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Swine flu must not guide belief

23 September 2009

The C of E should restore the chalice as soon as possible, argues Nicholas Sagovsky


A chalice ...

This lull seems a good time to reflect on how we have been getting on. As Anglicans, we say “lex orandi lex credendi” (our way of praying is our way of believing). Many of us have experienced a significant — and disturbing — change in our way of praying. We have to guard against its changing our way of believing.

We must restore the chalice to the whole people of God as soon as we can.

Anglicans characteristically share the cup at the eucharist. Article XXX (“Of both kinds”), composed by Archbishop Parker in 1563, is robust: “The Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the Lay-people: for both parts of the Lord’s Sacrament, by Christ’s ordinance and command­ment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike.”

The Book of Common Prayer (1662) is perfectly familiar with “time of the Plague, Sweat, or such other like contagious times of sickness or diseases”. It offers prayer for such times and thanksgiving for when they are over. Strikingly, it makes no provision to withdraw the cup from the laity.

The Archbishops base their advice on the earlier Sacrament Act of 1547. This speaks of the sacrament’s being “commonly delivered and ministered unto the people . . . under both kinds . . . except necessity otherwise re­quire”.

In late-medieval Catholicism (but never in the East), receiving in one kind was normal. Aquinas provided the theological rationale when he wrote of “concomitance”, arguing that Christ is received fully in both the bread and the wine of the eucharist (Leader comment, 31 July).

The Church of England, and Protestants generally, reacted against this by insisting that only com­munion in both kinds is scriptural. Communion in one kind has always for Anglicans been an abnormal and temporary practice in response to an abnormal situation.

The Archbishops leave the door open for sharing the cup, but advise against drinking from a common vessel. Their advice against in­tinction by the communicant seems to be based on just one paper from the Anglican Church of Canada.

There is definitely a need for more evidence here (are we talking about intinction of a morsel of bread, which may become soggy, or of a wafer?) and for practical guidance as to how to intinct safely (it is easier with a shallow cup). No one should drink from a cup into which fingers have been accidentally dipped.

There is much we can do to tighten up hygiene at the eucharist. In this respect, the current emergency has been a welcome wake-up call. The minister of the eucharist handles food, but simple measures of food hygiene, such as hand-washing with soap and warm water, are often not followed. Rather than lose the handshake at the Peace, it would be better for gel to be provided at the church door, just as in hospitals.

Many celebrants, like me, have for the first time experienced giving communion in one kind — and found it very troubling. When the celebrant does not offer the cup to the laity, the obvious danger is contradiction and clericalism (Letters, 31 July). The celebrant quotes the words of the Lord: “Drink ye all of this” (“Drink this, all of you”), and then contradicts them by drinking alone (leaving the question: is the consecrated wine for the clergy only?).

The Book of Common Prayer directs that “the Minister first receive the Communion in both kinds himself”, but Common Worship says simply: “The president and people receive communion.”

This opens the way to the priest’s receiving the bread first, distributing the bread, and then receiving the wine after the people. Drinking in this way “for all” seems to me marginally less clericalist. If the priest and people com­municate by (careful) intinction, however, this must surely the best way of receiving wine in time of necessity.

We do not need to apply the ban on the chalice in all circumstances. There is a difference between a small communion service with a few regular communicants and a parish communion with hundreds. In the first, it is much easier to give communicants the option of a carefully wiped chalice or of intinction, either by priest or people — perhaps using a second chalice.

There is much we could learn from the experience of other Churches. In the German Evangelical Church (EKD), several chalices are used. The communion chalice is rotated, and, after a few people have drunk, it is returned to the table for a thorough wipe, using alcohol as a disinfectant.

In the Declaration of Assent, Church of England clerics give their assent to “the inheritance of faith” to which the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Prayer Book, and the 1662 Ordinal bear witness. The sharing of the cup at the eucharist is central to that inheritance. We have to follow the best public-health advice, but communion in one kind could all too easily become a habit. We must find a way to restore the cup to the whole people of God — and do it quickly.

The Revd Dr Sagovsky is Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey.


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