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  • Rev. Helena Martin

Return to the "Common Cup"

Since our return to receiving wine at communion, we've been drinking from single-serve glasses. This seems to be working well—although it's much more work for the Altar Guild.

Now, though, the bishops are asking everyone to return to unrestricted Eucharistic practices: specifically "one bread and one cup."

Photo by RDNE Stock project

The vestry and I have decided that St. Paul's will return to the common communion cup for all Eucharist services beginning on Sunday, October 1.

When COVID-19 first arrived, we didn't know much about how it was conveyed. (Perhaps, like me, you diligently wiped down your groceries with bleach wipes for a few weeks before the science evolved to tell us that this was unnecessary.)

Three years of masks and vaccines and caution have made us understandably jumpy about all drinking from the same cup during flu season.

So, why the emphasis on the common communion cup? And what if that doesn't sound like a good idea to you quite yet?

One Eucharistic Meal

On certain Sundays, we send Eucharistic Visitors to take communion to the homebound members of our community. That sending prayer concludes,

We who are many are one body because we all share one bread, one cup.

The idea is that the people who will consume the communion element(s) later that day will be participating in the same meal as us, even if they couldn't be in the building that morning.

The language of "one bread, one cup" is central to our Eucharistic theology. You only need to read one of our Eucharistic prayers to see that Jesus blessed and broke a loaf of bread, then blessed and shared a cup of wine. Not a dinner roll for each guest and tiny individual cups of wine.

What about dipping the bread in the wine?

Dipping the bread in the wine is called "intinction." The practice has been part of the church for centuries. Most recently, intinction became common in the 1980s during the panic surrounding the AIDS epidemic.

Unfortunately, this practice has the opposite effect from what you might imagine. In short: our hands are dirtier than our mouths. And anyone who's ever distributed the wine during communion can tell you that allowing intinction basically guarantees dirty fingers in the wine.

So, while sharing a cup may seem daring or even foolish, consuming a little wine from a cup where everyone puts their hands is much worse.

But is drinking from the cup safe?

In short: it's safer than many other activities you're participating in. Silver has antimicrobial properties. Also, the Eucharistic minister wipes the lip of the chalice after you drink, then rotates the chalice so the next person is using a fresh part of the chalice.

The combination of the silver with the physical wiping makes for a pretty safe situation at the altar rail. (Some also say that the alcohol in the wine helps sterilize potential infections, but I think that's less well documented.)

This article summarizes many journal articles affirming the above.

Basically, you're more likely to catch COVID from breathing the air of the unmasked people breathing around you than from taking wine at communion. That may or may not be comforting, but it's true. More on transmission of COVID here.

Still uncomfortable?

Don't worry! You can hang back for a few weeks or months until you get more comfortable with the idea. Continue to receive the bread only, then step away or cross your arms when the wine comes.

Remember that our church's theological mind on this is long settled: consuming just one element (the bread or the wine) grants all the same benefits of receiving both.

If you're concerned, or if you have feedback as we go, I would love to hear from you.


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