Lesson 5
Part III: Problems in the Liturgical Assembly
Chapters 11-13

Lord God,
We understand that our liturgical worship is more than a ceremony that recalls the Last Supper. Help us to remember that the Eucharist is a participation in the three aspects of the one mystery that is the Real Presence, the Sacrifice, and Communion of Jesus Christ. As the Real Presence, the Eucharist is Christ abiding in His Church on earth today. As the Sacrifice, the Eucharist is the action of Christ our High Priest, continuing to communicating to His Kingdom of the Church the graces He merited at Calvary. As Communion, the Eucharist is Christ joining His glorified life to the faithful of His Church to enlighten and strengthen us by nourishing our souls for eternal life. Help us, Lord, to abide by St. Paul's instruction on the right receiving of the miracle that is the Eucharist. We know that we must receive the living Christ in a state of grace by discerning the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of the Savior. We pray in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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[In 1 Corinthians 11:2] The word head is used in two different senses here, since otherwise absurdity would result. The distance between Christ and man is far greater than between man and woman, on the one hand, or between Christ and God on the other, and is of a different kind. Christ and God are equal in substance but different in relationship, and the same applies to man and woman. But between God and Christ the Son on the one hand and man and woman on the other, there is a vast difference of substance as well as of relationship.
St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, 26.3


As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth. For, while the languages of the world are diverse, nevertheless, the authority of the tradition is one and the same.
St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.10.2


In the last chapter, Paul taught that every Christian is morally responsible not only for his own actions but also for the negative or positive influence his actions might have on others. It is the right use of Christian freedom expressed first negatively (10:32), and then positively as exemplified in Paul's life (10:33), and finally as grounded in Christ (11:1). All of our actions should give glory to God by living "in imitation of Christ." In this way, others who view our lives as sanctified to God may be encouraged to follow our example which may lead them to salvation.

Such small actions as wearing a cross or offering a prayer before meals in thanks for our food in a public place give a witness to others of our faith in Christ Jesus and our gratitude to God. St. Basil the Great (c. 330/357-379) commented on the importance of being thankful to God in our daily lives: "When you sit down to eat bread, do so thanking him for being so generous to you. If you drink wine, be mindful of him who has given it to you for your pleasure and as a relief in sickness. When you dress, thank him for his kindness in providing you with clothes. When you look at the sky and the beauty of the stars, throw yourself at God's feet and adore him who in his wisdom has arranged things in this way. Similarly, when the sun goes down and when it rises, when you are asleep or awake, give thanks to God, who created and arranged all things for your benefit, to have you know, love and praise the Creator" (Hom. in Julittam, martyrem).

In Part III of his letter (11:2-14:40), Paul turns his attention to proper conduct within the liturgical assembly of the faithful:

  1. He addresses the recommended proper attire (11:3-16).
  2. He discusses improper conduct concerning the sacred meal of the Eucharist (11:17-34).
  3. He advises on the proper use of spiritual gifts (12:1-14:40).

1 Corinthians 11:2 ~ Introduction to Problems in the Liturgical Assembly
2 I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions just as I handed them on to you.
This sentence serves as the introduction to this part of St. Paul's letter devoted to rules of conduct in the liturgical assembly of the faithful. Not everything the community does is wrong. Paul compliments them that they "hold fast" to the traditions Paul and other ministers taught them. The "traditions" Paul mentions are the oral teachings of Jesus Christ received by His Apostles and disciples that they passed on to new believers. These "traditions" are basic teachings and specific practices Paul taught the community. In 2 Thessalonians 2:15, Paul teaches: Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by oral statement of by a letter of ours. Keep in mind that the oral teaching "tradition" came before the Holy-Spirit-inspired written word of the New Testament Gospels and letters.

1 Corinthians 11:3-16 ~ Proper Head Attire for Men and Women
3 But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and a husband the head of his wife, and God the head of Christ. 4 Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head. 5 But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not have her head veiled, she may as well have her hair cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should wear a veil. 7 A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 nor was man created for woman, but woman for man; 10 for this reason a woman should have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Woman is not independent of man or man of woman in the Lord. 12 For just as a woman came from man, so man is born of woman; but all things are from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears his hair long it is a disgrace to him, 15 whereas if a woman has long hair it is her glory, because long hair has been given her for a covering? 16 But if anyone is inclined to be argumentative, we do not have such a custom, nor do the churches of God.

Keep in mind that Paul's teaching in this passage is influenced by what was considered proper for men and women in his times. In verses 2-6, Paul's point may be that one's external presentation at public worship is important because it reflects a person's inner disposition in regard to accepted customs. In verse 3, he uses a theological argument that supports the custom of modest, married women wearing a veil over their heads in public. Corinth was full of prostitutes who served in pagan temples and other sexually immoral people. It was the custom for all women of good reputation, whether Greek, or Roman, or Jewish to always wear veils on their heads in public. Women of immoral character like prostitutes did not wear veils, and lesbians were known to go uncovered or to have their hair closely cropped like men or shaved. Male transvestites wore veils like women and like male prostitutes wore their hair long like women. Apparently some Christian women, taking advantage of their new-found Christian liberty in Christ, were laying aside their veils, drawing the criticism of other members of the congregation for their lack of modesty.

Paul says: 3 But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and a husband the head of his wife, and God the head of Christ.
Paul is not undervaluing the dignity or equality of women as disciples of Christ who are called to holiness. Both men and women are equally ordained to Christ, the head, and through Christ to God Himself (see verse 11 and Gal 3:28). However, Paul's point is that women have a special mission to support their husbands as the head of their families as Christ is the "head" who supports the Church. In this role, a woman has the responsibility to present herself with modest dignity, according to the customs of the time, and a man has the same responsibility to present himself with dignity.

In verses 7-12, Paul alludes to the accounts of the creation of the first man and woman in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. Man and woman were created in the likeness of God not only individually but also in their relationship to each other because each was created for the other.

7 A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.
Paul is still writing about it being appropriate for a woman to veil her head. However, he says what is appropriate for a woman is not appropriate for a man. He must not veil his head like a woman or a transvestite.1

10 for this reason a woman should have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels.
Question: What does Paul suggest is another reason for a woman to dress modestly in the assembly of worship?
Answer: The presence of the heavenly host is another reason to maintain a dignified presentation in public worship.

Paul refers to the angels and their active role in every human activity, especially in offering worship. The covenant people of God on earth join in the liturgical praise and worship of God with angels in the heavenly Sanctuary, as described by St. John in the Book of Revelation (Rev Chapters 4-11).

In verses 13-16, Paul appeals to the customs of the times. Since in both Jewish and Greek culture it was customary for upright women to appear in public dressed modestly with their heads veiled, it is all the more reason for Christian women to dress according to the accepted norms for their own reputations and for the reputation of other Christian women. In the same way, men should also observe the accepted customs, for example, in the length of one's hair and the neatness of one's appearance and in not dressing like a woman (i.e., wearing a veil). In a city overrun with male prostitutes (who sported long hair) and female prostitutes (who went unveiled), the presentation of the Christian community, individually and collectively, was important.

1 Corinthians 11:17-22 ~ Abuses Concerning the Lord's Supper
17 In giving this instruction, I do not praise the fact that your meetings are doing more harm than good. 18 First of all, I hear that when you meet as a church there are divisions among you, and to a degree I believe it; 19 there have to be factions among you in order that also those who are approved among you may become known. 20 When you meet in one place, then, it is not to eat the Lord's supper, 21 for in eating, each on goes ahead with his own supper and one goes hungry while another gets drunk. 22 Do you not have houses in which you can eat and drink? Or do you show contempt for the Church of God and make those who have nothing feel ashamed? What can I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this matter I do not praise you.

In verses 17-22, Paul addresses a more serious problem that threatens the unity of the community. In imitation of the complete meal of the Passover victim that Jesus and His disciples ate before He offered Himself in the bread and the wine that became His Body and Blood, it was the custom in the early Church to share a meal before partaking of the Eucharist. St. Ignatius referred to the shared meal prior to the Eucharist as an "agape" meal/"love" meal (Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, 8.2).2

Question: Such meals were also seen as an opportunity to help feed the poor within the community. However, the letter Paul received from Chloe's people reports what abuses?
Answer: Instead of a meal in which everyone shared equally, they have been eating in groups in which the rich are not sharing their food but are eating and drinking to excess and accentuating the differences between the rich and the poor.

Paul's correction reflects his opinion that the Eucharist needs to stand alone from all other food as a sign of unity and charity. It is a custom the Church won't adopt until several centuries later.3

1 Corinthians 11:23-34 ~ The Tradition of the Eucharist
23 For I received from the Lord which I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, 24 and, after he had given thanks [eucharistesas], broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25 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." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. 27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning [diakrino] the body, eats and drinks judgment [krima] on himself. 30 That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. 31 If we discerned [diakrino] ourselves, we would not be under judgment; 32 but since we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. 33 Therefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that your meetings may not result in judgment [krima]. The other matters I shall set in order when I come. [...] = literal Greek, IBGE, vol. IV, page 470.

The celebration of the Eucharist is not a tradition they only received from Paul. The Lord Himself established the sacred meal, and Paul has only instructed them in its right practice as the tradition was passed on to him, probably by the Christians of Damascus after his conversion experience and later by the Apostles who first witnessed the gift of the Eucharist. The key word in verse 25 is to DO this in remembrance of Christ's sacrifice. The Eucharist is an active participation in the life of Christ.

23 For I received from the Lord which I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, 24 and, after he had given thanks [eucharistesas], broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me."
The Greek word eucharistesas means "giving thanks," from the Greek word eucharistia: eu = good and charizesthai = to show favor, meaning "thanksgiving." It has the same meaning as the Hebrew word todah which also means "thanksgiving." Todah is the Hebrew word that designated the communion sacrifice and sacred meal that reestablished peace with God and was consumed in the presence of God in the Temple (Lev 7:11-21; Mishnah Zebahim, 7:3). It was a tradition among the Jews that when the Messiah came, all sacrifices would cease and only the Todah would remain (Levine, JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus, page 43; Joseph Ratzinger, Feast of Faith, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1986, pages 58-59). It was a prediction fulfilled in the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and the end of the daily Tamid liturgy in the summer of 70 AD. It is a prophecy fulfilled in Jesus Christ's continuing Todah of the New Covenant sacred communion meal that He instituted at the Last Supper and which Catholic Christians call the Eucharist ""the thanksgiving" of the Christ (Mt 26:26-29; Mk 14:22-25; Lk 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26).

25 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." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
Question: How the phrase "This cup is the new covenant in my blood" an echo of events in Exodus 24:8 and Jeremiah's prophecy in Jer 31:31-34?
Answer: At the ratification of the Sinai Covenant in Exodus 24:8, Moses took the blood of the sacrificial victim and sprinkled it on the people, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD [Yahweh] has made with you in accordance with all these words of his." There is a parallelism with the sacrifice's sealing and the ratification of the old Sinai Covenant and the Body and Blood of Christ sealing and ratifying the "new covenant" promised by the prophet Jeremiah and fulfilled in Jesus. The "blood of the covenant" affirms the sacrificial nature of Jesus' self-offering that brings salvation.

In both the ratification at Sinai and in the ratification of the New Covenant in Christ, the consecration is followed by a sacred meal. In Exodus 24:9-11, the people's representatives ate a meal in the presence of God, and in the Last Supper, the first members of the New Covenant Church ate a sacred meal in the presence of God the Son.

Question: What is the purpose of the separate consecration of the bread from the wine?
Answer: The separate consecration signifies the separation of the blood from the body of Christ in death, emphasizing the true sacrificial nature of the sacred meal of the Eucharist.

Paul's version of the words of institution in verses 23-25 is more than the account in Matthew and Mark but less than Luke's account. The words "Do this ... in remembrance of me" are not found in Matthew or Mark and only appear once in Luke 22:19. Paul has the phrase "in remembrance of me" twice in verses 24 and 25. He probably does this to emphasize that both species must be offered separately but consecrated together.

29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning [diakrino] the body, eats and drinks judgment [krima] on himself.
In this passage, there is a series of wordplays using the Greek words for judgment, krima [Strong's G2917] in 11:29, 34 and krino in the word diakrino [Strong's G1252] in 11:29 and 31. The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature gives two primary meanings for the word diakrino in verses 29 and 31:

  1. to differentiate or judge (active voice)
  2. to doubt or waver (middle or passive voice)

In 1 Corinthians 11:29 and 31 (diakrino Strong's G1252), Paul uses diakrino in the active voice. Therefore, he refers to judging or distinguishing in a sense of evaluation. In verse 31, notice that self-examination is contrasted with God's judgment (also see Strong's G1252 in 1 Cor 6:5 and 14:29; see the related word diakrisis, "judicial estimation," Strong's G1253 in 1 Cor 12:10 and Heb 5:14). For a comparison of diakrisis with other verses, see the use of the same word in the Septuagint translation in Deuteronomy 8:5-6; Proverbs 3:12; and Revelation 3:19.

What does Paul mean by discerning/recognizing or judging the "body"? There are two options for defining "body" in this verse:

  1. "Body" may indicate Christ's presence as in the body of Christ on the cross that is made present in the Eucharist.
  2. "Body" may indicate the body of believers as the Body of Christ.

However, Paul is clearly referring to what is consumed in the Eucharist when he warns: without discerning [diakrino] the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. Therefore, he must be speaking of judgment associated with not discerning the Real Presence of Christ in what is consumed. Keep in mind that the Body of Christ is fully present in both species.

Recognizing or discerning "the body" depends on recognizing two interrelated concepts applicable to the Eucharist and related to Christ's death on the cross:

  1. The reality of His Divine Presence in what was formerly bread and wine but is now transformed by the Holy Spirit into His Flesh and Blood as He promised in the Bread of Life Discourse (Jn 6:51-58) and announced at the Last Supper.
  2. The reality of Christ's atoning work in the gift of forgiveness of sin brought about by His unblemished sacrifice on the cross. It is the same sacrifice received by the community of believers to whom Christ gives Himself, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist.

27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup.
The judgment for receiving the Eucharistic Body and Blood of Christ is also connected to how one comes to the Eucharistic table. See CCC 1385.
Question: What is the necessary condition for receiving the Eucharist in addition to discerning the Body and Blood of Christ? See CCC 1415.
Answer: The believer must come in a state of grace, having done an examination of conscience and having determined that he/she is free of sin. If a person is conscious of a mortal sin, that person must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.

Venial sins confessed privately before Mass and publically acknowledged in the Penitential Rite are then forgiven in the Eucharist (CCC 1393, 1395, 1415-16, 1436, 1846).

Question: What judgment of God does a professed believer face for neither discerning the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and/or consuming Christ in a state of sin? See verses 27-31.
Answer: Such a person is profaning Christ and commits a sin against the Lord Himself. He is also eating and drinking to his or her eternal damnation.

Question: How often should one receive the Eucharist? See CCC 1389, 1417.
Answer: Every Catholic Christians should make an examination of conscience and prepare to receive the Eucharist whenever they participate in the celebration of the Mass. However, the Church obliges every member of the Catholic Church in good standing to receive the Eucharist at least once a year.

The Eucharist not only forgives venial sins and nourishes believers on their spiritual journey to salvation but also protects believers from temptation and the influence of Satan.

Question: In verses 30-32, what does Paul say is the cause of many of the illnesses and deaths among the Corinthians? See CCC 1509.
Answer: These are trials brought on by their abuses of the Eucharist.

See the warning in 1 Corinthians 8:12 concerning taking one's actions for granted in important elements of worship, When you sin in this way against your brothers and wound their consciences, weak as they are, you are sinning against Christ. Paul's point in verses 30-32 is that sacrilege and any other lack of reverence toward the Eucharist is a very serious sin with both temporal and eternal consequences. However, even God's judgment connected to such abuses demonstrates God's concern. It is always His desire to return erring Christians to right behavior in the family of the Church for the sake of their salvation and the good of the faith community as a whole.

Chapters 12: Spiritual Gifts

Paul's discussion of the spiritual gifts begins in Chapter 12 and continues into Chapter 14.
1 Corinthians 12:1-3 ~ Introduction to the Discussion
1 Now in regard to spiritual gifts [pneumatikon], brothers, I do not want you to be unaware. 2 You know how, when you were pagans, you were constantly attracted and led away to mute idols. 3 Therefore, I tell you that nobody speaking by the spirit of God says, "Jesus be accursed." And no one can say, "Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.

The Greek word pneumatika, "spiritual gifts" or "gifts of the Spirit" in 12:1 is virtually identical with Paul's use of the word charismata, "charisms" in 12:4. However, pneumatika emphasizes the source of the gifts in the Holy Spirit, while charismata focuses more on the gifts themselves. Paul is referring to those persons he mentioned in 2:15 who can judge spiritually, unlike the immature Christian in 3:1 who cannot.

brothers, I do not want you to be unaware. 2 You know how, when you were pagans, you were constantly attracted and led [led, led] away to mute idols.
Paul uses redundancy (led, led) in warning his Gentile converts who are newly liberated from paganism to avoid the temptation of being lured back to idol worship. Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture notes that the repeated verb suggests more than an unhealthy attraction but in secular literature was sometimes used for those being dragged away to execution (IBGE, vol. IV, page 471; Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, page 204).

Question: Paul's warning in verse 3 takes us back to which of the Ten Commandments? See Ex 20:7 and Dt 5:11 and what is the warning? What does it mean for someone to profess Jesus is God by using the divine title "Lord"? See CCC 449.
Answer: It is the second of the commandments and forbids using God's name improperly or without sufficient reverence. The warning is that God will punish such a sacrilegious offense. Anyone who professes the divinity of the Christ speaks with the conviction inspired by the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11 ~ The Variety and Unity of Spiritual Gifts
4 There are different kinds of spiritual gifts [charismata] but the same Spirit; 5 there are different forms of service but the same Lord; 6 there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 7 To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; 10 to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.

St. Paul's point is that God loves all of us and He gives His same Spirit of love to all members of His Church. At the same time God recognizes that we are all different, and His response to our differences is revealed in the different kinds of gifts of the Spirit that He gives us. To make his point, St. Paul names nine different kinds of spiritual gifts. Even though these are the "different workings" or ministries, it is the same God who produces those works in us to advance the Kingdom of the Church.

Grace is the first and greatest of the gifts of the Holy Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. Grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us in associating us with His work, to enable us to have a part in the salvation of others, and in the growth of the Body of Christ that is the Church (CCC 2003). The different kinds of graces:

  1. Sacramental graces that are gifts proper to the different Sacraments.
  2. Special graces or charisms, using the Greek term Paul uses meaning "favor," "gratuitous gift," "benefit," in 1 Corinthians 12:4.
  3. Graces of state that accompany the exercise of the responsibilities of Christian life and ministries within the Church.

Paul refers to what the Catechism calls the "graces of state" in verse 29 and in Romans 12:6-8; see CCC 2004.

Question: What are the 9 beneficial gifts of the Spirit that Paul lists in verses 7-10?


  1. Wisdom
  2. Knowledge
  3. Faith
  4. Healing
  5. Good deeds
  6. Prophecy
  7. Discerning spirits
  8. Speaking in tongues
  9. Interpretation of tongues

Prophecy is often thought of as predicting future events. However, the Biblical meaning, expressed by the Hebrew word hozeh (Strong's H2374), and propheteia (Strong's G4397) in the Greek is more general. It can refer to a vision or an interpreted revelation; for example, discerning the meaning of Sacred Scripture. Discerning Sacred Scripture is the meaning St. Peter uses when he wrote, ... we must recognize that the interpretation of Scriptural prophecy is never a matter for the individual. For no prophecy ever came from human initiative. When people spoke for God it was the Holy Spirit that moved them (2 Pt 1:20-21). Peter's point is that the Church has the power and authority to interpret the intent of God's meaning in Sacred Scripture and not the interpretation of the individual. The Church never interprets Scripture out of context of the verse, the book, or the Bible as a whole. There must be a continuity and agreement of interpretation.4

"Speaking in tongues" refers to the gift of utterance that can be an unknown "heavenly" language or "angelic tongue" (13:1) for prayer and praise or a known language the person receiving the gift didn't have previously. It was a gift that was present in the early Church and which Paul possessed (14:18), but the legitimate manifestation of the gift is relatively unknown in the Church today. The value of "tongues" to the community is when the heavenly message of prophecy can be interpreted by someone for the benefit of the faithful. Paul will address the benefits and abuses of this gift in Chapter 14.

11 But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.

Question: There are many kinds of spiritual charismata, gifts, but what features do they have in common despite their diversity?


  1. There is only one Spirit who gives them.
  2. They are all gifts of grace that come from outside ourselves.
  3. All the gifts are forms of service meant to build up the Body of Christ that is the Church.

1 Corinthians 12:12-26 ~ One Body, Many Parts
12 As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. 14 Now the body is not a single part, but many. 15 If a foot should say, "Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body," it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. 16 Or if an ear should say, "Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body," it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? 17 If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand "I do not need you," nor again the head to the feet, "I do not need you." 22 Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, 23 and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety, 24 whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. 26 If one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.

In verses 12-26, Paul introduces the image of a single body with its different members/parts to explain the relationship between Christ and believers. Then in verse 13, he applies this model to the unity of the Church with her many members. In verses 14-26, Paul teaches that each individual member of the Body of the Church has a different role in the functioning of the Body. Like the different parts of a human body, the functioning of each part of the body is important to the healthy and well-being of the whole body or the person just as each believer's role or function is important to the health and well-being of the Body of the Church.

Question: How is it that the many members of the community of believers of different origins, social status, and languages are incorporated into the one Body of Christ that is the Church?
Answer: It is an integration from many into One that takes place by the work of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Baptism.

1 Corinthians 12:27-31a ~ Application to Christ
27 Now you are Christ's body, and individually parts of it. 28 Some people God has designated in the Church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third teachers; then, mighty deeds; then gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work mighty deeds? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. But I shall show you a still more excellent way.

In verse 29, Paul addresses the spiritual gifts of state present in:

  1. Apostles (leadership)
  2. Prophets
  3. Teachers
  4. Givers of assistance
  5. Administrators

And he repeats the spiritual gifts of deeds, healing, speaking in tongues and interpreting tongues from verses 9-10.

31 Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. 31 But I shall show you a still more excellent way.

The greatest spiritual gifts are probably those he lists as first, second, and third in verse 28: first, apostles; second, prophets; third teachers... Apostleship comes first but like prophets and teachers it is a "grace of state" that contains not only a call to divine service but requires many of the other gifts to be effective.

But above even these comes "love;" love is Paul's theme in the next chapter.

Chapter 13: The Way of Love

1 Corinthians 13:1-13:3 ~ The Necessity of Love
13:1 If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. 2 And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Some Christians in the church at Corinth seem to have given certain spiritual gifts undue importance which was causing some tensions in the community. Paul began with a list of spiritual gifts in Chapter 12. Highest on Paul's scale of spiritual gifts is apostleship and lowest on the scale, he will write in Chapter 14, is speaking in tongues. The focus of the discourse in Chapter 13 is to contrast the spiritual gifts with the enduring value that gives them their purpose and effectiveness "love. All the spiritual gifts are ineffective if they are not generated by the love of God flowing through us to others.

St. Paul did not approve of the community's use of spiritual gifts because their attitude did not contribute to the building up of the Body of Christ that is the Church. Instead, St. Paul urged the Christian community at Corinth to put a greater value on the spiritual gifts that contribute to the growth and mission of the Church. In 12:31b, he writes that he will give them more direction concerning works of charity "love in action "that is the greater gift for building up the Body of Christ.

In Chapter 13:1-13, St. Paul preaches a wonderful hymn to charity/love that is one of the most beautiful passages in St. Paul's epistles. He begins by singing the praises of love as seen from three points of view:

  1. The superiority of the gift of love and its absolute necessity (verses 1-3).
  2. The features of the gift of love in action in its practical application (verses 4-7).
  3. The promise that love endures forever (verses 8-13).

Paul teaches that charity that is the application of love in deeds of kindness to others is such an excellent gift that without it all the other spiritual gifts are empty of meaning (verses 1-3). He mentions that those other gifts will appear to be the most exceptional "like the gift of speaking in a heavenly or prophetic language (speaking in "tongues"), the gift of knowledge in interpreting such utterances, the gift of prophecy, and their relationship of these various gifts to each other. However, he says that all these seemingly marvelous works mean nothing if not founded in love. Without love the gift of tongues is only so much noise. Love has to be the motivation for both words and deeds.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a ~ The More Perfect Way of Love
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated, 5 it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, 6 it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails.

Paul defines "love" by what it does and by what it does not do. The Greek text contains fifteen verbs that are usually translated as adjectives in English. This is probably one of the most beloved and frequently quoted passages written by St. Paul. Paul writes that love is the origin of all virtues in verses 4-7. He starts with two positive traits of love, then he lists eight failures before returning with five positive traits.

What love is What love isn't
patient jealous
kind pompous/boastful
rejoices in truth inflated
bears all rude
believes self-interested
hopes quick-tempered
endures hold on to injuries real or imagined
never fails/never ends rejoice over wrongdoing

Question: Who is it in salvation history who demonstrated all the positive traits of love?
Answer: Jesus Christ whose self-sacrifice on the altar of the cross was an act of love.

1 Corinthians 13:8b-13 ~ Love Lasts Forever

If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. 9 For we know partially and we prophesy partially, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. 12 As present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. 13 So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

All of our wisdom and knowledge of God in this life is fragmentary and fleeting. The perfect vision awaits us in the Second Advent of Christ when the prefect will banish the partial. Paul introduces two examples of the partial and the perfect:

·     The first example is the comparison between a child and an adult (verse 11).

·     The second example is a mirror that casts an imperfect image. In the 1st century AD, mirrors were made of polished bronze or silver and produced a foggy or somewhat distorted image (verse 12).

Paul used the example of a child to contrast immature and mature Christians in 3:2. Now he uses the image of a child to contrast the present life with the future life of glory. As children learn and mature they care less for childish things and more for adult things in the way a Christian learns to embrace the spiritual charisms over material things. He speaks of the need for Christian maturity in the Christian's growth from a little child in Christ with only a little understanding to a mature servant of the Lord. Yet, Paul writes, in this earthly reality we can only have a partial vision of what is to come. He says that knowledge that leads to maturity cannot be separated from faith and acquires it full meaning in the Christian who lives by the virtues of faith, hope and love. But, Paul says, the greatest of these virtues is love because it has the supreme role in Christian life. This supreme role of love comes from Jesus' command that we must love each other as He has loved us in order to abide in His love as He told His disciples in His homily at the Last Supper in John 15:9-19.

At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. 13 So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

In the present, we continue in partial knowledge. The day will come, however, when we will no longer need these spiritual gifts when we are raised with Christ in glory. In the meantime, we struggle to understand what plans God has for us. We have a distorted or partial view of those plans like someone looking in a mirror. We only see a reflection and not a true image. It is in the beatific vision of the resurrected Christ, when we see Him face to face, that we will clearly see what wonders God planned for us. When Christ comes we will fully know Christ as He fully knows us now. Until then, we have faith, hope, and love to sustain us, but the greatest of these three theological virtues is love (CCC 1813, 1826, 1841 and 1 Thes 1:3).

Paul says that love is the supreme Christian virtue because it projects the love of Christ beyond this material world and into the age to come. Love has an eternal value, and it is the reason why the Christian will "know fully" and be "fully known" by God. Faith and hope will pass away and will be replaced by fulfillment when we pass from this world into the eternity of the next. It is only eschatological love that will remain forever with us in the heavenly Kingdom.

All the finest of human virtues are rooted in the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love. They relate directly to God, disposing Christians, as children of God, to live in a relationship with the Most Holy Trinity. "The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being. There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity" (CCC 1813). Charity is defined as "love in action."

Questions for reflection or group discussion:

How does the immodest way a Christian dresses or the scandalous public actions of a member of your faith community reflect upon the community or the Church as a whole? What good is achieved through modest dress and behavior? What harm is done through immodest dress and bad behavior like abusing the Lord's name by using the name "Jesus" or "God" as an exclamation or a curse? How do such actions as cursing the name of God in violating the second of the Ten Commandments actually become a self-curse against the individual who makes the offense? Is ignorance an excuse? See CCC 2141.


1. What about the practice of Jews in wearing a kippah skullcap on their heads (yarmulke in Yiddish)? Paul is only writing about a man adopting woman's attire in wearing a veil, however, the Jewish custom of wearing a head covering has no Biblical basis, nor is a requirement for it found in the Jewish Talmud. Orthodox Jews wear kippot at all times while Conservative Jews only wear it in religious contexts, and Reform Jews rarely wear it. Wearing a kippah did not acquire mandatory status for Orthodox Jews until the writing of the Shulchan Arukh in the 16th century AD.

2. Apostolic Father St. Ignatius of Antioch, a hearer of St. John the Apostle, was the third bishop of Antioch, Syria, succeeding St. Evodius who was the immediate successor of St. Peter at Antioch. In about 107 AD, St. Ignatius wrote: "You must follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery as you would the Apostles. Reverence the deacons as you would the command of God. Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop, or by one whom he appoints. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. Nor is it permitted without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate the agape; but whatever he approve, this too is pleasing to God, so that whatever is done will be secure and valid" (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 8.1). The agape meal is also mentioned in the Church's first catechism in Didache 10.

3. The substantial agape (love) meal and its connection to the Eucharist seems to have ceased by the time of St. Cyprian (died 258) when it became the practice to celebrate the Eucharist after a fast in the morning and the agape meal in the evening. The Council of Laodicea (363-64) forbade the use of churches for celebrating the agape feast and the agape meal slowly fell into disuse.

4. For example, the Protestant doctrine of "faith alone" is not Scriptural. As a matter of fact, Scripture clearly refutes that false doctrine. Those words only appear in one place in Holy Spirit inspired Scripture in James 2:24, See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2017 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this lesson
(* indicated that Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the catechism citation):
1 Cor 11:2 CCC 75-79, 80-83, 95, 97, 113, 120, 126, 174, 1124 1 Cor 12:4-6 CCC 249*
1 Cor 11:17-34 CCC 1329* 1 Cor 12:6 CCC 308*
1 Cor 11:17 CCC 2178* 1 Cor 12:7 CCC 801, 951
1 Cor 11:18 CCC 752* 1 Cor 12:9 CCC 1508*
1 Cor 11:20 CCC 1329* 1 Cor 12:13 CCC 694, 790*, 798*, 1227*, 1267, 1396*
1 Cor 11:23-26 CCC 1339* 1 Cor 12:26-27 CCC 953
1 Cor 11:23 CCC 610, 1366 1 Cor 12:26 CCC 1469*
1 Cor 11:24-25 CCC 1356 1 Cor 12:27 CCC 1265*
1 Cor 11:24 CCC 1328, 1329* 1 Cor 12:28 CCC 1508*
1 Cor 11:25 CCC 611, 613 1 Cor 12:30 CCC 1508*
1 Cor 11:26 CCC 671*, 1076, 1130, 2776 1 Cor 13 CCC 735*, 800*
1 Cor 11:27-29 CCC 1385 1 Cor 13:1-4 CCC 1826
1 Cor 11:30 CCC 1509* 1 Cor 13:4-7 CCC 1825
1 Cor 12 CCC 1988*, 2003* 1 Cor 13:5 CCC 953
1 Cor 12:1-13 CCC 1454*, 1971* 1 Cor 13:8 CCC 773
1 Cor 12:3 CCC 152, 449*, 455, 683, 2670, 2681 1 Cor 13:12 CCC 163, 164, 314, 1023*, 1720*, 2519*
1 Cor 13:13 CCC 1813*, 1826, 1641*