corinthians, where the Apostle discusses the gifts of the Spirit.  “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspired them all in everyone” (1 Cor.12:4-6). This continues with the underlying theme of unity, even amidst our different “gifts”.  The Apostle then proceeds to describe the members of the Church as many, but as One Body (emphasis mine).  “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free— and all were made to drink of the one Spirit” (1 Cor.12:12-13). Therefore if anyone who thinks that one member of The Body is less significant than the other, and partakes of the Eucharist, they are in grave error.  “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor. 11:29).

When speaking of the gifts of the Spirit it is evident that Paul regards all the gifts different, but vital, all coming from the same Spirit. He wants to clarify that no one is able to even declare “Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Spirit, and no one speaking from the Spirit can at the same time curse God, as it is evident that some Corinthian apparently were disputing the validity of some gifts, so then questioning God’s wise arrangement of the Body. The Apostle clearly teaches that the Spirit gives gifts for the common good, not so that only one may benefit from the gift, while another does not.  The Spiritual gifts are meant to benefit the entire body.  Clearly, Paul wants to help the Corinthians understand that Unity of the Body of Christ, through the working of The Holy Spirit and that stems directly from reception of the Eucharist, rules out any and all indifference to others, and brings about true charity among believers.  “If one member suffers, all suffer together, and if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26).  Paul then directs the Corinthians to “earnestly desire the greater gifts” of Faith, Hope, and Love (1 Cor. 12:31, 13:1-13).   He describes this as a “more excellent way”. Of these greater gifts, as many have already heard exclaimed, “the greatest is Love”, for Paul declares that without it we are as noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If we have ALL the gifts and do not Love, we gain nothing. Love is the highest Spiritual gift, because it is the essence of God Himself, and the highest Fruit that comes from Union with Him.  Love is the only Eternal Gift, as all others will pass away, and it will reach perfection when we, along with the Saints in heaven, are finally united with the Trinity in the second life.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1402-05), speaks of the Eucharist as the invisible return of Christ as Judge, so this is why Paul emphasizes the judgement received, through illness and even death, is associated with receiving the sacrament without discerning the body.  Paul regards the Eucharist as the sacrament of Christ’s real presence now, and Christ is surely present in our brothers and sisters (Matthew 25: 34-40).  The fruits of Holy Communion are Life in the Spirit, which is a sign of Unity and bond of Charity. The community of believers, in receiving the Eucharist, should come together, in complete union with Christ, which includes His Holy Church and all its members.

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