Lector's Notes on the wedding and funeral reading from 1 Corinthians, chapter 13

What the lector should know about the reading from Saint Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13

First of all, which reading is it? How do you find it in the book? At a Catholic wedding, there are two possible readings from the New Testament's First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. In the lectionary (the large ceremonial book you'll be reading from), the second, which we discuss here, has index numbers [802] and 5.

At a funeral, you'll have to page through the lectionary to the section titled "Conferralof the Sacrament of Marriage" and find it under those index numbers. (Or just print the .pdf version at the link on the right, and put the printout in the book where you can find it.)

Who wrote this and to whom? Saul, a.k.a. Saint Paul, was the man who persecuted the early Christians until the day God knocked him off his horse. (Well, the bible doesn't mention a horse. The book called Acts of the Apostles just says that Paul, a very faithful Jew, was hastening to Damascus in order to give some grief to the Christians. A light from heaven suddenly shone around him, he fell, became blind, and heard the voice of Jesus asking, "Saul, Saul, why are persecuting me?" The horse image is from later artists.) Paul accepted Jesus with all his heart and soul, and became a vigorous missionary (after regaining his sight).

The Corinthians were Greeks, and their city, Corinth, was a seaport. As Greeks, they were used to vigorous discussions about philosophies and religions. The Greeks gave us Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and the beginnings of Western democracy. They were not in the habit of taking things for granted. They liked to challenge authority.

Since Corinth was a seaport, there were always a lot a sailors around, and people willing to entertain sailors, for a price. People were boisterous, and manners were a bit crude. They didn't have the sense of decorum we have about our weddings, funerals, or weekly worship gatherings.

So what about "Love is patient, love is kind...?" Some early Christian communities, including Corinth, enjoyed some interesting special powers given by the Holy Spirit, to build up the community. Some of them could prophesy, some teach and preach persuasively, some could even heal the sick. Many could speak in tongues and some could interpret the strange speech of those who spoke in tongues. Most modern Christians don't cultivate these spritual gifts very much any more, but you may have heard of them or witnessed their expression in Pentecostal churches and in charismatic prayer groups. In early Corinth, some were using these powers to get "one-up" on other members, to increase their own prestige and influence, rather than just to build up the community and glorify God.

Saint Paul has addressed these issues in chapter 12. He's told them to put first things first. He has given his famous teaching about the parts of the body, analogous to our individual contributions to the body of Christ. Then he says, "Now set your mind on the highest powers, higher than prophesying, higher than healing, higher than apostleship, higher than speaking in tongues. Set your mind on the power of love." He's implying that love, which every Christian can do, whether he or she can speak in tongues or heal the sick or not, is greater than any other capacity we might have.

So love is patient and kind, especially when compared to boastful, self-aggrandizing behavior. Love doesn't make you seek your own advantage, although having the power to heal the sick might tempt you to do so. You might be the kind of speaker that others want to hear, but if you don't live and speak with the love described here, you're just a tinny tambourine. That's what this passage is getting at.

Now how do you proclaim this? First of all, apply the lesson above to your task. You have talent as a public speaker, as the bride and groom recognized (or as did the grieving family members) when they asked you to be lector. You'll want to use your talent in love, to direct people's thoughts not to your own eloquence, but to the patient, forgiving love they've received from God and others, and that they're called to share. So resolve that, nervous though you may be, this lector service is not about you as much as it is about God asking and empowering people to love one another richly.

Then read the passage with authority. The original letter, after all, had the authority of Saint Paul, and he was correcting some serious problems in a community that wanted to be good Christians. Assume the same is true of the people you're addressing. They want to believe that they can exercise this kind of love, and they can count on others to want the same. So can you.

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Last update: January 6, 2011