Why You Can Be Absolutely Sure That Paul Believed in the Eucharist
St. Paul, an apostle, wrote vividly about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Paul talks about the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 10:16-21 and 1 Corinthians 11:27-30. These passages show that Paul was Catholic in his belief.
Participating in what is real
Let’s start with 1 Corinthians 10:16-21. Paul makes it clear that when we partake of the Eucharist we partake of the body and blood of Jesus;
The chalice of benediction, which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread, which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? (v.16).
How could we be sharing in the body and blood of Jesus unless his body and blood were present? Paul underscores this truth in the subsequent verses when he draws a parallel between the Eucharist and pagan sacrifices:
[What] they sacrifice to devils, and not to God. And I would not that you should be made partakers with devils.…you cannot be partakers of the table of the Lord, and of the table of devils. (v.20-21).
If communing with demons in pagan sacrifices implies that demons are really present, then communing with the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist implies that his body and blood are really present.
Paul’s reference to the “table of the Lord” (v.21) also implies the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. If pagans offer a real victim (not a symbol) on the “table of devils,” then how much more do Christians offer a real victim, Jesus, on the “table of the Lord”?
The symbolism of bread
There are those who may object that Paul refers to the Eucharist as “bread” and therefore can’t mean for the Eucharist literally to be Jesus’ body. But, just because Paul describes the Eucharist according to how it appears to his senses, it doesn’t follow the Eucharist is not Jesus.
Biblical writers commonly refer to things according to their appearance. Scholars call this phenomenological language. For example, angels are referred to as men (see Genesis 18:2, Tobit 5:2-4), and death is referred to as sleep (see Daniel 12:2). When Paul refers to the Eucharist as “bread” he is similarly using phenomenological language.
Furthermore, as the late Jesuit Cornelius à Lapide points out in his commentary on St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, bread is a Hebraism for food:
I reply that bread, by a Hebraism, stands for any food (2 Kings 2:22). So Christ is called manna (John 6:31), and bread (John 6:41). The reason is that bread is the common and necessary food of all.
One should also remember that Catholics don’t deny that the Eucharist has a “symbolic” value. The Catechism of the Counsel of Trent explains that the sacraments confer the grace they signify. The visible sign of bread signifies Jesus as our true food: “For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed.” (John 6:55). But the bread doesn’t just signify Jesus: it becomes Jesus. Therefore, Paul’s description of the Eucharist as “bread” doesn’t negate Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist.
Furthermore, three times in 1 Corinthians 11:27-30 Paul uses language that shows he believes the Eucharist is literally Jesus and not a mere symbol.
The “guilt of blood”
The first example is Paul’s use of homicidal language in his instruction on receiving the Eucharist worthily:
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. (v.27).
The Greek text—enochos estai tou somatos kai tou haimatos tou kyriou—translates “will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.”
The phrase “guilty of blood” is a figure of speech that connotes murder. This language appears in the Old Testament, when God pronounces judgment on the inhabitants of Mount Seir (Edom): "Therefore as I live, saith the Lord God, I will deliver thee up to blood, and blood shall pursue thee: and whereas thou hast hated blood, blood shall pursue thee." In other words, "you are guilty of blood, therefore blood shall pursue you” (Ezekiel 35:6). In Numbers 35:27 the phrase is also used, but in the negative for those who are not guilty of murder. In the New Testament, Pontius Pilate declares himself “innocent” of Jesus’ blood (Matthew 27:24), meaning he is not guilty of murder. We even use this language today when we say someone has “blood on his hands.”
To incur the “guilt of blood” the victim has to be present. If someone fires a gun at a picture of the president of the United States, that person wouldn’t be guilty of the president’s blood. He would only be attacking a symbol. But if that person assassinates the president, then that person would be guilty of the president’s blood.
Paul says that we’re guilty of Jesus’ blood if we partake of the Eucharist unworthily. The only way to make sense of this belief is that Paul believed the Eucharist is literally Jesus.
Eternal and temporal consequences
Paul taught that eating the Eucharist unworthily has both eternal and temporal consequences, and these constitute our second example.
Regarding the eternal consequences, he writes, “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.” (v.29). Elsewhere Paul uses the Greek word for “judgment,” krima, to connote damnation:
“Having damnation [Greek: krima] because they have made void their first faith” (1 Timothy 5:12).
“Therefore he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God.And they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation [Greek: krima]” (Romans 13:2).
Regarding the temporal consequences, he writes, “Therefore are there many infirm and weak among you, and many sleep.” (1 Corinthians 11:30).
Why would Paul believe that sickness, death, and damnation result from an unworthy reception of the Eucharist if it were merely a symbol? Such consequences are unintelligible if the Eucharist is a mere symbol.
A peace offering of real flesh
The third example is the parallel Paul draws with the peace offering described in Leviticus:
If any one that is defiled shall eat of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace offerings, which is offered to the Lord, he shall be cut off from his people. (Leviticus 7:20).
Notice that both Leviticus and Paul speak of eating unworthily and incurring a severe consequence. But in Leviticus one eats the flesh of the offering and in Paul one eats the Eucharist.
Eat flesh of peace offering
Being cut off from God’s people
These parallels seem to suggest that Paul understands the Eucharist to be a real flesh offering just like the real flesh offering in Leviticus. For Paul, to partake of the Eucharist is to partake of the flesh of the true peace offering—namely, Jesus.
You can be assured that if Paul were here today they would see him in the Communion line approaching the altar to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.
[By Karlo Broussard- Karlo resides in Murrieta, CA with his wife and four children. This article was edited for use for Traditionalcatechism.com. You can view Karlo’s online videos at KarloBroussard.com. Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by Karlo Broussard at KarloBroussard.com are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the teaching of the true Catholic Church.]