Paul declares that he heard from the “Lord” Himself what Jesus did at His last supper (1 Cor 11:23). Scholars place Jesus’ death in the year 30 and Paul’s conversion three years later, in 33. Paul speak of Jesus last supper as the “supper of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:20)
If the “Lord” told Paul about His actions at the last supper, they must be of utmost importance because the Risen Jesus didn’t transmit to Paul trivial information. Paul says that he himself “handed on” this message, which he considers to be part of the core of the “good news.”
St. Leo the Great (461) has said, “What was visible in Christ has passed into the sacraments of the Church.” Paul says that Jesus did this “on the night in which He was betrayed.” His actions at the supper are related to His coming Passion and death.
St. Thomas Aquinas observes “It was especially suitable that He institute in His own person this sacrament, in which His body and blood are communicated. Hence He Himself says in John (6:52): ‘The bread that I shall give is My flesh for the life of the world’” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 647).
Thomas affirms: “It should be noted that the sacraments were instituted on account of a need in the spiritual life” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 650). The sacraments address the spiritual needs of a person similar to the way that a person’s physical needs are met: “The spiritual life requires food, by which man’s body is sustained, and likewise the spiritual life is fed by the sacrament of the Eucharist, as it says in Ps 23:2: ‘He make me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters’” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 650).
Christ Himself is present in the Sacrament: “In the sacrament of this Eucharist, which is spiritual food, Christ is there according to His substance” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 651).
We know Christ’s presence by faith: “in order that the merit of faith grow, which consists in believing something not seen” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 652).
“Even bodily refreshment is not complete without food and drink, as John says: ‘All ate of the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink’ (Jn 10:3) (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 653).
Thomas offers reasons why the sacrament is given under the appearance of bread and wine: “People generally use bread and wine for their refreshment…Therefore, these are used in this sacrament. Secondly, on account of the power of this sacrament: for bread strengthens the heart of man, but wine gladdens it. Thirdly, because bread, which is made from many grains and wine from many grapes, signifies the unity of the Church which is made up of many believers. Furthermore, this Eucharist is especially the sacrament of unity and charity” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 654).
Thomas notes that Jesus commanded us to receive this sacrament: “He enjoined the use of the sacrament, saying: ‘Take’ (Mk 14:22). As if not from any human power or merit is it proper for you to use this sacrament, but from an eminent gift of God: And he determines the kind of use when he says, and ‘eat’: ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man’ (Jn. 6:54)” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 659).
Christ Himself is in this sacrament: “This sacrament is completed in the very consecration of the matter, in which Christ Himself is contained, Who is the end of all sanctifying grace” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 660).
The bread and wine are converted into the Body and Blood of Jesus: “The body of Christ is truly in this sacrament by the conversion of bread into it” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 662).
The bread becomes the Body of Jesus: “For the body of Christ is in this sacrament from the conversion of the substance of bread into it” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 654).
Christ is truly present in each part of the bread: “After the consecration the whole body of Christ is under each part of the divided bread” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 654).
The priest speaks the words as Christ said them: “But the priest says them from the same efficacy now, as when Christ spoke them. For the power conferred on these words does not vanish either by the difference of time or by the variety of ministers” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 667).
The bread becomes the Body of Christ through the consecration: “It is made the body of Christ through consecration” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 669).
The bread does not just receive power but it is changed into Christ’s Body: “The consecration does not occur by the consecrated matter merely receiving some spiritual power, but by the fact that it is transubstantiated according to its being into the body of Christ. Therefore, no other word was to be used except a substantive, so as to say, this is my body” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 670).
Jesus that His body will be given for us: “When He says, which will be given up for you, He touches on the mystery of this sacrament. For this sacrament represents the Lord’s passion, through which His body was delivered over to death for us, as it says: ‘He gave Himself for us’ (Eph 5:2)” (Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 672).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
The quotations from St. Thomas’ Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians are taken from the website: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/