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The chalice and the sword of division

23 September 2009


From Mr Paul Velluet

Sir, — Bill Bowder’s report “Chalice is returning to the people” (News, 18 September) and the updated report carried on your website raise many significant issues. Not least of them is the extraordinary divergence in policy and practice experienced by the laity across the country in relation to the “temporary” measures commended by diocesan bishops concerning the H1N1 influenza virus.

It was interesting also to read that at a eucharist at last week’s College of Bishops meeting in Oxford, “all bar less than a handful drank from the chalice.”

In contrast, for more than two months now, many of the laity — certainly in those parts of the London and Southwark dioceses where I live and worship — have not only been denied the symbolism of the shared chalice, but, more importantly, communion in both kinds — even by intinction of the host by the celebrant, as commended by the Archbishops. This is contrary to one of the most fundamental, valued, and distinctive practices of the Church of England.

Few of us would underestimate the risks of the spread of the H1N1 influenza virus — not least in the light of the more factual and less sensational parts of last week’s Panorama programme on BBC1 — or question the generally sound and balanced advice in the Archbishops’ 22 July letter. But it is reasonable to question whether such guidance should necessarily have led to the complete “ban” on lay reception of the consecrated wine which is now operating in many parishes.

The unprecedented suspension for an indefinite period of communion in both kinds, on the basis that “the president will receive the chalice on our behalf” and that “the Church has always taught that the fullness of Christ’s presence is received in either the bread or wine at the eucharist,” takes us into difficult territory.

Am I wrong in discerning that such sudden emphases in practice and teaching seem to originate more in a misplaced fear of potential litigation than in a reasoned Anglican response to a temporary need, mindful of the provisions of the Sacrament Act?

There is surely an urgent need to address the deeply damaging and divisive pastoral implications of the present “ban” operating in some dioceses, and to implement practical means for enabling the laity to re-engage as fully as possible in the eucharist for “the duration”.

At the very least, priestly intinction as commended by the Archbishops is surely preferable to the indefinite exclusion of the laity from participation in the complete eucharistic celebration.

9 Bridge Road, St Margaret’s
Twickenham TW1 1RE

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