Spiritual Gifts in the Eucharist

Sacrament & Charismata

1 Corinthians is a liturgical text. In particular Paul deals with issues relating to worship in both the Eucharist and the use of spiritual gifts. Within the letter itself there is a progression, exploring the nature of the church, leadership, marriage, the Eucharist, the spiritual gifts, and looking forward to the general resurrection.

Within this progression Paul counters idol worship and sacrifice with the Eucharist: a more real presence and a more real sacrifice
We give thanks for the cup at the Lord’s Supper. When we do, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? When we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ? Just as there is one loaf, so we who are many are one body. We all share the one loaf. Think about the people of Israel. Don’t those who eat the offerings share in the altar?
1 Corinthians 10:16-18 (NIRV)
Paul then moves on to discuss the use of spiritual gifts
To some people the Spirit gives a message of wisdom. To others the same Spirit gives a message of knowledge. To others the same Spirit gives faith. To others that one Spirit gives gifts of healing. To others he gives the power to do miracles. To others he gives the ability to prophesy. To others he gives the ability to tell the spirits apart. To others he gives the ability to speak in different kinds of languages they had not known before. And to still others he gives the ability to explain what was said in those languages. All the gifts are produced by one and the same Spirit. He gives gifts to each person, just as he decides.
1 Corinthians 12:8-11 (NIRV) 

Ancient Patterns

One suggestion is that in flowing from Eucharist to spiritual gifts Paul is following the practice of the primitive church. That first The Offering would be made, the body and blood shared, and then gifts of the spirit would be brought in response. This follows a wider pattern throughout the scriptures of the glory of God being manifest in response to the offering of sacrifice. I find this argument compelling in application: sacramental charismatic worship often follows this pattern. However I also see within these gifts of the Spirit a devotional pattern which reflects the movement found in contemporary Eucharistic worship.

Contemporary Views

Firstly we should reflect on the nature of spiritual gifts. "They are produced by one and the same Spirit, and the Spirit gives gifts to each person." This makes spiritual gifts universal in the Christian family, whether they are acknowledged or not. In the last 200 years there has been a movement in understanding of spiritual gifts and charismatic renewal. It can be summarised as:
  1. The gifts are for particular and special individuals (Medieval Catholic+)
  2. The gifts follow a particular Baptism of the Holy Spirit (Pentecostal+)
  3. The gifts are dormant and need to be released (Third Wave Charismatic+)
  4. The gifts are (always) active and need to be recognised
There is truth in the first 3 suggestions. Some particular individuals throughout history have exhibited extraordinary gifts, especially the Saints. Although the Holy Spirit is received in fullness at Baptism subsequent experiences enable and release that filling. But it is the fourth suggestion that the gifts are already active in the church whether we full recognise them or not that both reflects Paul's teaching, and enables people to grow into the fulness of the gifts. The fourth view changes spiritual gifts from something that some have and others long for (or resent) into charisms that we all exhibit but need to grow in and recognise in others. It is confirmed by Paul's immediate teaching on the church as a body:
There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ. We were all baptized by one Holy Spirit. And so we are formed into one body. It didn’t matter whether we were Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free people. We were all given the same Spirit to drink. So the body is not made up of just one part. It has many parts.
1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (NIRV)
If we are part of the body then we have been given spiritual gifts and we will exercise them. The reverse reading that somehow Christ's body has parts that do not work makes little sense: the charismatic gifts are universal.

Charismata as Sacramentals

Paul's list of gifts in 1 Corinthians is best read as representative rather than exhaustive, elsewhere he mixes spiritual gifts with ministry roles and orders. In Ephesians 4 he outlines the 3 orders of the church as they developed. The Episcopal (Apostles), the Deaconal (Prophets & Evangelists) and the Presbyterial (Pastors & Teachers). We understand these orders as sacramental; containing both a natural and supernatural element. In the same way the spiritual and the natural come together in the 1 Corinthians gifts distributed to all.

It is then a mistake to view the gifts as purely supernatural. In many cases the supernatural quickens and works through natural action and ability, just as happens in Baptism, the Eucharist and Ordination. Combined with the assurance that the gifts operate in the church universally this brings the sacramental and the charismatic into the same sphere. In both there is a fulness of encounter and experience we can grow into, combined with the assuredness of God's grace despite our own limitations.

Eucharistic Reflection on the Gifts

Although it is impossible to say that the strict pattern of modern Eucharistic worship follows that of the primitive church it is based on surviving liturgies. The book of Revelation follows a structure that aligns with those liturgies, and evidence is found in texts from the late C1st and early C2nd. Equally we cannot assert that Paul intended a liturgical structure within the list of gifts. However we can devotionally reflect on the gifts within the structure of our modern Eucharist.

The Message of Wisdom

Wisdom is an aspect of God that runs throughout the Old Testament. Proverbs teaches that 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom' (Proverbs 9:10). Paul would have been aware of this wisdom tradition, and especially the Wisdom of Solomon, written 50 years before the birth of Christ
With you is wisdom, she who knows your works
and was present when you made the world;
she understands what is pleasing in your sight
and what is right according to your commandments.
Send her forth from the holy heavens,
and from the throne of your glory send her,
that she may labour at my side,
and that I may learn what is pleasing to you.
Wisdom of Solomon 9:9-10 (NRSV)
Philo, used the Greek term logos, "word," for Wisdom. The Gospel of John adopted this term - The Word (Logos) of God the Father. In Orthodox theology Holy Wisdom is understood as the Divine Logos who became incarnate as Jesus Christ (*). It might be strange to think of Christ as Wisdom when Wisdom is so clearly female. But in Christ 'there is no male or female' (Galatians 3:28) and there is no indication that any of us will retain our gender in the resurrection, rather gaining anything we lack in our earthly gendered self.

The spiritual gifts begin with Christ, Holy Wisdom, who is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 10:4). The message of wisdom is one of reconciliation and humility, it reveals sin and brokenness and brings the good news of God's reconciling love in Christ. The Eucharist begins with us seeking the same, privately, through the sacrament of reconciliation, and in the liturgy of penance. As we gather to worship we should ask for the gift of wisdom that we too may know what is pleasing to God. Here is a time where God speaks to us of his reconciling love for ourselves and for others. There is no reason that at this point in the service such gentle words should not be shared.

The Message of Knowledge

The word knowledge is closely related to wisdom. The Greek is gnosis which we normally associate with the Gnostics, later sub-christian groups who believed they had received hidden knowledge. Historic Christianity sees knowledge as revealed in the 73 books of the bible (with some variations!) and in 'The Tradition', those beliefs passed down through the generations like the creeds, the trinity and the liturgy of the church.

In popular use a 'Word of Knowledge' is understood to mean knowledge or insight into a particular situation. Although that certainly happens such a process of revealing and responding would be more accurately described as a message of wisdom. The message of knowledge is rooted in the revealed word of God, rather than the active word of God in the work of Jesus Christ.

In the Eucharist the scripture is read out loud and proclaimed. The message of knowledge comes in the hearing of words of life and in their expounding in the sermon and creed. There is a particular way of listening to scripture in which we ask God to impress upon us particular words and phrases, for ourselves, for others and for our community. As we listen to the word of God in the Eucharist we should be attentive to how God is speaking to us and those around us. The creed is itself a message of knowledge discerned by the church and proclaimed throughout the world.


All Christians have a gift of faith, the grace by which we are saved. But faith does not end with the process of being saved, it is a gift that is applied throughout our christian lives. Paul makes faith an active gift of the Spirit rather than a singular occurrence. The gift of faith may be found in struggle, difficulty and in making significant steps forward. It is not a personal force of belief, the discipline of faith, but rather a divine gift that enables us to go beyond what we naturally ask or imagine. Those moments when we pray, act or commit in a way that surprises us.

As holy wisdom and knowledge overlap, so does faith. Faith comes by 'hearing the word of God' (Romans 10:17) and that word expounded. The gift of faith carries us through the creed, and into a response of confident prayer and intercession. The gift of faith gives us confidence that God acts and intervenes in the world, and calls us to participate in that action.


The gift of healing has been active throughout the history of the church. Catholics and many protestants share the belief that God heals people in body and mind 'so that God’s power can be shown' (John 9:3). It is a mistake to think that God sometimes 'doesn't heal', as all prayers for healing will be answered completely in the new creation described in the book of Revelation. The gift of healing operating in this age is a demonstration of a greater reality that is yet to come. Just as there was meaning in each of Christ's miracles we should be attentive to the meaning of healings we experience now, whilst secure in the knowledge that we shall all pass through death and be fully healed in the age to come, unless Jesus returns.

In the Eucharist, enlivened by the gift of faith we offer prayers and intercessions for the healing of individuals, nations and situations of brokenness. In the Peace we share Christ's healing presence, rather than just sharing a human wish of good will. In the liturgy of the Eucharist itself we enter into full communion with the healing Christ. It is common to offer prayer for healing with anointing after individuals have received His presence in bread and wine, a consummation of prayer offered and peace shared. Although it is always appropriate to offer healing prayer after the service placing it within the sharing of Christ's body and bloods affirms that it is Christ who heals.


Miracles are by their definition extra-ordinary. And yet they happen using elements of creation. Jesus calmed a storm, fed a crowd with little, produced remarkable catches of fish, and walked on water. The gift of miracles within the church may at first seem rare, and yet it is present in those small but unlikely coincidences that we experience as Christians and in the deep presence of God in worship. Jesus' miracles were strange, and the more significant miracles we encounter today may at first seem strange to us. As with healing Christ's miracles came with deeper meanings, and our response to contemporary miracles should be to ask what is God doing and saying.

One miracle is central to the Christian faith, the Eucharist itself. In The Offering we are taken back to the last supper, through the passion to the death of Christ for the sins of the world. This is most clearly seen in John's Gospel between Jesus taking bread with his disciples and drinking wine on the cross in his last moments. In the Offering we encounter the risen Christ who shows us his wounds in our unbelief, just as the disciples met with Christ as they gathered in the upper room. In the Offering we are empowered by the Holy Spirit as the first christians were empowered on the day of Pentecost in the same upper room. In The Offering earth is taken to heaven and heaven is brought to earth as described in the liturgy of Revelation. In The Offering we have a foretaste of the wedding banquet of the lamb, as Revelation describes the joyous celebration of a new heaven and earth. In the Offering Christ is fully present in bread and wine, and we are commanded to eat and drink. In embracing the miracle of the sacrament we open ourselves to the gift of miracles in our lives.


But after you are filled, give thanks this way ... But permit the prophets to make Thanksgiving as much as they desire.
The Didache C1st
After The Offering was made the early church gave thanks. The role of prophecy is not to for-tell, but to tell forth, to represent the words of our hearts to God and to listen to God's voice for us. This may be expressed musically, creatively and artistically, in pictures given as well a spoken. The prophetic does not always begin with 'thus says the Lord'! In contemporary liturgy we do not always make space to respond to the presence of God in the Eucharist. A couple of hymns might be sung, and a prayer, and then ... the notices, which may or may not be prophetic.

In the old covenant however after the sacrifice had been made the temple was filled with the glory of God:
The priests then withdrew from the Holy Place ... The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: "He is good; his love endures forever." Then the temple of the LORD was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God.
2 Chronicles 5
The liturgy of the sacrament should come with the expectation that the Holy Spirit will speak to and through God's people. Space should be made for 'The Prophets' to give thanks and expectation grow that we would encounter the Glory of God, which is the direction Paul's list of gifts now takes.

Telling Spirits Apart

When we make space for God to meet us through the Holy Spirit discernment is required. We should not expect negative spirits, but different expressions of the Spirit of God
for God gave us a spirit (not of fear but) of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)
There is a role for the leaders of the church to weigh and reflect on what is being shared and said. To recognize the moving of the Spirit, to bring together different words and pictures, seeing emerging themes. Of course sometimes there are negative things that need to be discerned and a response made. And sometimes people need to be reassured that as the fruit of the Spirit reveals itself in unusual ways that the space is safe and covered. As covered in the guidelines for prayer ministry:
  • When overwhelmed with God's love people may cry. 
  • When overwhelmed with God's joy we may laugh. 
  • When overwhelmed with God's peace we may relax entirely and fall.
In Ephesians 4:11 Paul outlines the development of early church ministry. Firstly the Apostolic, then the Deaconal, and then the appointment of Presbyters.
  • The Apostles, representatives of our High Priest, Bishops.
  • The Prophets and Evangelists, those who stand in the gap, Deacons (Lay & Ordained in the CofE).
  • The Pastor-Teachers, who exercise the Apostolic ministry locally - Priests.
This not a hierarchy but rather a sandwich - Priests at the Eucharist are required to act in place of the Bishop - Apostolically, providing oversight, covering, and with expectancy that heaven would be open through the sacrament. It is this that Priests offer in the blessing at the end of our worship. 

Tongues & Interpretation

In Charismatic practice tongues are experienced in a number of ways.
  • As private prayer language, spoken and sung.
  • As public prayer with interpretation.
  • As an earthly language not known to the speaker but known to others.
In Corinthians Paul wrestles with the gift of tongues in public worship :
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
1 Corinthians 13:1 (NIV)
Tongues of Angels can certainly be a response to the presence of God. In the Eucharist we join with Saints and Angels as we enter the worship of heaven, singing 'Spiritual Songs'  (Eph 5:19).

Yet Tongues also move us from worship to mission. In 1 Corinthians 14:22 Paul defines Tongues as a 'sign for unbelievers', and at the end of our worship we are sent out with the message of salvation for the world.


Introducing this model of the gifts into a typical Parish Eucharist is probably unrealistic. But there is no reason that such a pattern could not be taught and sought in specific special events. It knits together the liturgical and charismatic life of the church enriching the life of those God has called to live in Spirit and Truth.


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