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Covid and Chalice

Currently, Covid has put paid to the chalice at Communion.

And, I’m sorry, this article is not going to solve the issue – but it may help outline some of the problems, some of the suggested solutions, and problems with some of the solutions. It may help people, at least, to see that this is not straightforward.

For Roman Catholics, used to centuries of the laity receiving only the Bread, this is no big deal [though I am aware that some bread-alone Communions use individually wrapped wafers collected contactlessly at Communion time!] Roman Catholicism has a well-developed eucharistic theology which includes concomitance – the understanding that the Body and Blood of Christ are present in both the Bread and the Wine of the Eucharist.

Anglicans, on the other hand, have 39 Articles:

The Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the Lay-people: for both the parts of the Lord’s Sacrament, by Christ’s ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike.

Article XXX. Of both Kinds

The status of these 39 Articles varies from Anglican province to province – from churches where they are seen as interesting historical statements from a time very different to our own all the way to churches where every single one is binding on our beliefs and practices.

Alongside the 39 Articles and their status is another issue: who has authority to make decisions about this? In some contexts, it is clear that the Ordinary (normally the diocesan bishop) has full authority around this [“Bishops are to… preside over (the Church’s) worshipping life” A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa (ANZPBHKMA) page 913; in other contexts, the Ordinary (normally the diocesan bishop) does not have this authority but acts as if they do [“People look to us as bishops to make decisions and to speak with authority, whether or not we can do so” NZPBHKMA page 919]; in some other contexts, the local pastor has the authority to make decisions about services [but what are the limits of such pastoral decisions – there certainly are some limits; and is the decision to withhold the chalice from the laity within the ambit of the pastor’s authority? As far as that goes, there are, similarly, limits on an Ordinary’s authority – is the decision to withhold the chalice from the laity within the ambit of the Ordinary’s authority?] Come to that, would General Synod even be able to override the right of the laity to the chalice, or is this right part of unalterable foundation?

With the death of Henry VIII on 28 January 1547, the accession of Edward VI meant liturgical changes, including passing in both Parliament and Convocation a requirement that communion be administered under both kinds – wine in addition to the traditional bread. But note for this discussion, Section 8 of the Sacrament Act of 1547 had: ‘the… blessed sacrament [shall] be hereafter commonly delivered and ministered unto the people… under both kinds, that is to say of bread and wine, except necessity otherwise require.” I think it can fairly be argued that the Covid pandemic is a necessity where otherwise than receiving under both kinds is required.

Beyond this, at least in A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa, there is very little binding or guiding information for our current Covid context. At most what can be pointed to is:

Care should be taken to ensure that sufficient bread and wine is placed on the holy table for the administration of communion to the people.

ANZPBHKMA page 516

To be clear – I am committed to communion under both kinds being the norm. I have a very strong aversion against clericalism – bishops and priests overreaching their authority. I have a Science-based approach – I am not going to accept any magical “God will protect communicants” approach. God protects communicants by people using their God-given reason.

Solutions:

  • There are those who claim that fortified (high alcohol content) wine in silver (or gold), wiped and turned, will not transmit Covid. I would be interested in peer-reviewed Science on this. The last thing we need is for a Eucharist to be a Covid super-spreader event.
  • Intinction. There are two forms of intinction – the communicant dipping into the wine; the administrator dipping into the wine. I have seen arguments for and against intinction – both backed by Scientific studies. They seem to start from a theological lens and find supporting studies. Canonically, intinction is allowed in ANZPBHKMA – the discussion is whether it is appropriate in a Covid context.
  • Remove ALL references to the cup, wine, etc., including deleting the “After Supper he took the cup…” section from the Last Supper story in the Eucharistic Prayer, and have no wine at the service. I have heard of this solution. I do not think we have any authority for such a draconian, clericalist alteration to our agreed rite. I would be surprised if anyone would even argue that General Synod could authorise such a rite – let alone a bishop or priest.
  • Consecrate bread and wine. Administer the Bread, leaving the Wine on the altar and disposing of the Wine to earth after the service. The theory behind this is that ALL are excluded from the cup; ordained as well as lay. Anglicanism holds together in one whānau (family) people with strong, disparate understandings of the Sacrament – for many, the disposing of consecrated Wine to earth, however “reverent” the disposer thinks they are doing this, is sacrilege. Our agreement across these diverse understandings is that Communion is either fully consumed or Reserved. There is no third option.
  • Consecrate bread and wine. Administer the Bread. Have a congregant consume the Wine, possibly choosing the person by some form of lottery. There is an issue with celebrating Christ’s death by lottery. The person would need to be adequate at doing the ablutions of the chalice – the presider could not do the ablutions if it is understood Covid can be transmitted in this manner. Some jurisdictions are clear that the presider must receive the Bread and Wine. ANZPBHKMA reads best with that understanding.
  • Consecrate bread and wine. The presider receives Bread and Wine. Administer the Bread to all others. It has to be clear that this is not norm – we will return to our norm of Bread and Wine for all as soon as possible. The presider does much “on our behalf” – at the moment, the presider receives the Wine “on our behalf”.
  • Consecrate bread and wine. The presider receives Bread and Wine. There is an administrator with the wine, but all are enjoined to not receive the Wine. In this way, the Wine is not being “withheld”. The issue is – what if a number DO take the Wine and this becomes a Covid super-spreader event?
  • One can get tiny plastic cups with wine in them and a wafer on top. All covered in plastic wrapping. Consecrate all the individual units. There is the problem of making sure ALL the Wine is consumed and how are the ablutions done for them all? Not to mention in a environmental-disaster planet, this is not the time for the Church to be encouraging lots of single-use plastic. This is the far end of the individualisation of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is intended to form community – to gather the many into one Body, and part of the way it does so is by a community sharing of one bread, one cup. Let’s have some full disclosure: in the living-together-in-one-Anglican-whānau, moving from one-ordinary-bread to separate, unleavened wafers was a party-promoting move – this is one of “six points” pushed for by the nineteenth-century Catholic Revival of Anglicanism. Also, let’s be honest, making a change will be irreversible. Other ‘parties’ within Anglicanism have managed to live with unleavened wafers (and all other of the six points – except possibly incense). From this full disclosure, let’s also be honest that individual cuplets (and also abandoning wine) is also party driven – intersecting more with Protestant denominations. Reverent consumption and ablutions are central to a Catholic understanding of the Eucharist. This agreed practice, whatever one’s theology, cannot be sustained with individual cups. And once we go down this track, this is irreversible.
  • Just as the previous bullet point, but using re-usable individual glasses. Once again, all the points from the previous bullet point apply, including the inability to reverently consume all the consecrated Wine and follow ablution practices. Note, I have taken care not to overstress a theological argument against multiplying cups – we already regularly have more than one cup, often looking like a prize giving or an auction of silverware. Similarly, having just the presider drink from the chalice is hardly practicing a “common cup”.
  • There has been a suggestion that we communicants bring up cups individually and have them filled with consecrated Wine that each communicant then consumes. Once again, an issue is that ALL consecrated Wine be consumed. And how would ablutions be done reverently? Furthermore, there is a high chance of spillage or other irreverent accidents.
  • I have seen suggestions of individuals carrying a straw and sucking consecrated Wine, pulling the straw out of the Wine and continuing to suck so that no wash-back ends up back in the chalice. Good luck ensuring that every communicant can do this on every occasion – and without practice. I don’t know if this needs a scientific study: I just think this is highly unlikely to be safe (unless you are arguing that the alcohol in communion wine kills Covid – no silver and wiping required).
  • Another suggestion I’ve come across – they have wafers for all, Wine for the presider, then around the walls of the church building they have the individually wrapped, plastic wine & wafer cuplets. The announcement is that the individual cuplets are not communion but are there for people who want to remember the Last Supper with bread and wine alongside celebrating Communion. This bypasses the issues of consuming and ablutions as – hopefully – it is clear this is not consecrated. But, I think, it is very unhelpful to have a remembering of the Last Supper as if it is disconnected from the Eucharist.
  • Are there any other options that I’ve missed?

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10 thoughts on “Covid and Chalice”

  1. When I was Precentor of Winchester cathedral we took our choir to visit Stavanger cathedral. There they had a presidential chalice with a pouring lip. When the time came for communion the bread was administered as “normal” then communicants were each given an individual tiny silver chalice (as per sick communion). A little of the wine was poured into each tiny chalice. The communicant then drank and returned the chalice to a tray. The ministers did the ablutions. I liked this solution because the cup was common, the chalices were “safe” and the ablutions were done with reverence by ministers. But of course, it is expensive to buy lots of tiny silver chalices.

    1. Thanks, Sue. Yes, this is one of the options I mention. I am struggling to visualise this for a larger congregation – say even of over a hundred people. How would one assure that all the consecrated Wine is consumed by every communicant? [Large numbers were one of several reasons for the withdrawing of the chalice from the laity in the West during the Middle Ages]. The ablutions I expect most are used to is for remaining consecrated Wine to be consumed, water to be added to every chalice, and this also to be consumed – all prior to any washing of chalices following the service. I cannot see how that approach could be implemented in a Covid world with the small chalices. Blessings.

  2. Thanks Bosco – this certainly is a difficult question at the moment.
    We have tried a couple of things over the course of the pandemic. One is a variation on your sixth dot point, which works quite well but only for a small group: Consecrate bread and wine. Administer bread to all, without words, having asked them to hold on to bread when given. Priest returns to altar, picks up own bread, says, “The body of Christ keep us in eternal life.” All reply AMEN and consume together. Priest then takes chalice, says, “The blood of Christ keep us in eternal life.” All reply AMEN as priest consumes wine.
    Our more recent practice is that after the invitation, the priest intincts for everyone (ie use one wafer to place a drop of wine on each other wafer) before sharing communion. This works quite well, and in larger congregations we have one person continuing to intinct while another begins administering. It just requires a larger/extra paten or plate in order to lay all the wafers out on it. I don’t think it takes any more total time than it would to administer bread and wine (as per pre-COVID normal).
    Meanwhile we await the next change in restrictions, conscious that even if/when the common cup is once again allowed, there may well be more people than pre-COVID who are hesitant or anxious to share it.

    1. Thanks, Chris. Your second approach is mentioned in the second bullet point (I considered numbering them, but some people naturally think if them, then, as some sort of ranking). There are even “intinction chalices” (do search for images) which enable the person who administers communion to intinct as part of that. The only possible issue that I can imagine is that the Wine may not yet be “dry” when placed in the communicant’s hand.
      Blessings.

  3. The largest Church on earth (Roman Cathoilc) managed for a long time without the Faithful Laity having access to the Chalice. One presumes then that – in this time of pandemic – our R. C. sisters and brothers are not so disturbed by what may be considered a ‘crisis of faith’ amongst Anglicans, for what one can hope may only be a ncessary, temporary expedient.

  4. ELCA (US Lutheran) pastor here. Thanks for this article. Very much appreciate it.

    We’ve had the individual plastic cups with the bread throughout the pandemic. We have communion in the pew and I prompt it by saying, “take and eat, The body of Christ, given for you.” And then “take and drink, the blood of Christ, shed for you.”

    It’s bad for all the reasons you mention, but it’s the least bad option we’ve come up with in this time. In addition to the Eucharistic issues this raises, I especially lament the fact that before the pandemic we just about had all plastic not being used because we have a group of folks working on care for creation. Now the vessels we use for the Eucharist are non-recyclable plastic in my area.

    But…. It helps to keep us safer as we gather in person, which is a tremendous blessing.

    I was certainly not formed to think about the Eucharist like this nor to think theologically with the “least bad” option in mind, however, this is (hopefully!) not a normal time in our history. In the meantime, I’m trusting in God’s promise to do something in, with, and under the bread and wine and praying for mercy as I preside at the Table.

    1. Thanks, Russell. I think working towards what you call a “least bad” approach – whatever a community sees as what that is in its particulars – is how we will get through this. Blessings.

  5. Dear Bosco- Thank you very much for your thoughts on the sharing of the cup in the eucharistic service. I am a RC in the USA, born in 1944, attended a minor & major seminary (1958-65). I left the seminary then. As an active layperson in the church, I was ecstatic over the end of the clerical restrictions on the cup in the liturgical revisions of Vatican II. These seemed to bring forward the cup in the liturgy with equal weight with the Broken Bread as well as inclusion of the laity. In the wake of the COVID pandemic our RC pastor recently made public comments that we would never go back to the shared cup and he wasn’t about to chug (his word) wine from a shared cup. Such a blast of grief still inflicted by the resurrected clerical mindset!
    I appreciate your presentation and list of possible steps to the issue of shared cup in the liturgy with their pros and cons. To me they seemed an excellent review of our past steps. What about new steps of ritual for our new age? What about raising the issues of environment as brought to us in Francis’ Laudato Si and other church statements by other church leaders? As just an example- Begin by asking the congregation for a show of hands about wanting to drink of the wine. Measure out the wine accordingly. Use the blessed cup/chalice for the consecration. Now here comes the need for new thinking. What about allowing people each being able to receive in separate small paper cups? These could in turn be burned as part of a new ritual step or composted into Mother Earth (as we ourselves will be) or? Let’s keep going to find new beautiful solutions to this present challenge and save the role of the laity as Jesus clearly intended by the words of consecration.
    Thank you

  6. In our corner of the Diocese in England we receive the consecrated bread and wine by the use of a glass dropper dipped into the wine. By using this method a small amount of wine is dropped on the bread for the communicant to receive. The Eucharistic Minister takes the bread to each individual and the server has the chalice and proceeds to take up a small amount of wine to be placed on the bread. In this way, only the glass dropper gets in contact with the wine in the chalice.

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