"You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.
He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. " (Mark 16,5)


THE LORD'S SUPPER - (1COR 11,17-34) - III (3)

Fr. G. Claudio Bottini ofm sbf - jerusalem
translated by Fr. Lionel Goh ofm


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]).

© copyright 1998

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