3rd Sunday of Easter – The Eucharist Builds the Church

Walk to Emmaus, Frank Wesley
from Art in the Christian Tradition. Source: Estate of Frank Wesley

But they urged [Jesus], “Stay with us,
for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”
So he went in to stay with them.
And it happened that, while he was with them at table,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, and gave it to them.
With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him,
but he vanished from their sight.
Then they said to each other,
“Were not our hearts burning within us
while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”
(Luke 24:30–32)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on Church Fathers’ Teachings
Third Sunday of Easter
St. Clement of Rome: Letter to the Corinthians
April 23, 2023

In 2019. the Pew Research Center published a survey which indicated that only 31 percent of American Catholics believed that the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus at Mass.

Like all surveys, this is open to many interpretations but nonetheless reveals that Catholics do not know what the church teaches about the Eucharist. The American Bishops responded by promoting a nationwide Eucharistic revival. We will be participating in this on June 11th with a deanery celebration of Mass (see the announcement in this week’s parish email).

Anything which encourages a greater love of the Eucharist is to be embraced and I hope that St. Charles’ participation will be robust. There has been much material produced for the revival, some of it very good. The church’s teaching on the Eucharist is too broad and deep to be easily transmitted and I will spend the weeks before June 11th reviewing aspects of our Eucharistic beliefs and practices which have not been generally emphasized. Most of these insights will be from the Church Fathers. These are the great theologians from the 1st to the 6th centuries from both the East and Western churches. Their great value is that they will teach not only what we believe but how that belief should change our lives and that of our communities.

We will begin this week with St. Clement of Rome’s “Letter to the Corinthians.” We have encountered the Corinthians before in the letters of St. Paul. Like most of the cities Paul evangelized, Corinth was a trading center which attracted many kinds of people. The church may have begun with a strong Jewish base but had added many gentiles. They were enthusiastic but as they did not have sufficient formation in Judaism, they revealed ill-founded assumptions. We saw this in their ideas about morality, the afterlife, and worship. There was also the underlying class assumption that the upper classes were to lead in every area even religion. This was held even by many of the “lower” classes.

Paul was able to mend many divisions in the Corinthian church but the belief that human social position should determine who had positions of authority in the church remained. We see this in Clement’s letter written about 97 AD. Clement is often considered to be the 4th Bishop of Rome and thus Pope. This is at best imprecise. The Roman church was governed by a group. These may or may not have been all ordained. Clement functioned either as the chairman of the board or its corresponding secretary. In any event, he could speak for the entire church.

We do not know if the Corinthian church wrote to the Roman church for advice or if the Roman church wrote directly to them because of rumors they had heard about its situation.

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