Nazir-Ali out of line on the Communion cup

Not many people have read my blog series What Anglicans have not always held about Communion. I can’t say I blame the rest of you – it is heavy going. But if anyone wants to get the general idea I recommend reading just part 5: summary and conclusions.

Anyway, what this means is that not many people have noticed what I discovered and reported in part 4 of the series: that Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, together with his suffragan the Bishop of Tonbridge, have stepped out of line with the Archbishops of the Church of England. Not for the first time, of course, for Nazir-Ali, but this time it is nothing directly to do with GAFCON or the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.

With one exception, all of the dioceses and bishops whose recent swine flu advice I have seen have closely followed the line recommended by the Archbishops:

In the light of this advice, we recommend those presiding at Holy Communion suspend the administration of the chalice during this wave of pandemic flu.   For those who still wish to offer in both kinds, we recommend the practice whereby the presiding minister … personally intincts all wafers before placing them in the hands of communicants.

Not all of the dioceses and bishops have suggested the intinction alternative, but all that I have seen, with the one exception, have recommended withholding the Communion cup from the lay people, in contravention of the Thirty-Nine Articles.

This doesn’t imply that all bishops agree with the advice. The blogging Bishop Alan Wilson (not a diocesan bishop) has in fact indicated some severe misgivings, in this comment and this one on this very blog. But they are surely under strong pressure to defer to the Archbishops and to government health advice – even though that health advice is seriously flawed, as is the church’s reaction to other parts of the same advice. I note by the way that in its latest advice on swine flu (which they insist on calling “Influenza ‘A’ (H1N1)”), the Diocese of Oxford, in which Alan Wilson is a bishop, avoids issuing its own advice to “suspend the chalice” but simply reports the Archbishops’ recommendation.

But, as far as I have seen, it is only the Diocese of Rochester which has officially, if subtly, stepped out of line on this matter. The advice which it has issued to all its clergy, in the name of Bishops Nazir-Ali of Rochester and Castle of Tonbridge, closely follows the wording of the Archbishops’ recommendation, but adds to it in a way which gives clear priority to the Archbishops’ alternative of intinction, with communion in one kind downgraded from the main recommendation to “possible” (points of difference from the Archbishops’ advice in italics):

Accordingly we recommend that those presiding at Holy Communion suspend the usual administration of the chalice to others during this wave of pandemic flu. The consequence of this is that it will be possible for communicants to receive in one kind. However, St. Paul reminds us of the importance of the common cup (I Cor.10.16) and so for those who […] wish to offer in both kinds, we recommend the practice whereby the President … personally intincts (dips into the wine) all wafers before placing them in the hands of communicants.

The appeal to the Bible added in Rochester is followed up by an added appeal to the Thirty-Nine Articles:

the Anglican tradition places high spiritual and theological value on sharing in the common cup and, therefore, in Communion in both kinds (Article 30).

The clear implication is that the Rochester bishops, like Bishop Alan Wilson and myself, have strong theological reservations about withdrawing the common cup, based on the Bible and the Thirty-Nine Articles. These two bishops have taken there reservations seriously enough to dissent from passing on the Archbishops’ advice to suspend the Communion cup.

Well done, Bishops Nazir-Ali and Castle! I wish that more bishops and archbishops would have the courage to question the flawed advice from the government, and from their own advisers, to recognise the theological importance of the common cup (which I explained in my series), to stop panicking, and to recommend that (here quoting the Oxford Diocese advice) “As in any crisis, the Church should remain open for business as usual” including in the way that it offers the Communion.

0 thoughts on “Nazir-Ali out of line on the Communion cup

  1. Hi Peter,
    I understand your concerns. However, my (limited) experience of intinction, either for home communion by extension or as for the last 2 Sundays here at the parish Eucharist, has shown me that communicants, while physically being denied the cup (in that they do not hold it) are not actually denied the wine from the common cup. No one has complained to me that they are being denied anything. Indeed, recovering alcoholics here do not drink from the cup at all, yet do not express rejection or exclusion.

    I explained to one parish this morning that yes the restrictions were somewhat over the top, but that they were not really to stop us from getting swine flu. Rather, they were to stop us from passing it on to those who might be more vulnerable to infection ie the young and the infirm. If just one child in my benefice dies from swine flu, it will be because not enough was done to stop the spread of infection. That’s why I’m following the advice

  2. Tim, I am neither recommending nor condemning intinction. But be aware that our own diocesan bishop didn’t mention this as an alternative in his recent letter to clergy, whereas Nazir-Ali positively recommended it.

    If one of your parishioners felt upset that they had been denied the cup, would they complain to you? I know I didn’t complain to my vicar, because he is a busy man and I knew he was only following instructions. Isn’t it always the same half dozen people who complain to you about everything, while the rest keep quiet and if they are really upset just stay away?

    If just one child in my benefice dies from swine flu, it will be because not enough was done to stop the spread of infection.

    No, Tim. Infectious diseases are no one’s fault, and they spread even if we take the best of precautions, although perhaps a bit more slowly. You can’t stop swine flu whatever you do. Don’t beat yourself up over this.

  3. Peter,
    I would like to point out the fact that under the Sacrament Act 1547

    that the saide moste blessed sacrament be hereafter commenlie delivered and ministred unto the people, within this Churche of Englande and Irelande and other the Kings Dominions, under bothe the Kyndes, that is to saie of breade and wyne, excepte necessitie otherwise require:

    Whilst I understand that theologically, and morally, it is directly contravening the 39 Articles, it isn’t against Canon Law, and thus the Archbishops are right to withdraw the common cup.

  4. Nick, I am aware of the Sacrament Act. But there is nothing in it to make it illegal to continue to offer the communion cup. And what exactly is the “necessitie” which otherwise requires? I think the courts would throw out any suggestion that government advice which could be shown to be scientifically untenable is “necessitie”.

    Anyway, the apostles rightly gave preference to the law of God over the law of the land or of the religious authorities, Acts 4:19. What the Archbishops are advising may not be illegal, but it is certainly contravenes Jesus’ teaching.

  5. This report in the Church Times suggests that the Bishop of Salisbury may also have stepped out of line. Well, it seems true that he has not passed on the Archbishops’ advice, because the latest swine flu advice on the diocesan website is dated 14th July. But in fact the relevant content of this advice is almost the same as what the Archbishops later advised:

    2. For the duration of the current situation, only consecrated bread (of whatever kind is the customary practice in the local church) should be offered to those receiving communion. Clergy should emphasize that while communion in both kinds is the norm in the Church of England, in faithfulness to Christ’s institution, when it is received only in one kind the fullness of the Sacrament is received none the less.

    So it seems that the Sherborne clergyman quoted in the article had not seen his own bishop’s advice.

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