Andrew Goddard writes: The inability to share a common cup due to Covid-19 has resulted in the withdrawal of wine at Holy Communion and the claim that administration of wine in individual cups is contrary to law in the Church of England. This was reaffirmed in answer to a Synod question on Saturday. This article highlights the historical and theological significance of communion in both kinds in Anglicanism. It then explains the 1547 Sacrament Act to show the flaws in the arguments of that Synod answer before offering further critiques of the legal opinion on which that answer was based. It argues that individual cups are not contrary to law and that refusal to offer communion in both kinds is theologically significant given Anglican doctrine. The bishops therefore urgently need to review the situation and open up the possibility, if desired and able to be safely administered, of congregations using individual cups until a common cup can be restored.
On Tuesday we will have a celebration of the Lord’s Supper at St James the Less in Pimlico for the first time since lockdown. For all except the presiding minister, however, it will be communion “in one kind” i.e. only one of the two elements will be offered to the congregation. In the current situation it is clearly unwise to drink from the same cup as other people and so wine will not be offered to worshippers. This will not be new. We had already withdrawn the cup for several weeks, even before the formal advice to do so by the Archbishops on 10th March, as Westminster had one of the earliest cases of Covid-19. Nevertheless, the prospect of this being the situation for many months, perhaps even a year or more, raises the question as to why ways cannot be found for the congregation to receive wine as well as bread.
Anglicanism and Communion in Both Kinds
It is easy to forget the importance of receiving both bread and wine within Anglican, and wider Reformation, theology and liturgy. Article 30 of the 39 Articles (introduced in the 1563 revision of the Articles, following the 1562 Council of Trent justifying the medieval practice of only giving bread to the laity) is entitled “Of Both Kinds”. It reads:
The Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the Lay-people: for both the parts of the Lord’s Sacrament, by Christ’s ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike.
This was in line with wider Reformation practice and restored the practice of the early church. Whether or not communion was offered in both kinds was one of the shifting practices through the English Reformation. The Six Articles of 1539 continued medieval practice but the Prayer Books of Edward VI in 1549 and 1552 legalised communion in both kinds following the Sacrament Act of 1547 discussed below. This was then reversed under Mary but restored under Elizabeth as articulated in Article 10 of The Eleven Articles of 1559:
I am of that mind also, that the holy communion or sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, for the due obedience to Christ’s institution, and to express the virtue of the same, ought to be ministered unto the people under both kinds; and that it is avouched by certain fathers of the church to be a plain sacrilege, to rob them of the mystical cup, for whom Christ hath shed his most precious blood, seeing he himself hath said, “Drink ye all of this:” considering also, that in the time of the ancient doctors of the Church, as Cyprian, Hierom [Jerome], Augustine, Gelasius, and others, six hundred years after Christ and more, both the parts of the sacrament were ministered to the people.
Given the importance of receiving bread and wine when administering the sacrament as instituted by Christ it is unsurprising that many have, since March, raised concerns about the Church of England continuing to deny wine to communicants when church services resumed. The rationale offered for this was that the only way wine could be legitimately received is from a common cup which is clearly not wise during a pandemic. There is, however, an alternative which is widely used in many other churches: individual cups. Those asking about this were, however, informed that such a practice was illegal in the Church of England.
Individual Cups? Synod Question and Answer
Given this context, it was encouraging to see a lay person from Chelmsford diocese – Mrs Mary Durlacher – asking for this situation to be reviewed by the bishops in a question to Saturday’s informal virtual meeting of Synod members:
Q68 Will the House of Bishops reconsider the prohibition of use of small individual cups as a valid ‘common sense’ pro tem way of sharing the Communion wine while current constraints remain?
The answer, however, was far from encouraging:
The Bishop of London to reply on behalf of the Chair of the House of Bishops:
The Legal Advisory Commission has stated “it is contrary to law for individual cups to be used for each communicant” and that “the doctrine of necessity cannot be appealed to in order to justify the use of individual cups even in circumstances where there is a fear of contagion from the use of a common cup. …the Sacrament Act 1547 makes provision for cases where a necessity not to deliver a common cup arises: in such a case the normal requirement that the sacrament be delivered in both kinds is disapplied by statute. Even if a shared cup cannot be used for medical reasons, the use of individual cups remains contrary to law….In such cases reception should be in one kind only.” The House cannot authorise or encourage a practice which would be contrary to law.
Sadly, on Saturday, the two attempts to ask supplementary questions were dismissed and so this answer was not able to be scrutinised further or critiqued.
On a plain reading the House of Bishops in this answer not only refuses to consider reception of wine from individual cups during the pandemic but claims it can do nothing because statute law (The Sacrament Act 1547) prohibits them from doing so.
One question here is whether the bishops should not – given the doctrine of the Church of England – ignore any statute that had the effect of preventing the church’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper as instituted by Christ. There is, however, no need to open up the can of worms that is the peculiar established status of the Church of England or to urge the bishops to advocate law-breaking.
The Sacrament Act of 1547
As soon as one looks at the legislation cited in the answer it is clear something strange is happening. The Sacrament Act of 1547, the very first piece of legislation under Edward VI, was enacted as “An Acte against suche as shall unreverentlie speake against the Sacrament of the bodie and bloude of Christe commonlie called the Sacrament of the Altar, and for the receiving therof in bothe Kyndes”.
In other words, the whole purpose of the Act was to enable what the questioner was seeking – reception in both kinds. Yet somehow this Act is now being cited in the answer to prevent any consideration of how to provide what it required.
All sections of the original Act have subsequently been repealed except for the crucial Section VIII which legislates for reception in both kinds under the heading “Primitive Mode of receiving the Sacrament; The Sacrament shall be administered in both Kinds, Bread and Wine, to the People: After Exhortations of the Priest, the Sacrament shall not be denied. Not condemning the Usage of other Churches”.
Translated into contemporary English (the original is here) the key part (there follow requirements for the priest to exhort preparation at least a day before Communion, a practice the bishops have not obviously been so keen to enforce) reads, with bold added for key wording:
And for as much as it is more agreeable both to the first Institution of the said Sacrament of the most precious body and blood of Saviour Jesus Christ, and also more conformable to the common use and practice both of the apostles and of the primitive church by the space of 500 years and more after Christ’s ascension that the said blessed Sacrament should be ministered to all Christian people under both the kinds of Bread and Wine [than] under the form of bread only; And also it is more agreeable to the first Institution of Christ and to the usage of the apostles and the primitive church that the people being present should receive the same with the priest [than] that the Priest should receive it alone; Therefore be it enacted by our said Sovereign Lord the King with the consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and the Commons in this present Parliament assembled and by the authority of the same, that the said most blessed sacrament be hereafter commonly delivered and ministered unto the people, within this Church of England and Ireland and other the King’s Dominions, under both the Kinds, that is to say of bread and wine, except necessity otherwise require….
In the light of the wording of the 1547 Act (and the 39 Articles where the doctrine of the Church of England is to be found according to canon A5) the best answer to the Synod question would appear to be that the House, if it is not to “authorise or encourage a practice which would be contrary to law” (i.e. refusing to offer wine to congregations) does indeed need to “reconsider the prohibition of use of small individual cups as a valid ‘common sense’ pro tem way of sharing the Communion wine while current constraints remain”.
Instead the bishops are refusing to do so claiming the use of individual cups is “a practice which would be contrary to law”. This is despite there being no legal proscription of it in either statute law (despite the answer’s suggestion, the 1547 Act says nothing about the number of cups or how many people drink from them) or canon law.
Why are individual cups being declared “contrary to law”? The Legal Advisory Commission’s Arguments
The basis for this paradoxical reversal of the plain reading of the Articles and the 1547 Act is an opinion from the Legal Advisory Commission (LAC) issued back in September 2011. The background to this was the decision by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in July 2009 to write to the bishops recommending the suspension of the common cup. More detailed advice and commentary was also issued which made clear 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”. This was in the context of “swine flu” (H1N1) and advice from the Department of Health not to share “common vessels” for food or drink. An update was issued in September 2009 (after reports that most bishops had shared a common cup at the meeting of the College) and the advice was initially reaffirmed in November after a review (despite some diocesan bishops having restored the chalice) and then withdrawn and the chalice restored at the end of November 2009 (see here). This official “swine flu” withdrawal of communion in both kinds therefore lasted just over 4 months, the same length of time (in July 2020) since the Covid-19 restrictions but with the prospect of many more months ahead.
The argument prohibiting individual cups has not gone unchallenged. In May 2010, in the immediate aftermath of the 2009 withdrawal of the cup, Bishop Colin Buchanan wrote a robust critique entitled “Individual Cups? Law, Ecclesiology and Eucharist” in The Ecclesiastical Law Journal (Vol 12 No 2, pp. 219-23, here but subscription required to access). This examined earlier similar advice in relation to individual cups and intinction.
As a communicant who has been considerably deprived by the expedients used, I urge that, when necessity moves us from established custom, then here [i.e. his argument for individual cups] is a better place to inhabit. If Jesus instituted a sacrament of bread and wine, with the two elements received separately from each other, how is it that the Church of England can so readily declare a second-best way of so receiving the elements out of court, and go instead for much further departures from Jesus’ institution?
But then, straining out gnats and swallowing camels is a persistent foundation principle of our corporate life.
Then, in April 2012, Philip Jones’ “Swine Flu and the Sacrament Act 1547” went even further, examining the language of “necessity” in the 1547 Act and concluding:
Refusal to administer the wine at holy communion, and any direction by bishops to their clergy not to administer the wine, therefore amounts to misconduct under s.8 of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003. Refusal is both a failure to do an act required by ecclesiastical law and neglect of the performance of the duties of office, since administration of the communion cup is a duty of office. Any purported direction by the bishops to withhold the communion cup is also misconduct, being an act in contravention of ecclesiastical law.
The concern for public health may be understandable. However, it cannot override the clergy’s duty to administer, and the communicant’s right to receive, communion under both the kinds. Nor should the 1547 Act be used as a ‘figleaf’ to cover an arbitrary, illegal suspension of this fundamental duty and right. If the communion cup is really a threat to public health, the proper course is to amend the law.
What then were the LAC’s arguments that “it is contrary to law for individual cups to be used for each communicant” and how strong are they? How do they relate to the wording of the 1547 Act and Article 30?
Critique of LAC’s arguments
The claim in paragraph 3(i) of the LAC’s advice is that “the norm for the giving of the ‘cup’ should mean the use of a single chalice”. This need not be denied. However, as the advice notes, “it has long been accepted that where there are large numbers of people present an additional minister or ministers may ‘deliver the cup’ by way of consecrated additional chalices”. Indeed, “the rubric during the Prayer of Consecration in the Book of Common Prayer 1662 seems specifically to recognise the possible use of more than one cup or chalice”. The use of multiple cups is therefore not the problem with individual cups. Furthermore, as Buchanan notes, this means that “any reference in rubrics or cross-headings to ‘the cup’ has no implications about the actual number of cups employed at any celebration”.
Their argument is, rather, that any cups used must be shared ie used by more than one person. This is based, in 3(ii), on the definite article in the BCP rubric (“the Minister that delivereth the Cup to any one shall say….) which, it is claimed, “suggests that individual cups are not envisaged”. But the fact that they are not envisaged does not mean they are prohibited. The impermissibility of individual cups is then said to be supported by the rubric concerning further consecration (“If the consecrated … Wine be all spent before all have communicated, the Priest is to consecrate more ….”) although this need not follow eg if wine was consecrated in a flagon and then poured into individual empty cups held by each communicant then the situation envisaged in the rubric could still arise. An even weaker argument from silence is then offered on the basis of canon F3 (on communion plate) which refers to “a chalice for the wine”. Here it is admitted that this “merely states the bare minimum of that which is to be supplied and therefore is not entirely definitive” but the claim is made that “it is most likely that, if individual cups had been envisaged, it would have specifically referred to them”. But again “not envisaged” is not “contrary to law” and surely this omission is more likely because of “the norm” of a single chalice. The silence here no more forbids individual cups than it forbids multiple chalices.
In the light of the weakness of these arguments the claim that follows in 3(iii), the opening of which begins the answer given at Synod, is without foundation:
It follows that it is contrary to law for individual cups to be used for each communicant, or for an individual communicant, even if such cups were to be individually consecrated by the president and delivered individually by the minister (including a lay person duly authorised by the bishop under Canon B 12, para. 3) to the communicant.
Do the bishops really believe this is contrary to law given the poor reasoning offered? Does not the LAC argument instead do what Colin Buchanan described the earlier legal advice as doing – “convey the strong impression that the Commission knew the answer it wanted – the negativing of individual cups – from the beginning, and pursued it as a matter of policy, rather than law or doctrine”.
Three further arguments against the LAC’s position
Three further arguments can be advanced against the view that individual cups are illegal. Firstly, as we have seen the LAC’s own argument is based not on only one cup being permitted but on the principle stated in 3(ii) that “the same cup/chalice is to be shared by a number of communicants”. If that is the case then clearly wine cannot wisely be shared during the pandemic. But it is not just that their legal arguments for this position are so weak. Is there anything in Scripture or tradition to suggest that this principle is essential for the proper celebration of the Lord’s Supper? Is it really the case that the inability to use a shared cup represents a legitimate “necessity” over-riding the fundamental rationale of the 1547 Act (which makes no reference to “a common cup” despite the LAC claim quoted in the Synod answer that “the Sacrament Act 1547 makes provision for cases where a necessity not to deliver a common cup arises”)? Does this principle of only using a shared cup trump the Articles that state “The Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the Lay-people”?
Secondly, dispensation was, controversially, given during the lockdown for clergy to celebrate the Lord’s Supper alone. It is also now expected that, although the congregation will not be offered the chalice, the person presiding will drink wine from the chalice. According to the CofE guidance,
At the giving of Communion, the president receives Communion in both kinds…The president alone should always take the wine, consuming all that has been consecrated; other communicants should receive the bread only.
In both of these cases it is no longer the case that “the same cup/chalice is to be shared by a number of communicants”. Here the chalice is, in effect, an individual cup, reserved for the priest and denied to the people. In other words, the only logical or principled argument that could legitimately be used to deny individual cups to communicants also prevents only one person from consuming wine during the Lord’s Supper but this is what is being required by the current guidance.
Thirdly, the same LAC opinion that so dogmatically rules individual cups to be illegal also manages to argue that “the use of wafers instead of loaves is lawful”. It is hard to see, both logically and theologically, how the insistence on “one cup” even to the extent of denying communicants wine is compatible with such a disregard for “we all share in one bread”. As Colin Buchanan writes:
St Paul says (and our words at the breaking of bread echo him) that we all share one bread – but I see little sign of repentance from the atomised individual wafers which our Victorian ancestors brought in. When a serious reversion from the atomised bread has been brought in, then we may worry about individual cups in terms of sharing with each other; but not until then…let us get properly shared bread in universal use, before we attempt to mount a generally applicable argument about the common cup.
Many other questions at the virtual meeting of Synod members focussed on other aspects of the various statements from Archbishops and bishops during lockdown. As we come out of lockdown and are able to gather again to celebrate Holy Communion this question about individual cups becomes particularly pressing. In answer to another question (Q126), the Bishop of Exeter as Chair of the Liturgical Commission said, “The impact of the pandemic and churches being closed for public worship have indicated the need for further theological work on Holy Communion”. However, he then added that “It is not likely that such work would be concluded before the next round of elections” i.e. summer 2021.
The misleading answer to Mrs Durlacher’s question and its underlying flawed legal advice about individual cups needs to be addressed much more urgently. At the very least the House of Bishops or, failing that, individual bishops, must now do what was asked in the question – “reconsider the prohibition of use of small individual cups as a valid ‘common sense’ pro tem way of sharing the Communion wine while current constraints remain”. This is not to recommend individual cups as generally acceptable once we are beyond the pandemic (interestingly, they appear to have been first introduced in the late 19th century due to health concerns). The issue is simply whether the current official absolutist prohibition of the Church of England as reaffirmed in the answer on Saturday is legally and theologically defensible. Even if it is concluded that it is not, whether and how we might use individual cups safely and with minimal loss of the symbolism of a shared cup will need further consideration before their introduction. We need to recognise, however, that Methodists and Baptists are already addressing health and safety matters in their guidance (and government advice simply states, “Where food or drink (‘consumables’) are essential to the act of worship, they can be used, however the sharing of food should be avoided, as should the use of communal vessels”) and Anglicans elsewhere in the world appear happy to use individual cups in their Communion services.
We face many months, perhaps more than a year, before we can again share wine from a common cup. The bishops therefore need urgently to review this situation given Anglican doctrine about communion in both kinds. The answer given to Synod members that communion in one kind is preferable and indeed required because the alternative – using individual cups – is “contrary to law” is not only legally dubious at best but, much more importantly, it is biblically baseless, theologically erroneous, and likely to prove pastorally damaging.
Revd Dr Andrew Goddard is Assistant Minister, St James the Less, Pimlico, Tutor in Christian Ethics, Westminster Theological Centre (WTC) and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anglican Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.
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