Health Issues and the Common Cup

By the Rev. Nicholas Beasley

During a season of heightened concern about infectious disease, I wanted to provide some information on our celebration of Holy Communion, associated risks, and measures the church and individuals may take out of those concerns. Our sister Anglican Church in Canada has provided sound guidance from a physician, favorably reviewed by one of our own medical parishioners (read it all here That article stresses that “(t)he present use of the common cup is normative for Anglican churches, and poses no real hazard to health in normal circumstances.” The author thinks it likely that the risk of drinking from the common cup, for those in good health, “is probably less than the risk of air-borne infection in using a common building.” He stresses the wisdom of washing our hands regularly. You may have encountered other good practices, like coughing or sneezing into your elbow rather than your hand.

We are adding containers of hand sanitizer this week at the end of each pew; you may wish to clean your hands after the exchange of the Peace, before coming forward for Communion, or after returning to your pew. We have also shared information with our Altar Guild and chalice bearers about steps they will take to reduce the risk of spreading infection, including cleaning their hands, wiping the chalice on the inside of the rim as well as on the outside, opening the purificator (napkin) to its full size so that a clean part of the purificator is used for each communicant, and turning the chalice so that the next communicant does not drink out of the same place on the cup.

You may want to consider the different means by which the sacrament can be received. Our typical, historic practice has been for the person receiving Communion (the communicant) to receive the bread in his or her hands, usually with one open hand resting on the other, in the form of a cross. The bread is then eaten. When the chalice arrives, the communicant grasps the base of the chalice between the thumb and forefinger, assisting the chalice bearer in by bringing the chalice toward the lips.

Intinction (dipping) of the bread into the wine is another option. The preferred way to do so is to retain the bread on the open palm of your hand and allow the chalice bearer to dip the bread into the wine. The communicant then opens his or her mouth and extends the tongue slightly to allow the wafer to be placed there by the chalice bearer.

You may also dip the bread yourself, taking care not to put your fingers into the wine.

If you are concerned about sharing the common cup, you may also communicate in the form of the consecrated bread only. We would prefer you remain at the rail after the bread is distributed, with your arms crossed across your chest. The chalice bearer will still bring the chalice near and offer you the words of administration, “The Blood of Christ, the Cup of Salvation.” You can still say “Amen.”

Our world gives us too much to worry about, and I must say that my personal concerns about illness, gathering for worship, and sharing the cup are low. I forgo the chalice or intinct when I have been ill but not out of concern about others’ illnesses. I have consumed the consecrated wine remaining at the end of Communion for twenty years now and have missed very few days of work, though admittedly, relative youth and general good health have been on my side. I shake a lot of hands and get a lot of hugs, too. So, we need not be alarmed, though called to a prudent response. I hope you will make the choices your own deliberations lead you to and remain steadfast in your commitment to worship as the people of God and the Body of Christ.