Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
April 2, 2015
“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.” I Corinthians 11:23
With these words, solemnly stated, St. Paul prefaces the account of the institution of the Eucharist by our Lord Jesus Christ. St. Paul is making clear that the message he relays for the Corinthians is part of a tradition, not just a custom that can be discarded or altered but actions and words of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself intended to be repeated “in remembrance” (I Corinthians 11:24).
For what we have in the Eucharist is not ordinary bread and wine. The Eucharist is the transformation of the elements of bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. We are secure in this belief because its origin is our Lord Jesus Christ, who “… 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’” (I Corinthians 11:24). In a similar way, He took a cup filled with wine and said, “’This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’” (I Corinthians 11:25).
We have before us in the Eucharist not a similitude. We do not hold in our hands or receive on our tongue a symbol. We do not genuflect or kneel before a fabrication. Our faith is not in a nice story, a comforting fable, or a colorful myth. St. Paul disabuses us of all this and calls us back to the reality.
In just a few verses following the ones we hear in tonight’s second reading from his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “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” (I Corinthians 11:27). We might join the early Corinthians in asking why. St. Paul answers that question also. “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself” (I Corinthians 11:29). These are strong words, but we are dealing with a strong reality here.
We cannot throw our mysteries to the dogs, as our Lord will warn us in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matthew 7:6). And when our Lord uses this same expression with the Syro-Phoenician woman and she responds, “Lord, even the dogs … eat the children’s scraps” (Mark 7:28) her request for her daughter’s cure is granted because of her faith.
Faith is what is needed to grasp the mystery. And when we approach the Eucharist, we can only do so with faith. Faith allows us to grasp the reality, to see beyond the visible to what is not seen. For faith is its own reality. Faith opens the mind and the soul. I do not understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand (cf. St. Augustine).
Faith opens the door and allows entry into what lies beyond. I stand in awe of the mystery of the Eucharist because of all the mysteries it is the one that draws us even closer to the Lord’s life-giving Passion, Death, and Resurrection. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup,” St. Paul will teach, “you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (I Corinthians 11:26).
So the Eucharist must not be an occasion for division, as it had become for the Corinthians (I Corinthians 11:18). Neither is the Eucharist simply a meal (I Corinthians 11:21). We have homes in which to have fellowship and satisfy our physical hunger (cf. I Corinthians 11:22). Against all this St. Paul warned, and his condemnation of the self-indulgent pursuit of pleasures was severe (I Corinthians 11:27).
With the reminder of St. Paul and the admonition of our Lord Himself, we must approach the Eucharist with faith. Give me, Lord, the faith of a little child that I may approach with fear and trembling what I know to be true but cannot see. For in believing I recline with You at the Last Supper, stand beside You in the final agony of the cross, and gaze with wonder at the open tomb. In this is my true participation.
Bishop Glen John Provost