HOLY COMMUNION should now be offered in both kinds “unless there are clear and objective reasons not to” do so, updated Church of England guidance states.
Although administering both the consecrated bread and wine to communicants has been permitted since December 2020, this was under conditions set out by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York at the time, when the vaccination rate and immunity were lower and the spread of Covid-19 variants was a greater risk (News, 4 December 2020). The Archbishops recommended “simultaneous administration” — a form of intinction undertaken by the priest.
When the remaining national coronavirus restrictions were lifted last July, the House of Bishops Covid-19 Recovery group published Covid-19: Opening and managing church buildings in which restrictions on the use of shared vessels were also lifted, but other options such as simultaneous administration were still encouraged.
“The common cup may now be shared, but the Bishops wish to make clear that, given continued potential risks to health, it remains permissible for the president to be the only person who receives Holy Communion in the form of wine.”
Last week, however, this section was updated “to clarify that unless there are clear and objective reasons not to Holy Communion should be offered in both kinds to communicants”. It remains guidance, not instruction, and, as with mask-wearing and other recommended hygiene practices, the decision is ultimately left to church leaders who should consider infection rates in their area and the vulnerability of communicants. Intinction by communicants is not recommended.
A spokesman for Church House explained: “The update . . . restates the longstanding legal position that Holy Communion is to be offered in both kinds unless there is a ‘necessity’ not to do so.
“The guidance has always made clear that exceptions from this normal practice, particularly at times of high infection rates and lower vaccination rates, are permissible but nevertheless exceptions.
“Previous iterations of the guidance make the same point. However, there have been an increasing number of enquiries in the light of local circumstances and practice; so the guidance has been updated to restate the underlying principles.”
The guidance now states: “It is important for churches which are not currently administering Holy Communion in both kinds to keep this practice under active review. Since bread and wine are always offered to communicants unless there is a clear and objective reason (a ‘necessity’) to do otherwise, churches need to be certain that such a reason exists for the normal practice of administration in both kinds to be disrupted.”
Reasons might include local public-health warnings relating to the coronavirus. Communicants should always feel free to decline the cup. “It is important that no pressure is placed on members of the congregation to receive the sacrament if they feel unable to do so.”
It continues: “For some of the last two years, the existence of Covid-19 in the general population coupled with low levels of immunity and high numbers of serious cases was that persuasive reason. With vaccination rates high and serious cases low, ministers need to consider whether that reason still exists, bearing in mind local infection rates and factors influencing transmission in the local population.”
The use of hand sanitiser and wearing of face coverings is still strongly recommended, as is discussing any risks involved with offertory processions, covering and uncovering the elements, reservation, and cleaning communion plate, linen, and shared surfaces.
On the Peace, which many churches now conduct without touching, the guidance suggests: “In churches where the Peace is shared with touch, . . . you may want to consider providing badges for those who may not wish to do so, and whether the Peace might be shared only with those people in one’s immediate vicinity.”
The spokesman retiterated that this was guidance, not instruction. “Those directly responsible for activities in churches and other buildings are advised to make decisions in the light of this and guidance from local public health bodies in accordance with their specific circumstances.”