Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Holy Thursday of the Lord’s Supper
Sunday, April 13, 2017
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.” I Corinthians 11:23
Tonight we enter into a mystery. It is a deep mystery, but like all true mysteries not deep enough that we cannot have some grasp on its reality. The mystery about which I am referring is the Eucharist as sacrificial meal. Consider the second reading of this evening’s Mass.
In that reading St. Paul reminds the Corinthians and us about what he “received from the Lord” and what he “also handed on to you” (I Corinthians 11:23). Why this reminder to those who partake of the Eucharist of the Lord? Because the Corinthians were not doing it correctly. There were abuses. In short they were treating the Eucharist like a meal. St. Paul writes, “When you meet in one place, then, it is not to eat the Lord’s supper, for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk” (I Corinthians 11:20). Well, then, we might ask if the abuse involves seeing the Eucharist as simply a meal, then why does St. Paul refer to the Eucharist as “the Lord’s supper” (I Corinthians 11:20)?
To answer that question we must be reminded that in the Greco-Roman world of antiquity, the word used by St. Paul for supper (deipnon) can refer to a meal attached to a sacrifice. After a sacrificial animal was killed and prescribed portions of it sacrificially burned, the worshippers would then partake of the remainder of the animal, thus joining themselves to the sacrifice. For this reason, St. Paul earlier in the First Letter to the Corinthians warns Christians not to participate in such meals offered at pagan temples. They are “the table of demons” (I Corinthians 10:21), he writes. The point is that the Eucharist is no ordinary meal.
In “the Lord’s supper” we indeed share in the Lord, as in a sacrificial meal. St. Paul writes, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (I Corinthians 10:16). We are brought into the Lord’s sacrifice, a bond of charity and love that transcends anything we might experience in this world ordinarily. The Eucharist is a sacred meal, which as a sacrament joins us to the Lord and through Him to everyone else. St. Paul expresses it in this way: “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (I Corinthians 10:17). St. Paul, however, adds yet another dimension to this sacrificial meal—it is a foretaste of the future.
St. Paul concludes the passage we read this evening with these sublime words: “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). The Eucharistic meal makes possible something that no other sacrificial meal can accomplish. It confirms a promise that we will participate with the Lord in the kingdom to come in a meal that will never end.
Therefore, “the Lord’s supper” is no ordinary meal, to be casually executed, as one would eat boiled crawfish or in front of a television watching the six o’clock news or sharing chit-chat at a meet and greet. “[T]he Lord’s Supper” is a solemn participation in the Lord’s own sacrifice, a sharing by which we are made one with Him in His suffering, death and resurrection. Because it is so special and there is nothing ordinary about it, St. Paul adds a warning.
“[W]hoever 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). This is a serious admonition. St. Paul concludes, “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself” (I Corinthians 11:29). To approach communion with the Lord in His sacrificial meal requires an examination of conscience. To discern the body implies that we believe, profess and acknowledge that in which we share.
Tonight we enter into a mystery. The mystery is made even more humbling because we do not deserve so great a privilege. Yet, here we are—entering into a sacrifice prepared for us by a God who loves us to the extent that He would give up His only Son to purchase our redemption. And how is this sacrifice made present to us? Through a participation in His Body and Blood under the forms of bread and wine. And that is indeed a loving and sublime mystery.
Bishop Glen John Provost