Today’s first Mass reading, from the first Letter to the Corinthians, gives us St. Paul’s account of the institution of the Eucharist.
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my Body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup 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 cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
Just as St. John’s Gospel gives content to the meaning of “Do this in memory of me,” by including the description of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, the context of Paul’s account of the instituion of the Eucharist also helps us to understand what we are asked to do in Jesus’ memory.
Immediately preceding the passage I just quoted, St. Paul comments on the fact that what, from what he has heard, the meetings of the Christian community in Corinth are doing more harm than good. He tells them that while they might think they are meeting “to eat the Lord’s supper,” they are doing no such thing. Rather, when they gather together, “each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk.” If that is what they are going to do, he suggests, they might as well stay home rather than “show contempt for the Church of God and make those who have nothing feel ashamed.” It is immediately after that criticism that Paul recounts Christ’s actions at the Last Supper, after which he tells the Corinthians, “when you come together to eat, wait for one another.”
Paul’s message is clear. “Do this in remembrance of me” means more than eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood. It means making sure all of our brothers and sisters are fed. If we fail to take care of those in need, our receipt of the Eucharist is no less an act of “contempt for the Church of God” than the actions of the Corinthians.