Paul and the Eucharist by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Jesus spoke to the crowds about the kingdom of God, and he healed those who needed to be cured. As the day was drawing to a close, the Twelve approached him and said, "Dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions; for we are in a deserted place here." He said to them, "Give them some food yourselves," They replied, "Five loaves and two fish are all we have, unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people." Now the men there numbered about five thousand. Then he said to his disciples, "Have them sit down in groups of about fifty." They did so and made them all sit down. Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. They all ate and were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets.
St. Paul's discussion of the Eucharist in the First Letter to the Corinthians is highly significant for Christians because it confirms the importance of the Eucharist for the life of each Christian, and it deepens our understanding of this great mystery, especially as a memorial celebration.
The Eucharist is the Lord's greatest gift to His Church because it is the gift of Himself: "This is my body." It is the most important way in which the Lord fulfills His promise to remain present to His flock until the end of time. Consequently, it is the source and summit of our Christian lives.
Our understanding of the Eucharist begins with the institution narratives in Matthew, Mark and Luke. That understanding is deepened by the ancient signs in the Old Testament that prefigure the Eucharist, such as the sacrifice of Isaac, the paschal lamb and the manna in the desert. Our understanding is further deepened in the New Testament by the bread-of-life discourse in the sixth chapter of John's Gospel and in Paul's writings in the First Letter to the Corinthians.
St. Paul's testimony is particularly important because he is an additional source for our teaching on the Eucharist as he states clearly that his knowledge and understanding of the Eucharist came directly "from the Lord." He did not rely upon a presence at the Last Supper like Matthew and John because he was not there. He converted after Jesus' ascension. Nor was Paul a disciple of Peter or any of the Gospel writers. Plus, it is generally held by Scripture scholars that Paul wrote this letter before the Gospel writers penned their inspired works. Still, his description of the institution of the Eucharist on the night Jesus has handed over correlates beautifully with the accounts in the Gospels.
Jesus was greatly interested in handing on to His followers at the end of His life a divinely inspired way to remember His love and His saving work. "Do this in remembrance of me." Jesus' last days on earth made up the Father's masterpiece, His greatest work. Jesus, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, became sin for us, suffered and died on a tree between two criminals. This sacrifice, coupled with the ensuing resurrection, encapsulated the greatest act of love that the world has ever known. Jesus chose not to leave it up to us to celebrate that supreme act of self-giving. So He left us a memorial. He gave us the Eucharist.
The truths taught by God and proclaimed by Christians are unique on numerous fronts. They state that almighty God stooped down to earth and fully embraced our humanity. They state that God suffered greatly at the hands of His creatures. Specifically, Jesus was handed over, arrested, put through a false trial, unjustly accused, scourged, mocked and nailed to a cross. These truths demonstrate that His love for us is beyond all description and that He would stop at nothing in order to bring us healing, reconciliation and new life that will last unto eternity. Jesus wanted us to have a simple, clear way to remember and proclaim these awesome deeds. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes."
I want to finish with a prayer to assist us as we celebrate the great Solemnity of Corpus Christi. Lord Jesus, through the graces of the Mass, increase my awareness and appreciation for the sacrifice that You made of Your life to the Father on my behalf. Set on my heart a longing to be united with You through the precious gift of Holy Communion. May I be a Christian who gratefully and joyfully proclaims your death because it brought me to new life. May I rejoice in gathering together with my brothers and sisters in the Lord each Sunday to worship You, honor You and give You thinks. May I leave Mass with an urgent sense that I have been sent out to share the wonders of your love with a broken world. Amen.
Please consider a tax deductible gift to support this web site.
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index