Dearly Beloved,
The receiving of the consecrated wine, the precious Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, by the Common Cup at Holy Communion is the proper sacramental act whenever we gather together, for in this way we truly “Do this in remembrance of me.” One of the profound outcomes of the Reformation was the restoration of the Cup to the laity. In fact, before the Reformation, people were actually executed for attempting to restore the Cup to the people. Our Anglican Way of Christianity enshrined this restoration of the Cup in the very first Book of Common Prayer in this way:
  • “Then shall the minister take so much Bread and Wine…putting the wine into the Chalice. Then shall the Priest first receive the Communion in both kinds himself, and next deliver it to the other Ministers….and after to the people…giving everyone to drink.”
  • This gives us direction that the Blessed Sacrament in the Precious Blood is to be delivered in the Chalice. In fact, our American Prayerbook specifically says that the minister “delivereth the Cup” (BCP p. 83).
    Despite the practice of other Christian bodies, the use of the Chalice, the Common Cup, is the only way we administer the Sacrament.
    Now let me turn to disease concerns. We have become a rather “germaphobic” society and the present concerns about the COVID-19 virus are adding to the anxiety about germs, etc. This is nothing new and has been looked at many times in the past. Let’s look at what science says. The following was published in 1988; “No episode of disease attributable to the shared communion cup has ever been reported.” (“The hazard of infection from the shared communion cup,” Journal of Infection, Vol. 16, pgs. 3-23) Ten years later, in 1998, the following guidance from the CDC was published: “no documented transmission of any infectious disease has ever been traced to the use of a common communion cup” and “the risk for infectious disease transmission by a common communion cup is very low, and appropriate safeguards–that is, wiping the interior and exterior rim between communicants, use of care to rotate the cloth during use, and use of a clean cloth for each service – would further diminish this risk.” (“Risk of Infectious Disease Transmission from a Common Communion Cup,” American Journal of Infection Control, Vol. 26, No. 5)
    Note the wording “appropriate safeguards” in the previous sentence. We do just what they recommend…and always have! The chalice bearers are trained to always wipe both the inside and outside of the chalice after each person receives. The altar guild always provides a fresh, clean, purificator cloth at each celebration of the Holy Communion.
    What then does the Church teach about disease transmission using the Common Cup? The Church has ALWAYS taught that it is impossible for disease to be so transmitted because the Sacrament is our Lord Himself! For the believer, it is unthinkable that our Lord would say, “Do this in remembrance of me” and then allow some worldly sickness invade a member of the Body of Christ.
    So how do we proceed?
    Our “default” position is that we receive from the Common Cup. We understand that Jesus’ Body and Blood cannot transmit disease. The proper wiping of the Cup, following the CDC advice, is a given. The wine we use is 18% alcohol, which effectively kills germs and gets wiped around the rim of the chalice with the cloth. And our chalices are made of the precious metals gold and silver, which are natural antiseptics.
    One priest recently wrote this about receiving the Common Cup, “Christians have been doing so for centuries, and still manage to die at the same rate and pace as the general population!”
    Here is one other piece of evidence I would like for you to consider. The parish priest always consumes the remaining sacrament in the chalice AFTER everyone has communicated and there has never been a reported case of a priest contracting a disease from doing so. I have thought about my personal experiences over 25 years in the ministry. I have finished the Cup after approximately 250,000 people. Many of these people have had colds, the flu, HIV (these are the ones I know about) and undoubtedly many had various other communicable diseases. I have NEVER been infected.
    You may say, “OK, I hear what you say, but it still worries me.”
    Some people prefer to receive communion by what is known as intinction. This is when you leave the host in your open palm and the chalice bearer intincts (dips it) in the Cup and then places it on your tongue. This insures that a person with washed hands (which includes me) is the only one handling the host. All servers are required to wash their hands before serving. If you receive in this way, please tilt your head back and fully extend your tongue so that the chalice bearer does not touch your mouth.
    Two important notes about intinction.
    • NEVER attempt to do this yourself. You will just transfer whatever is on your hands to the Chalice, not to mention possibly causing the chalice to spill.
    • NEVER pick up the host with your fingers, which are the dirtiest part of your hands. That will transfer what is on your fingers to the chalice bearer’s hands.
    A last resort, if you still cannot settle your conscience, is to receive only the host. The Church has always taught that the fullness of the Sacrament abides in either the consecrated bread or the consecrated wine, the Body or the Blood, so if you do this, you will still be fully participating in the Messianic banquet of the Holy Communion.
    One final note: We will continue to gather together in worship, no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in. Our bounden duty and service is to worship the Lord. Once we have worshiped and have been strengthened by the partaking of our Lord’s Body and Blood, we then return to the world, living out the Gospel by loving and caring for all those around us and sharing with them that peace of God which passes all understanding. And that is the ONLY peace that can calm an anxious world!
    Fr. Erich
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