Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Common Cup

I've recently received a request to consider offering communion with two chalices; with one being designated for intinction only. The concern is that we do everything possible to limit the spread of illness during the flu season, due to the shortage of vaccinations.

Personally, I don't care for intinction. Never have. Most likely never will. If you have ever served the chalice, and watched how many of the children dip their fingers as well as the host into the wine, you probably don't care for it either. There's little doubt in my mind that fingers carry more germs than the lips, plus the fact that intinction does not allow the chalice to be wiped with a purificator (which, if done properly, eliminates 90% of any potential germs). In one place where I served I instructed the chalice bearers to do the intinction, and place the sacrament on the person's tongue. This stopped the finger dipping, but opened the possibility for the chalice bearer to inadvertently touch the tongue; a less than sanitary solution.

I understand the concern, even if I find it to be an over reaction. Fifteen years ago, while a seminarian at St. James, Milwaukee, I met with a gentleman with whom I had a casual friendship for coffee one morning. He told me that his roommate was dying of AIDS. We talked for over an hour. I invited him to the noon Eucharist. We went forward together to receive, and knelt side by side at the altar rail. At that time, I knew very little about AIDS. As the priest approached us, I suddenly realized that I would receive the chalice after my friend. I didn't know how this disease was transmitted. I considered not receiving the wine, but that would seem to, at some level, put into question the support I had offered him that morning. I was honestly afraid that I might die if I drank from that chalice. I did it, though, trusting in God's mercy.

Intinction became more common after our culture became more aware of HIV/AIDS. It is indeed a response of fear. An unfounded fear, from what I can tell. The best summation of the possible risks in using the common cup, and how to minimalize them, that I have found is by Dr. David H. Gould, in his report Eucharistic Practice and the Risk of Infection;

...Intinction (dipping the bread in the wine) is in use in many Episcopal Church parishes and is increasingly being suggested in Canadian Churches as well. There is, however, real concern that many of the modes of intinction used in parishes do not diminish the threat of infection, and some may actually increase it. Hands, children's and adult's, are at least as likely to be a source of infection (often more so) as lips. Retention of the wafer in the hand of the recipient then intincting it means that the wafer, now contaminated by the hand of the recipient, is placed in the wine, thus spreading the infection to it. The use of an intinction chalice would make no difference in this instance...
This information is available in brochure form here.

Another idea that is being tossed around is to go to those little plastic cups. Arrggg! Sharing the common cup is an important symbol. At the last supper, Jesus blessed one cup, which was shared with the disciples. You find no mentions of "cups" anywhere in the New Testament. When we gather to share in the Holy Eucharist, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, we are fed from one loaf and one cup, which has become an important symbol of our unity as one Body.

The common cup has a long tradition within Christendom; one that I would think should not be casually set aside. It is considered such an important symbol that the Book of Common Prayer, which for the most part is silent regarding the details of ceremonial, states quite clearly in the rubrics that during the prayer of consecration, only one chalice may be on the altar. Additional wine is to be in a cruet or flagon.

My personal preference is the same as that of Dr. Gould; that we teach the doctrine of Concomitance; that Christ is fully present in both the Body and the Blood;

Therefore it would seem that communion in only one kind (the bread) is the best option for those fearful of the cup - both from the standpoint of preventing the spread of infection, and from the theological perspective. Nor should there be any discouragement directed to those who choose to do so. In fact, priests should periodically instruct the people "If you have the 'flu, a cold, or a cold sore, please don't drink from the cup or dip the wafer into it." This should be done either through the bulletin or verbally at regular intervals. An action, which might be suggested for communicants receiving the bread only, is to take or touch the base of the chalice as they normally would, but simply not sip from it. The words of administration should be used, even when wine is not consumed. Some communicants might prefer to cross their hands over their chest as a sign to administrators to pass them by.

It must be stressed however that the present use of the common cup is normative for Anglican churches, follows the practice of the universal church from its beginnings until well into the middle ages, and poses no real hazard to health in normal circumstances.
Will I be able to convince the folks here, who are just trying to be conscientious regarding the health of others, that this is the way to proceed? Since I will only be serving in this parish for another month, should I even make an issue out of it at all?

I'm inclined to suggest that if we really want to crack down on spreading germs on Sunday, maybe we should stop all that hand shaking during the Peace. A smile and a slight nod of the head should be sufficient, don't you think?


1 comment:

  1. hey jake, i've never been raised in the 'high church' so this might have already been dealt with in the comments, but i'm curious why it's so important to have the 'common cup' and use wafers?

    if it's 'one cup' and 'one loaf' that symbolizes our unity wouldn't that be invalidated by the 'wafer'??

    i'm not trying to start anything, i'm just really curious??? we're at a seeker church that uses individual plastic cups of grape juice and tiny squares of shortbread (i'm not kidding... ugh!) - juice and cookies... i definately think we're missing the point here.

    i was raised with 2 cups of wine passed amongst the pews and a loaf of white bread 'broken for me'. i don't think that was any closer to the last supper than what we do now, so there honestly are just questions i have never really put my mind toward. your help would be appreciated!