A reading from the first letter to the Corinthians from the apostle Paul:
But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you assemble as a Church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you meet together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the Church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the chalice, after supper, saying, “This chalice is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the chalice, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—if any one is hungry, let him eat at home—lest you come together to be condemned. About the other things I will give directions when I come. (1 Co 11:17–34)
There’s a lot of talk among the Greatest Catholics of All Time these days about barring people from communion. The Creme de la Creme in the MAGA wing of the Church have very definite ideas about who needs to kept from contact with grace and often tend to treat the Eucharist as a prize for perfection, not as medicine for the sick.
But in the one and only discussion of “worthiness to receive communion” in the New Testament, Paul basically tells rich spoiled people in Corinth not to use the Mass to humiliate their weaker brethren and urges them to examine themselves lest they eat and drink judgment on themselves by not recognizing the Body of Christ.
In this passage, there are two notable things:
First, Paul sounds a heckuva lot like James, who likewise takes what the Church after Vatican II will call a “preferential option for the poor”:
My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while you say to the poor man, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you, is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme that honorable name by which you are called? (Jas 2:1–7)
And, in fact, both are taking after their Master, who likewise took a decidedly preferential position in defense of the poor from the predations of the rich in that version of the Beatitudes comfy Americans dislike hearing and are quick to downplay, dismiss, minimize, and ignore:
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.
“Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
‖“But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger.
“Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
“Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. (Lk 6:20–26).
If it were anybody but Jesus saying this, it would be dismissed loudly as “cultural Marxism” and “Liberation theology”. But since it is Jesus, it is dismissed quietly and a hasty retreat is beaten to “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “The love of money is the root of all evil”, with accompanying assurances that there is nothing especially holy about the poor (whoarelazyandifamanwillnotworkheshallnoteat) and there is nothing specially the matter with the rich whoworkhardandareasblessedbyGodasanybodyifnotmoreso).
As Chesterton observed:
I know that the most modern manufacture has been really occupied in trying to produce an abnormally large needle. I know that the most recent biologists have been chiefly anxious to discover a very small camel. But if we diminish the camel to his smallest, or open the eye of the needle to its largest — if, in short, we assume the words of Christ to have meant the very least that they could mean, His words must at the very least mean this — that rich men are not very likely to be morally trustworthy. Christianity even when watered down is hot enough to boil all modern society to rags. The mere minimum of the Church would be a deadly ultimatum to the world. For the whole modern world is absolutely based on the assumption, not that the rich are necessary (which is tenable), but that the rich are trustworthy, which (for a Christian) is not tenable. You will hear everlastingly, in all discussions about newspapers, companies, aristocracies, or party politics, this argument that the rich man cannot be bribed. The fact is, of course, that the rich man is bribed; he has been bribed already. That is why he is a rich man. The whole case for Christianity is that a man who is dependent upon the luxuries of this life is a corrupt man, spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt. There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to kill the rich as violators of definable justice. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to crown the rich as convenient rulers of society. It is not certainly un-Christian to rebel against the rich or to submit to the rich. But it is quite certainly un-Christian to trust the rich, to regard the rich as more morally safe than the poor.
And so we return to Paul and his frank and simple rejection of the standard MAGA boilerplate that tries to make Both Sides the problem in the Corinthian Church by spreading the blame around equally between the Oppressor and the Oppressed. But Paul will have none of that garbage. At the Agape (the “love feast”) that preceded the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the early Church) the guilty parties in Corinth “despise the Church of God and humiliate those who have nothing”. That’s the core of the trouble. The rich and powerful oppress the poor and weak. His remedy: “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.”
This brings us to our second major point: Does Paul mean we should discern the body of Jesus in the Eucharist or in the ecclesial body of Christ?
I think this is a question like “Which blade on the scissors does the cutting?” Precisely what Paul does in 1 Corinthians is seamlessly segue from discussion of the Eucharistic Body of Christ (which, as with the deity of Jesus, he simply takes for granted along with his audience) to discussion of the ecclesial Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 10-12). The two things are one thing. The Church is the Body of Christ because were baptized into the One Body that partakes of the One Body in the Eucharist. The idea of separating them, much less of pitting them against one another would be insane to Paul and has been the core of the mystery he has been trying to penetrate ever since Jesus appeared him on the Damascus Road and said “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me” (not “persecuting my followers”). His conviction is identical with St. Joan of Arc’s who, when asked her views on the nature of the Church (in a trial conducted, by the way, by a deeply corrupt bishop), replied, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing.” Paul is no more ignorant of the reality of sin in the members of the Church than Joan. Neither were pollyanna idiots. But they knew what Jesus had told them and saw the Church through that lens of revelation and not with the eyes of human beings.
The key thing here though is that Paul, when talking about worthiness to receive does not encourage Holiness Police to patrol the Liturgy, squinting at everybody around them and judging them fit to approach the Eucharist. He tell us to judge ourselves.
Meanwhile, the Greatest Catholics of All Time, who love humiliating the poor (such as at the Amazon Synod, when desperately poor indigenous people from the Amazon Basin came to Rome seeking the sacraments, only to be called “pagan idolators” by white supremacists who threw their statue of Our Lady of the Amazon in the Tiber), somehow turn Paul’s counsel into a demand that they be allowed to examine everybody but themselves and bar whoever they dislike from communion. And if the Pope won’t comply, they hunger to bar him from the Eucharist.
Worst. Eisegesis. Ever.
Sacraments are intended to be sure encounters with the love of God, not reducing valves for barring as many people as possible from grace.
I pray God they learn from and do not fulfill the grave warning of Jesus:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in. (Mt 23:13)