One of the questions which arose during our seminary pastoral theology course revolved around the hypothetical case of a priest who walks into a bakery and proclaims, “This is my body!” then immediately strolls across the street into a liquor store and states, “This is my blood!” Would these two sets of words, uttered by a validly ordained priest, transform the bakery bread into the body of Christ, and the liquor store wine into the blood of Christ?
Though our prof assured us those words comprised the valid consecration formula, he also said these formulas only “work” when they’re proclaimed in the context of the Eucharist. Employed by themselves, they’re ineffective in making the risen Jesus present in the bread and wine.
In some ways, the traditional celebration of today’s feast also separated the body of Jesus from the context of the Eucharist. (Only recently has Jesus’ blood been added to the title of the feast. We old-timers still remember it as “Corpus Christ:” the Body of Christ.) Once tabernacles came into existence, centuries after the historical Jesus’ ministry, many Christians simply regarded the actual Eucharist as the ritual in which the transubstantiated bread - worshipped in the tabernacle, carried in sacred processions, and adored during Benediction - was consecrated. So few people eventually received the Eucharist during the Eucharist that the church in the 11th century was forced to create a law stating that those who didn’t receive communion at least during the Easter season committed a mortal sin.
This out of context theology no doubt contributed to Christians discovering Eucharistic symbolism in “strange” places, even in today’s first reading. The mere mention of a pagan priest/king offering bread and wine to Abraham as an act of hospitality became a Eucharistic pre-figurement. We overlooked that fact that our Genesis author knew nothing of what Paul, writing 1,000 years later, would call the “Lord’s Supper.”
I strongly urge those in charge of our parish lectors to encourage them to begin their reading a few verses before today’s liturgical passage, and end a few verses after it. That’s the only way our people will understand why Paul quotes the earliest tradition we possess of Jesus’ Last Supper words and actions.
The problem in Corinth didn’t spring from people refusing to recognize Jesus’ body and blood in the bread and wine. It arose because certain individuals refused to recognize Jesus’ presence in all those who gathered to celebrate the Eucharist. The most significant line in the passage (omitted from our liturgical reading) is Paul’s warning, “Those who eat and drink without discerning the body eat and drink judgment on themselves.” In this context, the undiscerned body can only refer to the body of Christ in the community.
Through the centuries, many have also removed Luke’s miraculous feeding pericope from the context in which he originally placed it. Though all scholars agree all six gospel bread miracles revolve around the evangelists’ teaching on the Eucharist, we often overlook the dialogue which precedes the feeding. Jesus here begins the event by telling his disciples, “Give them (the crowd) some food yourselves!” When they finally produce a small amount of food, Jesus does nothing but bless, break, then hand the bread over to his followers. They do the actual feeding.
No author of the Christian Scriptures regarded the Eucharist to be a “one-man-show.” In their theology, all who participate do the feeding; all do the consuming. Without the community, there’s no Lord’s Supper.
Perhaps we seminarians should have learned about more than just taking a wandering, misguided priest out of the Eucharistic context.