Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Words of Institution

Popular Translation

23 Now, what I received from the Lord, I give to you. On the night Jesus was arrested, he took a loaf of bread, 24 said the blessing, broke it into pieces, and said, "Take and eat this. This is my body which is for you. Share this in my memory." 25 In the same way, Jesus took the cup of wine after dinner, and said, "This is the cup of God's new agreement with us. As often as you share this cup, do it in my memory." 26 Whenever you eat this bread and drink from this cup together, you tell everyone about the death of the Lord, until he returns from heaven.

Literal Translation

23 For I received from the Lord what I pass along to you, that on the night on which the Lord Jesus Christ was handed over (to the leaders), (he) took bread 24 and having given thanks broke (it) and said, "This is my body, the (one) on your behalf. Do this in my memory." 25 In the same way, the cup after the dining, saying, "This is the cup of the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink (it) in my memory." 26 For as often as you might eat this bread and you might drink (from) this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he should return.

Corinth had always been a cosmopolitan city, open to new ideas and fads. The Corinthian church followed suit with philosophical discussions that lead to dissension. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul railed against this Greek community for its internal tuft fights, abuses, and lack of focus. St. Paul encouraged the faithful at Corinth to return to the original teaching of Christ.

One of these teachings concerned Eucharist. The Eucharistic blessings (i.e., consecrations) were originally done at the beginning (bread) and the end (wine) of a communal meal (see "after supper" in 11:25). The Corinthians would share the blessings, but would eat and drink in cliques. Food would not be shared; some people were even getting drunk at the meal. Such behavior was a disgrace.

In order to correct the community, St. Paul reminded them of the instruction he received from the Risen Jesus [23]. The instructions have the force of revelation and have become part of our Tradition. In order to understand the deeper meaning of our tradition we can ask: What was Paul's understanding of the words for consecration?

As a Jew, Paul understood "body" as the concrete realization of the person, not as a mere part. The body revealed the life, spirit, and personality of the person; the body was the focal point of a living person. In Paul's mind, when Jesus said, "Take and eat, this is my body," Jesus was really saying,"Take and eat, this is me, my life, my personality, my psyche, my everything!" [24]

For Paul, blood was the life force of the person; blood was a physical manifestation of one's spirit. The only reason to spill blood was for sacrificial worship, to give life back to God. As life came from God, it must be returned to God. Jesus said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood." In other words, his life (as blood) would be given to the Father on the cross. His life (blood) given to the Father would form the basis for a new relationship (covenant) between God and humanity [25].

Paul repeated the words of consecration with an interesting twist. "Do this in memory of me" is repeated, once for the blessing of the bread [24] and again for the blessing of the wine [25]. For Paul, memory was more than a mental exercise; to remember means to bring a past event into the present moment, to make the event physically palpable. A family reunion or a birthday party are exercises in this type of physical "memory."

For we Christians, Eucharist is another exercise in this memory. When we gather to celebrate Mass, we "remember" the life-giving of Jesus with him. Jesus brings his life, death, and resurrection to us. Jesus meets us through our gathering as the Church, his body, through the reading of Scripture as God's Word, through the priest who acts "in persona Christi" (in the person of Christ), and finally (and most importantly) though the bread and wine we consume. As we "remember" Jesus, we become one with him in the bread and wine. And, as we receive communion, we tell everyone through our actions that we are followers of Christ [26].

St. Paul banned the meal from the community gathering (see 11:33-34), so only the blessing of bread and wine remained. But the apostolic tradition continued and developed into the Liturgy of the Eucharist at Mass.

When was the last time you reflected on the Words of Institution? How does that reflection impact your reception of Communion?