The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Callan’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:20-32

Posted by Dim Bulb on April 4, 2012

The Epistle Reading for Holy Thursday in the Extraordinary Form of the Rite is 1 Cor 11:20-32, but this post includes comments on verses 17-34. In addition, I’ve also included Father Callan’s summary of the passage (with the notes following). Other resources for Holy Thursday (and the entire Holy Week, including the Paschal Triduum) can be found here. For those who don’t know what the Paschal (or Easter) Triduum is, see here.


A Summary of 1 Cor 11:17-34~Besides the abuse of women’s appearing at the religious assemblies of the faithful in Corinth with uncovered head, there were others of a far more serious nature, namely, those in connection with the love-feasts and with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

In imitation of our Lord, who instituted the Holy Eucharist in the evening, after the eating of the Paschal Supper, it seems that the early Christians also, at least in Corinth, held the Eucharistic celebration in the evening and accompanied it by a common supper or feast which, because it was intended to strengthen the bond of charity among the faithful, was called the Agape, or love-feast. The necessaries of this supper or love-feast were contributed by those who could afford to bring something with them, and especially by the rich, who thus came to the assistance of the poor. Soon, however, abuses crept in. The poor were crowded out or prevented from getting their share of the supper, some drank to excess, and divisions and animosities were excited among the brethren. Naturally all this was a bad preparation for, and a great irreverence towards, the Eucharistic celebration which in Corinth at this time appears to have followed the common supper.

St. Paul, therefore, in this section of the present chapter sternly reproves the Corinthian abuses in connection with the love-feasts (verses 17-22); he recalls the fact and purpose of the institution of the Holy Eucharist (verses 23-26); he shows what preparation is required of him who would partake of this great Sacrament (verses 27-29); arguing from effects he points out that due preparation has been wanting in many of the Corinthian faithful (verses 30-32); and finally, he lays down some practical rules to be observed at the love-feasts (verses 33, 34).

It is to be noted here that what has just been said, as well as what will be further said in the following verses with regard to the common meal which the faithful of Corinth were accustomed to take before the Eucharistic celebration when St. Paul wrote the present letter, refers, according to the opinion universally accepted, to the Agape. This traditional view of the Agape as a Christian feast is mainly traceable to what St. Paul says in the verses that follow. But Msgr. Batiffol (Dict, de Theol. Cath., tom. I, col. 551-556) takes a very different view of the question. He holds that there is no trace of the Agape, as we here understand it, either in this Epistle or anywhere else, before the end of the second century, and that St. Paul in the following verses is condemning at most an attempt on the part of the Corinthians to introduce a common meal along with the Eucharistic celebration.

In trying to prove his opinion, however, we feel that Msgr. Batiffol has not done justice to the present passage of St. Paul. His analysis of the text almost entirely overlooks the force of verses 21 and 33, which, we believe, are nearly unintelligible, short of the explanation commonly given of the Agape. Having just condemned (verse 19) the dissensions among the Christians when they came together, the Apostle says in verses 20, 21: “When therefore you come together to the same place it is not to eat the Lord’s supper (implying that previously it was otherwise); for at the repast each one first takes (προλαμβανει) his own supper, and one is hungry, while another is overindulged.” And then, after showing what an injury such actions are to the poor, and in particular what a bad preparation they make for the Eucharistic celebration which was supposed to follow, the Apostle concludes his instructions by saying in verse 33, “Wherefore, my brethren, when you come together for the repast, wait for one another.”

It seems plain from these verses that St. Paul is not imposing a fast on the faithful before Communion. He is taking it for granted that the common meal before the celebration of the Eucharist is according to existing custom in Corinth, and therefore legitimate; but what he is condemning is the uncharitable and unbecoming manner in which this meal came to be held. In verse 21 he is complaining of the private, individual taking of this meal, with the result that some are overindulged while others are deprived; and in verse 33 he points out that these abuses can be corrected, not by giving up the practice of the common meal, but by waiting for one another. What meaning would these two verses convey if at Corinth there were no such thing as a common meal accompanying the Eucharistic celebration, or if St. Paul were resisting any attempt to establish such a custom?

In view of these remarks we see no sufficient reason for departing from the traditional explanation of the present passage.


17. Now this I ordain: not praising you, that you come together not for the better, but for the worse.

Now this, namely, what I have just said about women veiling their heads in church. Such is the reference of “this,” according to the best interpreters (St. Aug., St. Thomas, Corn., etc.); and the best reading of the verse is as follows : “Now commanding this (concerning women covering their heads) I do not praise (what I am going to speak about) that you come together not unto the better, but unto the worse.”

Not praising you, etc., i.e., I do not praise you for the abuses that take place in your religious assemblies.

The first “you” in this verse ought to be omitted.

18. For first of all I hear that when you come together in the church, there are schisms among you; and in part I believe it.

First. The Apostle begins with the first more serious abuse, which is in connection with the love-feast; the second grave abuse he begins to discuss in 12:1.

I hear, etc., i.e., he learned it through the letter he had received.

In the church. Literally, “In church,” i.e., in your religious assemblies, whether these took place in a building set apart for the purpose, or not. Most likely the Corinthians had no special buildings at so early a date which they called churches. In fact, it was very probably only about the third century that the name church was given to any building.

There are schisms, etc., i.e., divisions and dissensions. Schisms in a strict sense are not thought of here; neither are the various factions of the first part of the Epistle in question.

In ecclesiam of the Vulgate should be in ecclesia.

19. For there must be also heresies: that they also, who are approved, may be made manifest among you.

St. Paul says that he is prepared to believe the report that there are divisions among the Corinthians at their religious meetings, because he knows, from his acquaintance with human weakness and perversity, that even heresies, i.e., pertinacious denials of doctrine and ruptures in faith and with the authority of the Church, must also arise. If it is necessary (Matt 18:7; Luke 17:1) that these more serious divisions should occur, it is not wonderful that among the faithful there shoufd be divisions and misunderstandings, bad as these latter also are. The Apostle is speaking in general about heresies, and does not mean that any actually existed at Corinth.

Some authors (MacR., Rick., etc.) hold that “heresies” here means nothing more than sects or factions, since the Greek term, here used occurs in eight other places of the New Testament (Acts 5:17; xv. 5; 26:5; 24:5, 14; 28:22; Gal 5:20; 2 Peter 2:1), and in six of these it means sect.

That they also, etc. “Also” should be omitted. The meaning is that God permits heresies in order to test and purify the faith of true Christians, as gold is tried, but not consumed by fire.

The second et of the Vulgate should be away.

20. When you come therefore together into one place, it is not now to eat the Lord’s supper.

It is not now, etc. Some say the meaning is: It is not possible or lawful to eat the Lord’s Supper. But more probably the Apostle means that, while the Corinthians ostensibly came together for the purpose of showing mutual charity and celebrating the Holy Eucharist, their conduct was such that they violated the whole spirit of the Lord’s Supper.

The Lord’s supper doubtless embraces both the Agape (verses 21, 33) and the Eucharistic celebration (verse 23). It was a reproduction of our Lord’s Last Supper, which consisted of the Paschal Supper and the reception of the Holy Eucharist.

Was it the common practice at that time to partake of the love-feast before receiving Holy Communion? A definite answer to this question cannot be given. According to St. Chrysostom the offering and reception of the Eucharist preceded the Agape; according to others the reverse order was observed. It seems certain that at this early date there was no definite practice in the matter. For from Acts 2:46; 20:11 it appears that the “breaking of bread,” i.e., the celebration of the Eucharist, occurred before the common meal ; while from the present passage of St. Paul it is clear that, at Corinth at least, the same order was observed which our Lord made use of at the Last Supper (Cornely).

After some years, it appears, the love-feast was separated from the Eucharistic celebration, perhaps on account of abuses such as St. Paul is here condemning. The Eucharist was then celebrated in the morning. This was the case in Bithynia in the early part of the second century (Plin., Ep. 96 ad Trajan.). In the middle of the second century Justin Martyr (Apol. i. 67) describes the Eucharistic feast, but is silent about the Agape. Tertullian (De Corona, c. 3) speaks of the Eucharist as celebrated before daylight. The same author in describing the Agape, makes no reference to the Eucharist (Apol. 39).

When the general practice of fasting before receiving Holy Communion began we cannot determine with certainty. St. Aug. (Ep. cxviii., ad Januar.) thought it came down from the Apostles. But if this were so, it would be difficult to explain the contrary custom at Corinth in St. Paul’s time and also the ruling of the 29th canon of the Third Council of Carthage (a.d. 397): Ut sacramenta altaris nonnisi a jejunis hominibus celebretur, excepto uno die anniversario, quo cena Domini celebratur. Sozomen, the historian, says there was no obligation in Egypt in the fifth century to receive Holy Communion fasting. Cf. MacR., h. 1.

21. For every one taketh before his own supper to eat And one indeed is hungry and another is drunk.

That the religious celebrations of the Corinthians had become unlike the Lord’s Last Supper, which they were supposed to reproduce, was evident from the way the faithful in their religious assemblies conducted themselves. Those who could afford it brought food and drink for the common meal, as was the proper custom, but they did not have a common meal of which all partook.

For every one, etc. Literally, “For in the eating every one taketh first his own,” etc., i.e., all those who brought provisions ate them in private, and before all had assembled or distribution could be made, with the result that the poor were left hungry. And the rich, instead of helping to feed the poor, gave themselves to excessive drinking. It seems that the members of those cliques spoken of in verse 18 used to share their provisions together to the exclusion of those who belonged to a different clique, some of whom had no provisions.

Is drunk (μεθυει) is softened down by some commentators to signify something short of actual intoxication.

22. What, have you not houses to eat and to drink in? Or despise ye
the church of God; and put them to shame that have not? What shall I say to you? Do I praise you? In this I praise you not.

Indignant over these abuses the Apostle asks the Corinthians if they had not their own homes in which to hold their banquets without injury to the poor.

Despise ye the church of God, etc., i.e., do you despise the assembly of the faithful which is composed of rich and poor, all of whom are equal before God? It is an injury to the poor to exclude them as unworthy from a part in the common meal at the religious assemblies, and thus put them to shame by making more conspicuous their poverty. For such actions the Apostle cannot but blame those who are guilty.

Do I praise you? Better, “Shall I praise you?”

23. For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread,
24. And giving thanks, broke, and said: Take ye, and eat: this is my body, which shall be delivered for you: this do for the commemoration of me.

St. Paul could not praise the Corinthians for their conduct at the Eucharistic celebration; for their behavior there was a gross profanation of a sacred banquet solemnly instituted by Christ Himself. In order that they may the better understand the gravity of their actions he starts here to recall to their minds what he had taught them when founding the Church at Corinth.

For I have received, etc (ver 23). It is not entirely clear whether St. Paul received from the Lord what follows by direct revelation or through others. But the emphatic use of the pronoun (εγω γαρ = ego gar), together with what he says in 9:1 and in Gal 1:12, makes it almost certain that what he is about to say was vouchsafed to him from the Lord’s own lips, perhaps during his three years’ stay in Arabia (Gal 1:17). He does not say “from the disciples of the Lord,” but “from the Lord” (απο του κυριου = apo to Kurios).

Which also I delivered unto you. (ver 23) He had made known to the Corinthians very exactly what had been revealed to him concerning the Blessed Eucharist. St. Paul’s account agrees very closely with that given by his disciple St. Luke (Luke 22:19, 20), who had learned of this great event directly from the Apostle himself.

That the Lord Jesus, the same night, etc. (ver 23) St. Paul gives this circumstance to show the intimate connection between the Eucharist and the Passion of our Lord, and to set out more in relief the enormous ingratitude and irreverence of the Corinthians who dared to celebrate the august mysteries with so much laxity and neglect.

Took bread, etc., (ver 23) as recorded also in Matt 26:2-29; Mark 14:17-25; Luke 22:10-20.

Giving thanks (ευχαριστησας~ from the Greek εὐχαριστέω = eucharisteō) (ver 24). The same expression is found in St. Luke’s account of the Last Supper (Luke 22:19), and is equivalent to the “blessing” (ευλογησας) of Matt 26:26; Mark 14:22. The blessing contained thanksgiving for that which was blessed (Westm. Ver.), and hence our Lord both gave thanks and blessed the bread before the consecration.

Broke (ver 24). Estius and others say the breaking of the bread was only after the consecration, as in the Mass. Some hold there were two breakings, one into larger pieces before the consecration, and one into smaller pieces afterwards.

The words take ye, and eat are not in any of the best MSS., and are omitted by the Fathers and many of the oldest versions. They were most likely inserted here by a copyist from Matt 26:26. Likewise the words shall be delivered (Vulg. tradetur), having only the Vulgate and Syriac versions with Theodoret in their favor, must be omitted. Somewhat better supported, but still insufficiently so is another reading, “which is broken for you,” (Greek: klasmenon,  E F G K L P, Rec, Peshitto, and some copies of the Old Latin). Two Greek-Latin MSS. (Codex Claromontanus of the 6th cent., and the Codex Sangermanensis of the 9th cent.) render klasmenon here by frangitur.

The best reading, therefore, of this passage in the four oldest and best MSS. is: “This is my body, which is for you” (τουτο μου εστιν το σωμα το υπερ υμων). The words, which is for you, i.e., which is given for you, taken in conjunction with the clearer words used with the chalice, point unmistakably to the sacrificial character of the Eucharistic celebration at the Last Supper.

This do for the commemoration of me (ver 24).  On this passage the Council of Trent (Sess. XXII. can. 2) says: “If anyone say that by the words, ‘This do in remembrance of me” Christ did not constitute His Apostles priests, or did not ordain that they and other priests should offer His body and blood, let him be anathema.”

25. In like manner also the chalice, after he had supped, saying: This chalice is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as often as you shall drink, for the commemoration of me.

In like manner, etc. As He had done for the bread, so immediately afterwards He did for the chalice, i.e., He took it, gave thanks to the Father, blessed it, etc.

After he had supped, i.e., after the Paschal supper was in the main over. St. Luke speaks to the same effect, “after he had supped” (Luke 22:20). St. Matthew says, “While they were at supper” (Matt 26:26); and St. Mark has, “Whilst they were eating” (Mark 14:22). The expression, μετα το δειπνησα (after he supped, or dined), which occurs only in St. Paul and in St. Luke, was perhaps added to render more definite the vague indication of time conveyed by the εσθιοντων δε αυτων (as they were eating) of Sts. Matt, and Mark (Cornely). Taking together all four accounts we can plainly see that the institution of the Blessed Eucharist took place while our Lord and the disciples were still at the supper table, but towards the end of the meal. Very probably the fourth cup of wine, which legally terminated the Jewish Paschal supper, was the one consecrated by the Saviour.

This chalice, etc., i.e., the contents of this chalice is “my blood,” as directly stated in Matt 26:28, and in Mark 14:24: “This is my blood.”

The new testament in my blood, i.e., the contents of this chalice is the seal or ratification of the New Covenant through my blood. The reference is clearly to the words of Moses (Exod 24:8) who, after he had read the book of the covenant and the people had promised to observe it, sprinkled them with sacrificial blood saying, “Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you.” In like manner Christ’s sacrificial blood, which the disciples drank, is the seal of the New Covenant. As in the case of Moses there was present real sacrificial blood which had been offered in sacrifice, so at the Last Supper there was present real blood—the blood of Christ, which was being offered in sacrifice for the sins of the world (Heb 8:8; Jer 31:31-34).

This do ye . . . for the commemoration of me. These words, in connection with the chalice, are found only in St. Paul. They emphasize the commission given to the Apostles and show the purpose of the Eucharistic celebration.

This, i.e., the whole action which Christ had just performed in changing bread and wine into His body and blood and in giving the sacred species to others for their spiritual nourishment, this the Apostles and their successors were to repeat and continue till the Second Coming of the Lord at the end of the world, as St. Paul indicates in the following verse.

26. For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until he come,

The Apostle now shows what the celebration of the Eucharistic banquet was intended to commemorate or recall. The words eat, drink, and shew are all in the present tense in the original.

You shall shew the death of the Lord. The Eucharist is the commemorative sacrifice of the death of Christ, and this death is mystically signified by the separate consecrations of the two distinct elements of bread and wine.

Until he come, i.e., until Christ comes at the end of the world. This proves that the Eucharistic sacrifice is to be continued till the end of time, and, since sacrifice requires a priest, it also proves that our Lord ordained the Apostles priests at the Last Supper, and at the same time empowered them to provide their successors to the end.

27. Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.

From the real presence of Christ’s body and blood under the Eucharistic species St. Paul deduces the momentous conclusion that whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice, i.e., any one who receives our Lord’s body and blood under either species unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord, i.e., shall be guilty of an outrage, grave or slight, according to his condition, against the flesh and blood of Christ. It is a proof of the total presence of Christ under either species that the Apostle says whosoever shall eat, or drink, etc. (η πινη, with B א A C D E F G, Vulg., Peshitto, etc.), shall be guilty of both the body and the blood of the Lord. “Many Protestant translators, including those of the A. V., have evaded the force of the or, from a fear lest they should thereby be countenancing the denial of the Cup to the laity” (Lias).

Further, it is a proof of our Lord’s Real Presence in the Eucharist that St. Paul says the unworthy communicant is guilty of the body and blood of Christ. How could these words be true if the Eucharist were only a figure or a sign of Christ’s flesh and blood? Who would say that to show irreverence, however great, to a king’s picture or statue would make the offender guilty of the body and blood of the king? Such language would be ridiculous in its absurdity.

28. But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice.

In order to avoid an unworthy Communion the Apostle now says, let a man prove himself, i.e., let each one before communicating carefully examine his conscience to see whether he is in proper spiritual condition to receive so great a Sacrament. The Council of Trent (Sess. XIII. cap. 7) says on this subject: “The custom of the Church declares that such proving is necessary, as that no one conscious to himself of mortal sin, however contrite he may think himself, ought to approach the Holy Eucharist without previous sacramental confession.”

That bread should be “the bread”; in the Vulgate illo should be omitted.

29. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.

This verse brings out still more clearly the thought of verse 27. The words unworthily and of the Lord are not in the four oldest MSS.; but they are found in D E F G, Vulg., Peshitto, which, together with the sense of the verse in itself and from the context, make the meaning clear: He that eateth and drinketh without distinguishing the body (from other food), eateth and drinketh judgment to himself. The implication here, as in verse 27, seems to be that the unworthy, or non-discerning communicant, is guilty of mortal sin, although one guilty of lesser sins would also be liable to judgment, i.e., to chastisement, if he did not duly prepare himself before receiving Holy Communion.

In the Vulgate indigne and Domini should probably be omitted.

30. Therefore are there many infirm and weak among you, and many sleep.

Therefore, i.e., because you Corinthians have not communicated
with devout dispositions you have been visited with many afflictions, such as sickness, death, and the like. Many of you are infirm (ασθενεις literally strengthless), i.e., ill, and weak (αρρωστο), i.e., in poor physical condition, and many sleep, (κοιμωνται), i.e., many of you have been taken away by premature death. The word employed for “sleep” here is used to signify the death of those who are finally saved in ten other places of the New Testament. These temporal chastisements visited for unworthy Communions on those who had died in the Lord could mean that the unworthiness was due only to venial sins, or to mortal sins and sacrilegious Communions which had been repented of before death.

31. But if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.

Here the Apostle tells the Corinthians that if they would be more careful to examine and purify their consciences before Communion and do penance for their past sins they would not be visited with so many temporal sufferings and punishments. He includes himself in the first person plural to soften the rebuke he is giving the faithful.

32. But whilst we are judged, we are chastised by the Lord, that we be not condemned with this world.

32. A word of consolation is added now. St. Paul tells the faithful that if the Lord chastises them in the present life for their sins of irreverence toward the Holy Eucharist, it is only for the purpose of leading them to repentance and to the avoidance of further sins, so that they may escape eternal condemnation with this wicked world.

This verse, which is evidently addressed to those who are among the saved, is a proof that the term “sleep” of verse 30 refers to the dead that are saved.

33. Wherefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.
34. If any man be hungry, let him eat at home; that you come not together unto judgment. And the rest I will set in order, when I come.

Referring again to the abuses connected with the Agape, the Apostle urges the Corinthians, when they assemble for their love-feasts and the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, to have their meal in common. Let them wait to eat, until all are present, so that the rich may not overindulge themselves, nor the poor be deprived of their portion.

If some get so hungry that they cannot wait for the common meal, they should take something at home beforehand; so that they may come together, i.e., to the assembly, with spiritual profit, and not unto judgment, i.e., not to their spiritual ruin and condemnation. The love-feast was not instituted to satisfy hunger, but to nourish charity among the faithful; and likewise, the religious assemblies of the Christians were not the places to have profane banquets, but were for the purpose of celebrating the Holy Eucharist.

And the rest, etc., i.e., the Apostle will complete his instructions to the faithful at Corinth when he arrives there in person; he will supplement his written word by oral teaching: “from which it is evident,” says St. Thomas on this verse, “that the Church has many things from the direction of the Apostles which are not found in Sacred Scripture.”

2 Responses to “Father Callan’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:20-32”

  1. […] UPDATE: Father Callan’s Commentary on 1 Cor 11:20-32. […]

  2. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:23-29. On verses 20-32. […]

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