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THE LORD'S SUPPER - (1COR 11,17-34)

Fr. G. Claudio Bottini ofm
sbf - gerusalemme

translated by Fr. Lionel Goh ofm

Twice in 1Cor does St Paul treat of the Eucharist, and both these occassions are found in contexts marked with problems within the christian community. It is not out of place to say that thanks to the difficulties of the Corinthians, we have today these fundamental texts of our faith.

The first mention of the Eucharist is found in 1Cor 10:14-22 where the apostle deals with the problem of meat sacrificed to idols. To dissuade the Corinthians from idolatry, Paul stressed the sacramental value of the Lord's Supper. The Cup of Blessing is a participation in the blood of Christ; the bread which the Corinthians break is communion with the Body of Christ. Consequently everyone becomes one body, that of Christ's, because all are fed from Him alone (10:17a). The unity of believers is founded on the sacramental participation of the Body and Blood of Christ and this becomes a sign of union with Christ in the same faith.

The second reference to the Eucharist is much more articulate and complex. It is found in 1Cor 11:17-34. Being informed of the grave abuses that the Corinthians had introduced into their assemblies, Paul reacted by recalling the content of tradition, or more exactly the institution of the Supper: a tradition which Paul received from the Lord and which contains the words of the institution. From this passage, we shall see how Paul underlined the essential link between the Eucharist and the Church, between the Lord's Supper and fraternal charity.


Recalling the literary and thematic division proposed, we can see that 1Cor 11:17-34 is a unit found in the 5th part of the letter. It includes almost all of Chapter 11 except v.1 which clearly belongs to the preceding chapter. The main theme can be said to be the problem posed by the prayer-gatherings in Corinth and this is specified in two topics: the clothing of prophets and prophetesses in the cultic assembly (11:2-16); and the celebration of the Eucharistic Supper (11:17-34).

11:17-34, based on its form and content, may be further divided into two paragraphs (11:17-22 and 11:23-34). The first paragraph is clearly delimited by the repetition of "I cannot praise you..."(v17) and "In this I cannot praise you..."(v22) which forms an inclusion. Paul had first praised the community (11:2) but now he sees it necessary to admonish the community severely for reasons Paul gives.

The second paragraph begins from v22 and ends in v34. Some authors would further subdivide this section but it appears to me a difficult task because the train of Paul's thought is very disconnected in both form and logic. Paul evokes the tradition "received from the Lord" and he points out the consequences of its meaning in the cultic act and for those who participate worthily in this act (v23-32). Then Paul gives some pratical rules of behaviour to the Corinthians.

It is worth noting some significant vocabulary that recur in this passage. "To gather" is repeated 5 times (v17. cf also similar terminology: "assembly" v18; "together" v20). Judicial terminology is also used: "guilty" (v27), "condemned/to condemn" (v29.32), "to judge" (v31.32) and to these may be added also terms such as "assembly"(v18), "together" (v20), "Church of God" (v22). These are evident contrasts with "division" (v18.19), "own meals" (v21) and other individual attitudes. The entire passage as a compact unit is further marked by an inclusion (v17 "Because when you come together....for the worse" and v34 "lest you come together to be condemned").

Regarding the internal literary unity of the passage, v23-26 which refers to the eucharistic commemoration received and transmitted by Paul, stand out in content and formulation. At the centre is found the eucharistic narrative in which Jesus is the protagonist. This narrative forms the peak of Paul's arguments. Paul declares to have received and transmitted this tradition/account and now he interprets its meaning.


What took place in Corinth between the convivial group and those who were the cause of division? It is difficult to give a detailed and precise answer. Scholars attempt to outline the historical scene by using information offered by other Pauline texts, from christian traditions regarding the origins of the Eucharist and from testimonies of jewish and greco-roman background of the convivial reunions.

One firm point to note for the reconstruction of this tradition is the distinction which Paul makes between the "Lord's Supper" (v20) and the "own meal" (v21). The "Supper of the Lord" is clearly meant to be the consumation of bread and wine according to the command of the Lord, which Paul says he had received and transmitted to the Corinthians. "But it is not reduced solely to this; between the eating and drinking of the Cup over which the interpretative and oblative words of Jesus are pronounced, one consumes a true and real meal, with a table covered with dishes of fish and probably also meat" (G. Barbaglio, La prima lettera ai Corinzi, Bologna 1996 564). On the otherhand, the "own meal" is meant a profane meal that takes place at the end of a day and could consist of an abundance of food and drink. Now Paul says that this meal came to be consumed during the liturgical meetings in which "each one" (meaning not all but some of the wealthy members) eats on his own to the extent of getting drunk while others suffer hunger.

What was the relationship between the two meals? Probably the liturgical meeting of the community had these aspects: blessing of the bread, a communal meal or fraternal agape, blessing of the wine. At what point does the "own meal" take place? It cannot be said with certainty but nevertheless there may be two possibilities: the "own meal" took place before the liturgical celebration of the "Lord's Supper" began; or the "own meal" took place contemporaneously with the fraternal agape between the blessing of the bread and the blessing of the wine.

The second hypothesis appears less likely. It is difficult to accept that such extreme discrimination in Corinth could have taken place whereby the rich would have eaten a private meal in which the poor were excluded and that this meal was combined in the celebration of the "Lord's Supper".

It is more probable that the "own meal" consisted of a lavish meal eaten only by the wealthy before the celebration of the liturgical meeting of the community. This reconstruction becomes possible because of the stratified society of the christian community in Corinth. It resulted in a minority of believers coming from the middle and upper-middle classes and a majority belonging to the lowest classes of society including slaves.

Certainly belief in the Gospel and membership in the same faith community created spiritual and communal links between the believers in Corinth, but these no doubt did not succeed in eliminating all the massive difference and separation between the social classes present in greco-roman society; and of diverse economic conditions. These are expressed in many forms, beggining with the way guests are treated at table. The treatment reserved for the rich and noteworthy guests was no doubt different from that shown to the poor. If added to this, the liturgical meeting of the community did take place in the houses of the wealthy members, then it is understandable that the latter could resort to justify their diverse manner of welcoming guests without feeling a sense of guilt. It is thus probably that within this scenario that one ought to understand the introduction of abuses in Corinth which Paul strongly censured. "Without much ceremony, the wealthy began to dine and thus, when the others arrived and began the celebration of the Lord's Supper, there was little left on the table. In this manner the agape meal of the entire community assumed a sadly egotistical and strongly discriminatory dimension. The wealthy enjoyed themselves by eating their fill in peace while the poor were obliged to eat the leftovers of the banquet or remained with empty stomachs" (L.D. Chrupcala, "Chi mangia indegnamente il corpo del Signore [1Cor 11,27]", Liber Annuus46 [1996] 65 with an ample presentation of the problems and solutions viewed by various scholars).

Who informed Paul of this situation? It had to be from informers and rumours since Paul affirms that he had "heard" (v18) about it. The apostle showed himself very worried and prompt to remedy the situation: he pointed out the abuses and denounced the manner of conducting the eucharistic celebration (vv17-22). He reiterated the supreme norm of every authentic eucharistic celebration, namely what Christ himself did (vv23-26). He exhorted and gave some directions so that the celebrations become worthy of the Lord's Supper and does not incur the judgement of condemnation (vv27-34).

The most original aspect of this Pauline teaching is the link between the sacrament of the Lord's Supper and the christian community; between the memorial proclamation of the death of the Lord and the fraternal communion expressed in the common meal; between the "celebration of the body of Jesus given to us in death, and our existence as members of the ecclesial body of Christ" (G.Barbaglio, "L'instituzione dell'Eucaristia [Mc 14,22-25; 1Cor 11,23-24 e par]", Parola Spirito e Vita 7 [1983] 141). Once again one sees the moral and spiritual imperatives of Paul as having supreme theological indications. In this case, as in almost all of 1Cor, the motives are christological and ecclesiological in nature.


I restrict myself to comment only on the most significant points, leaving out those points that are self-evident or which I have already explained.

1) The abuses during the celebration of the Lord's Supper (11,17-22)

(1) "When you come together it is not for the better but for the worse" (v17). Before expounding the reasons in detail, Paul advances here en bloc the motive of his denunciation of the manner in which the meetings have come to be conducted in Corinth. Whether the Corinthians are conscience or not, their gatherings have become disadvantageous to the participants. At the end of his instructions, Paul will qualify how one gathers "to be condemned" (v34).

(2) "When you assemble as a church...there are divisions among you" (v18). The greek verb (synerchestai) translated as "assemble" both here and 1Cor 14 designates precisely the liturgical gathering of the entire community, especially for the celebration of the Eucharist. It is almost a tehnical term. The term which it further specifies ("as a church" / en ekklësia[i])points to a local christian community that gathers together (1Cor 14: This term has a history and a rich meaning. In the greek civil world it indicates an assembly of citizens that gathers to make decisions regarding the life and problems of the city. In the greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX) it is used to indicate the people of God gathered in cultic assmebly. In Pauline usage "a man of two worlds, as a cultural subject" (Barbaglio, La prima lettera ai Corinzi,575) it takes on again the concept of a cultic assembly. Besides, the context of 1Cor 11:17-34 invites us to understand it with a locale connotation. It deals of gatherings in a same place (cf particularly v20). The type of division is spoken of as illustrating a vital environment.

(3) "For there must be divisions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognised" (v19). Here Paul appears to make a digression. Nevertheless the negative judgement on the divisions now contains a positive value, considering it, so to speak, to come from God. This can be deduced from the expression "must be". This idea of necessity to prove and its positive consequence is not a characteristic Pauline thought although it is not totally absent in his writings. One finds examples of this in 1Cor 9:7 and Rom 5:3-5a. One commentator observes "What appears at first to be a disgrace can also become an object of blessing! Like external persecutions that afflict the Church, so too the internal dissenters bring about positive results: they provide a part of the process in testing what may be permitted when deciding upon a definitive separation between the dokimoi and theadokimoi, between what is qualified or disqualified from the test" (J.Dupont citing Barbaglio, La prima lettera ai Corinzi, 577 note 167).

(4) " is not the Lord's Supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal..."(v20-21). Paul is peremptory: the Corinthians claim to eat the Lord's Supper when in fact each eats his own exclusive meal.

The term "Lord's Supper" is also called "breaking of bread" (cf Lk 24:30.35; Acts 2:42; 20:7.11; 27:35; 1Cor 10:16) and both are original expressions in the New Testament indicating that which we call the Eucharist or eucharistic celebration. The word eucharistia ppears for the first time in the Didachè 9,1.5. Paul in 1Cor 10:21 when referring to the same reality uses the term "table of the Lord" (trapeza Kyriou)as in contrast to "table of demons". In both expressions ("Lord's Supper" and "table of the Lord") it is important to note the link between "supper/table" and "Lord". It is a profound and manifold association. "Supper" and "table" are "of the Lord" because he is present and he actively participates in them, so that the believers enter into communion with him (10:16-22); it treats of his body given and his blood the instrument of a new covenant (v24-25); his presence is active to the point of proclaiming a judgement of condemnation on whoever partakes unworthily to be guilty of profaning his body and blood (v27-28).

Possible affinities with contemporary greek cultic terminology form the remote and immediate contexts of Paul that decide the sense of the Pauline eucharistic terminology. The ritual supper of which Paul speaks is "of the Lord" because it was instituted by him and left by him to his disciples as a memorial (v23-26); because he broke the bread and gave it as his body, and offering the cup to drink as his blood (v 24.25b.27 and 10:16). It is therefore a "christological and soteriological fullness" (Barbaglio, La prima lettera ai Corinzi, 579).

Before this richness of meaning, the Corinthians ought to have had gathered and placed all at the disposal of the community, thus eliminating social inequalities. Instead they formed separate groups: the work of well-off members of the community - and this is the implicit reference of the pronoun "each one". The disparity had become just too evident.

(5) "Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the Church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?" (v22). Paul indicates clearly that he has nothing against the "own meal" as such, but he admonishes against the abuse of linking it in the time and space of the Lord's Supper.

Indeed the "own meal" with its discriminatory and separaistic tendencies is in contradiction to the Lord's Supper, which is distinctly noted as communion with the Lord and with members of the community. Besides the "own meal" results in an act of despising the Church of God, that is to say the community created and united in the grace of God (cf 1Cor 1:2; 10:32; 11:16; 15:9; 2Cor 1:2; Gal 1:13 and like formulae in 1The 1:1; Gal 1:22; 1The 2:14; Rom 16:16). The "own meal" ultimately becomes an affront to the poor members of the community. From these, it is gathered that the divisions in Corinth were not theological in nature but sociological. This is to say that it does not regard the possible diverse concepts of the Lord's Supper but rather the claim by some to accord the celebration of the memorial of the Lord's death with the "own meal" which to Paul is radically incompatible. Paul admonishes: if the Corinthians "intend to participate in the Lord's Supper, they must abandon the custom from their past, in this case the habit of eating their "own meal". Here stands the real motive of the wealthy christians' behaviour which Paul denounces: the rich continue to maintain the uses and customs connected with their social rank. They do not realise that the distinction of ranks, of dignity or socio-economic position, known and preserved in certain milieu, cannot be reconciled with the character and meaning of the communal celebration of the Lord's Supper " (Chrupcala, "Chi mangia indegnamente", 70).

2) The Eucharistic tradition received and transmitted by Paul (11,23-26)

(1) A comment on these verses broaden the scope of study. It should be noted that texts on the Eucharist conserved in the New Testament are final points of a long history; starting from Jesus and ending at the christian community founded by the apostles. These texts are also the fruit of a long historical process marked by various stages (Jesus, the apostles, the communities) which testify and reflect the eucharistic practices of the early christian communities. They recall not only the Last Supper but also the other suppers of Jesus with his disciples before and after the Resurrection; and with other gospel personages. It is also noted that these eucharistic texts were handed down "in context", that is they are inserted into other well-defined and characteristic texts.

(2) The narrative of the Last Supper of Jesus before his death is found in four New Testament texts: Mk 14:22-25; Mt 26:26-29; Lk 22:15-20 and 1Cor 11:23-26.

Mt 26,26-29 Mc 14,22-25 Lc 22,15-20 1Cor 11,23-26

And he said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said,

cf. v. 29 cf. v. 25 "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine

until the kingdom of God comes." cf. v. 26c

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered you,
Now as they were eating, Jesus And as they were eating, Then, namely on the night when he was betrayed
Jesus took bread, blessed it he took bread, and blessed, And he took bread, and when he had given thanks took bread, and when he had given thanks
and broke it and broke it he broke it he broke it
gave it to his disciples gave it to them and gave it to them
saying and said saying and said
" Take eat; this is my body." "Take; this is my body.". "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in rememberance of me." "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me".
And he took a cup And he took a cup And likewise the cup after supper In the same way also the cup, after supper
and when he had given thanks and when he had given thanks

he gave it to them he gave it to them

and they all drank of it.

saying And he said to them saying saying
"Drink of it, all of you

For this is the blood of my covenant which is poured out for many "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many." "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. " "This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
for the forgiveness of sins.

Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
I tell you I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." Truly I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." cf. v. 18

Some interesting facts emerge from a quick glance and comparison of the above. Matthew's account traces substantially that of Mark's and thus is justifiable to think of a literary dependence. On the other hand, Luke's and Paul's accounts share a similarity, but it is not possible to deduce that there exists a direct reciprocal dependence; and they differ from Mark. Besides, the account recalled by Paul is prior to Paul himself and comes from a tradition from the antiochean Church probably in c40 AD. Paul himself says that he transmits what he "had received from the Lord" (1Cor 11:23a). Luke's account appears to depend partly on Mark and in part from a parallel tradition transmitted by Paul. In brief the comparison above singles out two literary elements: the account of Mark and the account of Paul.

Scholars further isolate some other elements of literary tradition. Mark's narrative depends on an earlier account of the Jesus' passion which was closely linked to the announcement of the betrayal. This can be seen in the exceptional convergence of the Synoptics and John (Mk 14:17-21; Mt 26:20-25; Lk 22:14.21-23; Jn 13:21-23). The eucharistic narratives have a liturgical character and recalls the eucharistic practice of the first communities. Looking further back into the tradition, one reaches the fundamental moments of Jesu' Last Supper: the blessing, the breaking of bread, the explanantory words said over the bread and wine, the promise to sit again at table with ther disciples at the eschatological banquet. Thus one can say that the eucharistic texts presents a precise event in the life of Jesus and with the meaning Jesus himself conferred to this event.

Another element of the earliest tradition of the Lord's Supper is its character as a Passover meal. This is a fact explicitly agreed among the Synoptics (cf Mk 14:12-17; Mt 26:17-20; Lk 22:8.15). John leaves out this element and coincides the death of Jesus with the slaughter of the passover lambs in the Temple (cf Jn 18:28; 19:14.31) probably because he is guided by doctrinal perspectives in which Jesus came to be identified as the Passover Lamb (cf 19:36).

The testimony of the Synoptics is confirmed by other evidences: the passover meal was eaten in the night while the others were eaten in the afternoon; 1Cor 11:23 specifies that Jesus was seated at table "on the night in which he was betrayed"; many notes in the Gospels allude to the Passover (singing the Hallel pslams in Mk 14:26 and Mt 26:30; passing the night at Gethsemani instead of Bethany as was usual Mt 21:17; Mk 11:11; Jn 12:1-11; ritual gestures proper to the passover meal in Mk 14:22f and 1Cor 11:24). The absence of the mention of the bitter herbs and the lamb clearly points to the texts as we have them today as being of a liturgical nature.

(3) (3) The paschal character of the Lord's Supper is important for several reasons. Firstly what is implied by the gestures and words of Jesus over the bread and wine are linked to a cultic context. In the jewish passover meal, it fell upon the father of the house to explain the symbolism of the unleaven-bread, of the immolated lamb, of the bitter herbs and other rituals which commemorate the liberation of Israel from slavery in Egypt during the exodus. As long as the jews eat the passover meal, they share a part in this salvific and redemptive event. Within this context, Jesus began the meal by explaining the symbolism of the bread which he broke and distributed to those present, but what he said was absolutely original and clear in meaning: "This is my body". The language is symbolic but the identification between it and the bread is unequivocal. On the night before his death, Jesus gave himself to his friends through the sign of bread broken. The immediate reference is to the violent death which befalls Jesus and which Jesus is very well-aware of. The words which he spoke over the cup of wine at the end of the passover meal are even more explicit than those pronounced over the bread: "This is my blood poured out for many". His is therefore a death which gives salvation to humanity just as the Servant of Yahweh dies for all the people (cf the book of the prophet Isaiah which refers to the words of Jesus).

The parallel meaning between the jewish passover meal and the gestures/words of Jesus can be further made explicit. Just as the jewish passover meal was a living memorial of the salvific event of Israel's liberation, so too the Lord's Supper is a living anticipation of his death on the cross for salvation. In the meal, Jesus anticipates ritually through the signs of bread broken and cup shared, his death and thus revealing the meal's profound meaning. The liberation from slavery of which the jewish passover meal is a memorial, is relevant only for the people of Israel. The death of Jesus, anticipated in the actions/words of the Last Supper, is a redemption from sin for all of humanity.

There is another feature present in both events. The jewish passover meal was celebrated in an atmosphere of eschatological expectation, that is, the definitive fulfilment of salvation by God. The Lord's Supper contains explicitly this element. According to Mark's gospel, Jesus declares: "In truth I tell you I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God" (Mk 14:25). At so dramatic a moment, Jesus announced the promise of a new communion at the table of God's kingdom. In the Pauline tradition, this idea is implicitly present when Paul says: "Indeed each time when you eat this bread and drink this cup, you announce the death of the Lord until he comes" (1Cor 11:26). In this perspective the Lord's Supper is an announcement of the messianic banquet, an image of the definitive reign of God.

(4) It may be said that characteristic of the texts conserved in the tradition of the Lord's Supper, is the clear indication of their liturgical aspect. This means that the most ancient liturgical practices may explain some words and meaning of the Lord's Supper, but nevertheless maintaining coherence with the tenor and original sense of the words/gestures of Jesus. The liturgical tradition brings out the meaning of the words spoken over the bread: "which is given for you / which is for you" (found in Luke and Paul). These words are explicit in the sense that they become the expressed self-giving of Jesus as a sacrificial and expiatory offering. This connotation in the Lucan text reappears in the words over the wine: "which is poured out for you". Derived also from the liturgy are the words "Do this is memory of me" which Luke records together with the words over the bread and Paul over the wine; or with the imperatives "Take" (Mark), "Take; eat!" (Matthew) and "Drink of it, all of you" (Matthew).

From the greek-speaking mileau comes a liturgical expression "blood of the covenant" which introduces the covenantal theme of the words said over the wine according to the Marcan tradition. The death of Jesus is thus interpreted as a covenantal sacrifice between God and humanity (Ex 24:8). The same theological motive, but with a substantial twist, is found in the liturgical tradition of the Lucan and Pauline texts. It reads "This cup is the new covenant". The novelty of this phrase lies precisely in the clear reference to the celebrated prophecy of Jer 31:31-34.

It is important to specify that some of these words, which some scholars attribute to liturgical tradition, may actually go back to Jesus himself. It is precisely because these words that the apostles were able to understand the "newness" of the rite (with respect to the jewish paschal meal) which Jesus was instituting.

"The Lord's Supper thus finds a living and constant realization in the eucharistic experience of the christian community, when repeating the gestures and words of Jesus, which it celebrates as a memorial. The memorial of the Last Supper and that of Golgotha are an inseparable unity; as also the memorial of Christ's firm hope in participating in the eschatological banquet. In brief, the ecclesial celebration of the Lord's Supper condenses in itself a complex religious experience, re-evoking the past, ie the Supper and death of Christ. It is a participation in the present of salvific efficacy of the cross and faithfully looks forward to the final fulfillment of God's plan" (Barbaglio, "L'istituzione", 134-135). The realisation of the Lord's Supper is total: Jesus of Nazareth and the resurrected Christ are the same person; the believers, ie the "you" in the memorial narratives seated at the "Lord's table" (1Cor 10:21) are co-protagonists: past, present and future are fused.

(5) Yet another note regarding the eucharistic narratives. The Last Supper account was connected to the announcement of the betrayal ever since the beginning of the gospel tradition. In Mark we read "In truth I tell you, the one who eats with me will betray..."The Son of Man will go, as it is written of him, but woe to the man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!" (Mk 14:18.21). Matthew folows the Markan texts but adds the name of Judas (Mt 26:25). In Luke however the announcement of the betrayal follows the account of the Supper (Lk 22:21-23). Scholars accept the originality of Luke' sequence and think that Mark and Matthew have changed the sequence for reason of excluding Judas from the meal. The most important point however is the information that the temporal context of the Supper according to the Synoptics was the "handing over" of Jesus to death; and that of the Pauline tradition is "the night in which he was betrayed" (1Cor 11:23). The word that characterises this circumstance is paradidomi which besides meaning the betrayal or "handing over" by Judas, also expresses the giving up of Jesus by the father and the self-surrender of Jesus. In this light, the death of Jesus, anticipated in signs and proleptically explained by Jesus himself, is a sign of the Father's loving initiative and Jesus' free and conscious self-giving. In the Matthean eucharistic narrative is also found an addition characteristic of his theology. To the words of Jesus over the wine is further added: "in remission of sins". In this way the expiatory effect of Jesus' death is clearly expressed: Jesus died to take away the sins of humanity.

I have deliberately (and for various reasons) made this ample, comparative study of the tradition of the Lord's Supper. The first reason is that 1Cor 11:17-34 has placed before us a text of great importance in antiquity and meaning. The second is that in the preceding sessions of the biblical week, we have not commented on the eucharistic texts of the New Testament and this occassion appears to me an opportuned moment to do it.

3) The unworthy manner of eating the bread and drinking the cup (11,27-32)

(1) "Therefore whoever eats or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement upon himself" (v27-29). The characterisation of the eucharistic Supper as the "memorial proclamation" of the salvific event of Christ's death which is present and perative each time the community gathers, is followed by a severe warning by Paul. It regards not only those persons in Corinth who were the origin of the disorder but also to all partakers of the Lord's Supper.

What does it mean to "eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord in an "unworthy manner" (v27)? There are three possible answers: (a) to eat and to drink without faith and/or veneration for the sacramental presence of Christ in the bread and wine; (b) to eat and drink without appropriate personal holiness; (3) to eat and drink without putting into practice the christological, ecclesial and salvific value of the bread and wine. To give a well-considered answer, it is necessary to keep in mind above all the immediate context of the Pauline text. In v29, parallel to v27, Paul specifies that the guilty person who eats and drinks unworthily of the bread and the cup of the Lord is the very same person who "eats and drinks judgement upon himself" because "he eats and drinks without recognising the body of the Lord". The TOB Bible (1992 ed.) notes "Paul is not precise regarding which 'body'. So as to stimulate reflection by his readers, it appears that he has left the interpretation open, playing perhaps with the many meanings of the word 'body': 'the reality of which he speaks'". The TOB Bible invites a deeper understanding to this passage:"It is not as if the guilty have confused the eucharistic bread with other food of a meal, but that he did not know how to appreciate the demands entailed in receiving the body of Christ" (note l of 1Cor 11:29). Nor would it be correct to take the term "body of the Lord' in an ecclesiological sense, that is to say, the church-body of Christ. The term certainly refers to Christ, and in this context, indicates the personal-eucharistic body of the Lord (cf 1Cor 10:16). Nevertheless the meaning could still be more profound. At Corinth there were christians who did not know how to discernthe body of the Lord in the eucharistic food that they eat, that is to say, they did not recognise the meaning of Christ's death. "One cannot announce the salvific event without being vitally united with the death of the Lord; one cannot proclaim the news and living presence of the death of the Lord, his loving offering for the benefit of all, and yet behave at the same time in the contrary; attached to past habits, to egoistic indifference, to separatism, to prestige of class...The participation of the bread and cup then becomes "unworthy" because it contradicts the nature and meaning of the Lord's Supper: a gathering of brothers whom the Lord had given up his life, and now reunites in a covenant of his love....The fault or sin, even before being ecclesial or representing a lack of personal holiness on the part of the believer, concerns the person of Christ and his salvific work which is rendered present in the eucharistic celebration AND visible in the fraternal agape (Chrupcala, "Chi mangia indegnamente", 81-82.)

(2) "This is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judge ourselves truly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world" (v30-32). To confirm the truth that unworthy participation of the Lord's Supper brings about a judgement of condemnation to whoever is guilty, Paul evokes the case of sickness and death in Corinth which he interprets as judgement and punishment. Keeping with the religious thinking of his time, Paul sees a direct link between moral fault and physical punishment. But even in this, just as often in other cases and experiences, Paul discovers a positive aspect: divine punishment is pedagogic (cf Sir 18:13; Wis 12:22; 2Macc 6:12; Ps 3:3-4) because it leads to a healthy examination or judgement of oneself, and which induces avoidance of the final and definitive condemnation of the Lord befalling the world hostile to God.

(3) "So then my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another - if any one is hungry, let him eat at home - lest you come together to be condemned. About the other things I will give directions when I come" (v33-34). One can note the affectionate and pastoral tone with which Paul concludes his instruction on the Lord's Supper. No reproach can darken in the soul of Paul the profound affection he has for the "Church of God which is in Corinth" (1Cor 1:2), which he bore spiritually like a father (4:15) and which he calls the "seal" (9:2) of his apostolate, his "defense" (9:3) against the denigrates (4:15) and his letter of recommendation "known and read by everyone" (2Cor 3:3). He establishes two practical rules of behaviour in order to avoid division and degeneration in the convivial gatherings of the community: (a) they must wait for one another because the convivial gathering together with the celebration of the Lord's Supper must begin with everyone present; (b) whoever is hungry should first eat in his own home because the essential scope of the celebration is not to satisfy bodily hunger. As for the other matters, Paul refers them to his next visit to Corinth which he is planning (4:16; 16:5).


This commemoration contains some fundamental principles of faith. The words "my body which is for you" affirm the expiatory value of the death of Christ. The same value is found in the words "the new covenant in my blood" because the new covenant promised by Jer 31:31-34 announced the mercy of God with the forgiveness of sins.

The sacramental value of the Supper is indicated by the same words with which the bread and cup are considered by the Lord to be his body and blood. For this reason, the Supper has the task of remembering the Lord (11:24-25). Paul specifies that it deals witha sacramental memorial in which those who partake of it, announce the death of the Lord. The announcement takes place through the memory, and returns as a benefit for those who partake. In faith, the signs that recall the death of the Lord produce in the partakers that which it indicate: the expiation of sin.

"Thus whoever approaches the body and blood of Christ, in memory of him who died and resurrected for us, not only must pure from every contamination of the flesh and the spirit so as not to eat and drink his own condemnation, but must also show efficaciously the memory of him who died and resurrected for us by being dead to sin and to the world and to oneself, and to live with God, in Christ Jesus our Lord" (St Basil the Great, Il battesimo; tr. U. Neri).

The Eucharist is the "root and hinge" of the christian community (PO 6; EV 1, 1261). The Eucharist is communion in two senses: "since through it we become united to Christ....and we communicate and are united to one another through him. Precisely because we partake of one bread, we all become the one body of Christ, the one blood and members related to one another, being made into one" (St John Damascene, De fide orthodoxa, IV,13).

If the Eucharist is all of that, then no consciousness could ever be held sufficient and no preparation ever adequate for a "non-unworthy" celebration, an efficacious proclamation and salvific welcome of the paschal mystery of Christ. A spiritual master of our time, Don Giuseppe Dossetti, d.Dec 15th 1996, wrote: "the mystery of the eucharist of Christ is wholistic: the whole of creation, the whole of humanity, the whole of history, the whole of grace and redemption; the whole God, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit; through Jesus, God and man, in the act done in us, of his death on the cross, of his resurrection and ascension to the right side of the Father, and of his glorious return" (Il Regno 42 [1997] 118 [Piccola Regola 2/17]).

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