Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
March 24, 2016
“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.” I Corinthians 11:23
What are we doing here tonight? We are handing down what we have received. The Lord has given, and we pass this gift down to you. This is what we call tradition. It is what St. Paul called it, and it is what we should call it. We should not mock tradition and we should not disregard it. We should not forget it and we should not throw what is sacred to the dogs, as Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:6).
The Divine Liturgy is sacred to us. St. Paul is at pains in his First Letter to the Corinthians to stress this point. “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you” (I Corinthians 11:23). St. Paul is concerned about the excesses and abuses taking place in the Corinthian community when they celebrate the Eucharist.
And what is it that St. Paul received? “[T]hat 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’” (I Corinthians 11:23-24). It was the very command of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself that compelled St. Paul to repeat to the Corinthians the instructions of the Eucharistic Institution. It was the Divine Will Itself that insisted on a faithful rendering of a living remembrance that brought into a real presence the life giving suffering, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (I Corinthians 11:26).
Consider how important tradition is. This tradition is not human custom that is here today and gone tomorrow. As cherished as the rituals are that we perform at each family gathering, these traditions are fleeting and are only as faithfully executed as the people who perform them are faithful to their memory.
But here—but here—in the Divine Liturgy we encounter God Himself. How dare the Corinthians insert their own whims and fancies into the remembrance. Let St. Paul tell us what he told them. “[D]o you show contempt for the church of God and make those who have nothing feel ashamed? What can I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this matter I do not praise you” (I Corinthians 11:22). These words immediately precede the ones we heard in our second reading. They are sobering words. St. Paul intends them to be so.
St. Paul is correcting an abuse in which divisions and factions have arisen that interfere with the proper celebration of the Lord’s Supper. And it is tradition that serves as the conduit for the faithful carrying out of what our Lord did the night before He died.
Praise be Jesus Christ who left us a memorial of His life-saving Passion, Death and Resurrection. It is not a symbol, nor is it some casual recollection. It is the sacrament, the sign which is what it symbolizes, and the proclamation of the death of the Lord until He comes. Thanks be to God for the Church whose memory does not fail and whose tradition continues to host us, unworthy humans, at this foretaste of the heavenly banquet.
Bishop Glen John Provost