The easy solution to the swine flu communion problem

Disposable Communion Cups per 1000Disposable Communion Cups per 1000 

A disposable plastic cup. Sold in packs of 1000. Will fit all JM Supplies trays. Base 18mm dia, top 32mm dia, height 30mm. NB No minimum order online, but a minimum order of 3 boxes (3,000 cups) by phone unless ordered with a tray. Our most popular cup.

This item is usually dispatched within 7 working days

Price: £19.28 inc VAT.

Instead of withdrawing the communion cup, as advised by the Archbishops and the Bishop of Chelmsford, why not distribute the wine in these, until the swine flu panic (or should I say “pandemic”?) is over?

I don’t intend to promote any one company’s products over alternatives. This is just the first such product I found, here.

Churches who use these can continue to offer communion in both kinds, using alcoholic or non-alcoholic wine, without any concerns about swine flu. They can be handed out in such a way that each communicant touches only their own cup. All at a cost of less than 2p per person. There is probably no need to buy the special, and quite expensive, trays into which these cups fit.

Theologically I would prefer the wine to be offered from a common cup as Jesus certainly envisaged – and for the bread to be offered from a common loaf, not as wafers or pre-cut squares. But especially during the current situation I would consider wine served from separate cups an acceptable alternative.

There is of course an issue about what to do with the cups after use. In my evangelical tradition we could simply throw the cups into the bins for disposal of tissues which, according to advice from the government and from the Diocese of Chelmsford (I missed this advice when I wrote my open letter to the Bishop of Chelmsford, but referred to it in a comment), should have been placed in every church – but have not yet been placed in mine. No doubt some Anglo-Catholics would object to this and want to clean the cups in a special way before disposing of them – well then, they are welcome.

The only problem I see is that this is not an environmentally friendly solution. So if this is intended as more than a very temporary measure, I would suggest that churches invest in a set of non-disposable plastic, glass or stainless steel individual cups. But of course these will certainly need to be washed after each use.

So let’s have no more talk in the Church of England about withdrawing the communion wine from the lay people, going against the historic formularies of the Church and the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles. Instead, let’s use the simple method I have described here of avoiding any health risk while obeying Jesus’ command to “Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25).

0 thoughts on “The easy solution to the swine flu communion problem

  1. According to this BBC article, the company whose cup I have pictured above was already before I wrote this reporting a boom in business:

    Harrogate based company JM Church Supplies, which provides individual communion cups and trays say business has been booming: “We have had a very big increase in orders. It’s too early for us to have the proper figures but orders have doubled or tripled in the last two weeks. We’ve haven’t been promoting the individual cups but clearly that’s what people want.”

    I found an interesting article making the same suggestion for similar reasons:

    A movement has recently been started in the diocese of Sydney, N.S.W., to induce the clergy of the Church of England to adopt individual cups in the service of the holy communion. A circular prepared in protest against the common practice was signed by 265 of the leading members of the medical profession of Sydney …

    The date of the article? December 1922! But could some people today be opposed to this simply because it is associated with the still today controversial Diocese of Sydney?

    Incidentally individual cups are also being sold, at 50 for £1.75, by the official bookshop of the Church of England, Church House Bookshop. Perhaps someone needs to tell them that this product is forbidden.

  2. The paper on the CofE swine flu web page on administration of Holy Communion (here) says that “The use of individual communion cups is not lawful in the Church of England”.

    Quite why this is so (which particular piece of legislation makes it unlawful) is not made clear in the paper.

  3. Thanks, Richard. Well, withholding the communion cup from the laity is also “not lawful in the Church of England”, by the law of Christ if not by the law of the land. And when the two conflict, I go with the law of Christ.

    But I would indeed like to know where this advice comes from and why, and whether it applies if the wine is poured into the individual cups before consecration and after consecration – also whether the same law makes it illegal to use multiple cups to serve different stations as is common at large communion services.

  4. I found a blog post by a US Roman Catholic cathechist who argues the opposite to me, that it is better to withhold the cup than to use individual cups. He makes some good arguments, but not I think (from my rather different theological standpoint) as strong as the argument against communion in one kind only. But I find his arguments considerably weakened by the fact that they can be used just as well to condemn the Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic practice of using at communion separate wafers rather than a single loaf of bread.

  5. If wine can be consecrated in one chalice, then why not in 200 tiny cups? It’s all the same. For me, the symbolism of one communion is not tied to a chalice but in the person we worship and adore, Jesus Christ.

  6. At a local Mennonite church Marci and I occasionally attend, they use individual cups for communion. It’s true that you don’t get the same feeling of oneness in drinking from the same chalice – but you get it in a different way, because every single person in the church is drinkingat the same moment in time (i.e. they give out the cups, but no-one drinks until all have received, and then all drink simultaneously). Their practice with the bread is the same – no one eats until all have received, and then all eat simultaneously.

    Peter, I think your point about the separate chalices used in many Anglican churches is very strong – if ‘the cup of blessing which we bless’ holds good when we’re actually blessing two or three cups, why not two or three hundred? Funnily enough, the directions in our Canadian BAS suggest that only one chalice be placed on the altar for the consecration, with the rest of the wine consecrate in a flagon and then poured into other chalices. But I can’t see how this is any better (from the point of view of the ‘one cup’ argument), as there are still two separate containers on the altar.

  7. Sam, that’s interesting. Do you happen to know if this goes back to 1922 or soon after? Well, I hardly expect you to be an expert on this. But a Google search turns up several references to a debate in Sydney at that time.

    Kevin, I tend to agree. But it is important to do things according to Jesus’ command, which includes drinking the wine but doesn’t specify the number of cups.

  8. Thank you, Tim. Your Canadian rules imply that consecrated wine can be poured into unconsecrated vessels. So I guess the objections to individual cups would no longer apply if the wine is consecrated in one flagon and then poured into the cups. The only problem then is the time taken to pour it out – but then that need not take any longer than passing a cup from person to person complete with words spoken to each, especially if the wine is consecrated in a special wine dispenser. So why not have one person filling the small cups with consecrated wine and another (both should have carefully washed hands) passing the small cups to each communicant on a tray?

  9. I managed to pop into Birmingham Central Library on the way into work this morning to consult that masterful tome “Legal Opinions concerning the Church of England”. I think this is probably where the “individual cups are not lawful” thing comes from.

    BTW personally I am still trying to get my head around all the different options, and am very much of the “both kinds” way of thinking. Fortunately (in a sense) the parish of which I am a churchwarden does not ordinarily have communion at all on the 4th Sunday of the month so we have the luxury of an extra week to formulate our response.

    The relevant section of the above-mentioned tome considers the question of whether it is legal to consecrate a single vessel of wine and then to decant it into individual cups. Its answer is no; I could not, I confess, fully grasp the reasoning in the time available but it appeared, in essence, to be based on detailed exegesis of the BCP rubrics, and application of Canon B5(1) (i.e. would this be a variation “of substantial importance”?)

    It also, interestingly, argued that intinction could only be legal in the Church of England if the communicant was nevertheless given the opportunity to take the chalice into their hand or to touch it (BCP rubric “And the Minister that delivereth the Cup to any one shall say…”

    There’s another curious little bit in that CofE paper which comments that the use of individual cups “also involve hygiene risks in the context of pandemic flu”. I guess the risk here concerns people who accidentally touch one cup while reaching for another, or other hand contact of that sort. (Not sure what to make of that, really. The fancy trays for individual cups do seem to place them very close together, in my limited experience.)

    One final note is that the Sacrament Act 1547 (which most people had forgotten about for centuries, I suspect, until looking it up this week) says that the minister “shall not withowt laufull cawse denye the same [Holy Communion – presumably, given the previous sentences, in both kinds] to any parsone that wool devoutelie and humblie desire it, anny lawe statute ordenance or custome contrarie therunto in any wise notwithstanding”.

  10. Richard, thank you for your research. So the Canadian Anglican practice which Tim mentioned would, it seems, be illegal in the Church of England. But there seems to be no legal impediment to wine already in separate cups being consecrated – assuming that there is no legal problem with the common practice of one priest consecrating several cups at one time for use at different distribution stations.

    The words you quote from the Sacrament Act 1547 are online here. But I suppose that the exception “excepte necessitie otherwise require” would be applied also to the part you quote. The matter here which I would want to contest is whether a small risk of catching swine flu, and government advice, can be considered “necessitie”. I would think not. But the real issue is one not of statute law but of God’s law.

  11. I was interested to see that the Church in Wales seems to have a different view to the Church of England when it comes to “intinction” (I term I was unfamiliar with until your first post on the subject):

    “Government advice remains that in the event of pandemic flu affecting centres of population, administration of the common cup should be suspended (the priest alone receiving in both kinds) until the danger has passed.

    Whilst communion in both kinds is the norm in the Church in Wales, when it is received in one kind the fullness of the sacrament is received none the less.

    Some have suggested that intinction is an acceptable alternative to the common cup. Studies have suggested that intinction may in fact present a greater risk factor than the common cup. Fingers generally carry a higher level of contamination than lips, so consecrated bread handled by an infected person and then dipped into a common cup will carry a risk of contaminating the consecrated wine. Similarly fingers may dip into the consecrated wine.”

    Quoted from: http://www.churchinwales.org.uk/resources/clerics/pages/CSF02.php

  12. Thank you, John. This is in fact similar to one of the contradictory sets of advice given to us here in Chelmsford over the last few weeks. But I continue to dispute “when it is received in one kind the fullness of the sacrament is received none the less”, at least until I see any theological justification for this repeated assertion.

  13. I just heard a wonderful joke relevant to this context, which went something like:

    The three little pigs built a house. A big bad wolf came to the door and threatened “I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down”. The pigs replied “Go away, or we’ll sneeze all over you!”

  14. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » An even easier solution to the swine flu communion problem?

  15. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » Nazir-Ali out of line on the Communion cup

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