Dear Friends in Christ,
In our long journey through Covid, we have protected the vulnerable, followed County guidelines, and slowed the spread of disease. As more people in our towns become vaccinated and our congregations have most of their members vaccinated, we can move further into our post-Covid practices. I have spoken to medical and church leaders and have decided to authorize a return to using the Common Cup in Holy Eucharist.
Theology and History
Receiving communion is deeply important to practicing Christians. We believe that the sacraments are “an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as a sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” BCP 857. The early days of the pandemic brought an extra burden to the faithful: at a time when we most needed to receive the Sacraments, it was the riskiest to do so. We experienced real grief over this necessity.
We have held fast to the practice of the Common Cup, one cup shared among many communicants, for centuries. When the pandemic made the common cup too risky, we, as a body, refrained from the cup altogether.
We recall the ancient Jewish practice where the cup used by the host of the feast would be shared, handed around to others at the table, as a sign of their unity. Jesus himself seems to have followed the practice, and we do the same to this day.
Dean Richard Yale wrote:
“Use of the Common Cup is a central feature of Eucharistic practice in Episcopal congregations. Its symbolism is a direct reflection of the Eucharistic ecclesiology reflected in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church “the cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing (koinonia) in the blood of Christ?” (I Cor. 10:16).”
There will be questions asked about the risks involved. First, there is always some risk when two persons draw near one another in the same space. Second, we have learned that Covid is spread primarily through inhaling aerosols from an infected person’s breath. A 2020 letter from Eastern Orthodox medical professionals to the British Journal of Health included a review of scientific studies connected to Covid 19 and the common cup.
“In summary, the common communion cup may theoretically serve as a vehicle of transmitting infection, but the potential risk of transmission is very small. Currently, available data do not provide any support for the suggestion that the practice of sharing a common communion cup can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 because SARS-CoV-2 transmission from a patient with COVID-19.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7439816/pdf/main.pdf
My understanding is that we are now facing the same risk levels that we experience during most flu seasons. It is now appropriate to give our congregations an opportunity to return to using the common cup as part of their eucharistic practice.
Every congregation has a Regathering Team who has assessed the needs and context of their people regarding Covid and worship. You are already nimble in this area.
I invite each Regathering Team to discern if it is time to offer the common cup in worship in their setting. The decision should be followed up by a written communication about your practice and your medical, pastoral, and liturgical reasoning for the choice.
This letter can be part of your communication.
In practice, clergy and Eucharistic Ministers who are distributing communion are strongly encouraged to be masked (and vaccinated). We will take time to firmly wipe the chalice (inside and out) and turn the chalice so a fresh spot is available. A communicant can still receive bread alone or use intinction. There will not be a return to “self-intinction” by the communicant, nor of placing the wafer in the mouth by the Clergy. Using small individual cups is still not permitted.
A congregation may choose to start using the common cup by using standing stations and later, when ready, move to receive at the communion rail. Or your congregation may already be receiving bread at the communion rail. This is a pastoral decision.
We acknowledge that singing without a mask still represents a greater risk than singing while using a mask. Unless there is a county mandate against it, the Regathering team may decide how they wish to sing right now.
Being distanced from the Holy Eucharist has been hard on the hearts of the faithful. We have refrained from receiving wine from the cup and even bread from the paten for a long while. I believe that the “muscle” of restraint has been held tight for so long that it may take time to release it and re-enter our characteristic pattern of worship. It is also true that unforeseen developments could mean we return to bread only for a while – though I do not think that is likely right now. Nor do I think it is a reason to hold back. But, as we have learned to live with the presence of Covid, we are now free to step into our whole eucharistic practice.
We follow a God who died and rose again for us, and following him; we embrace the rigors of resurrection life, wherever it appears. May God be praised that we can gather and worship together. I had never known how precious and privileged that hour on Sunday was until the Pandemic risk took it away. Let us heartily rejoice in the opportunity we have open to us now and move forward in Christ with courage.
Faithfully in Christ,