Receiving Communion in individual cups: round two

Andrew Atherstone writes: As the Church of England undertakes its “Covid Recovery” planning, the question of individual cups at Holy Communion continues to gather pace. As is widely known, the House of Bishops have taken refuge behind a 2011 paper from the Legal Advisory Commission (LAC) which summarily pronounced individual cups to be “contrary to law”. Important questions about this at General Synod in July 2020 were dismissed, and Andrew Goddard was first into the ring two weeks ago with a protest on this website, building on the arguments of veteran campaigner and liturgy expert Bishop Colin Buchanan. That was Round One.

Readers of the LAC’s advice are in for a shock. It is obtuse, illogical, and evasive. The fact that Bishop Buchanan’s important essay on individual cups (published in the Ecclesiastical Law Journal in May 2010) is not even referenced by the LAC paper (published in September 2011), and none of its arguments considered, is symptomatic of the LAC’s rush to pre-judge the issue. We need a second legal opinion as a matter of priority. Therefore, in recent days, members of the House of Bishops, and the legal department of the Church of England, have been lobbied to re-open the question. The result is a new paper, just published, Holy Communion and the Distribution of the Elements [HCDE]. It is certainly a major advance on the LAC’s efforts – much more serious, sober, respectful, and deserving of careful weighing. Alas, it is still on the wrong track. So begins Round Two.

Obeying Jesus

There is a very simple reason why we want both bread and wine at Holy Communion: because Jesus commands it. Twice over, when instituting the Lord’s Supper, he says: “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25). And yet now the Church of England is intent on forbidding one of those instructions. This is not a trivial matter – it concerns an explicit dominical command.

The medieval Western Church restricted the cup to the priesthood on theological grounds, encouraged by Thomas Aquinas and confirmed by the Council of Trent with anathemas. But the Reformers rightly pushed back, insisting on the restoration of apostolic practice. John Calvin, for example, asserted that the medieval church had “snatched or robbed a half of the Supper from the greater part of the people of God” and had made it “the peculiar possession of a few shaven and anointed individuals” (Institutes 4.17.47). All the Reformation churches agreed that Communion must be in both kinds, for the whole congregation, as laid down explicitly for the Church of England in the 1547 Sacrament Act and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. Jesus commands, “Drink ye all of this” (Matthew 26:27). He didn’t say, “Drink ye clergy of this.”

So for a church in Covid Recovery, when a shared cup is a health risk, how should we fulfil the command of Jesus? There are two obvious options and, as this paper will argue, both should be accepted as legal and permissible. Some congregations may choose to suspend the cup (an exemption to the Sacrament Act in times of “necessity”). Other congregations may choose to use individual cups. And yet now the House of Bishops have taken it upon themselves to force the issue – the first permission they want to turn into a command for every congregation, the second permission they want to ban for every congregation. What is permitted by the Sacrament Act is now mandated by the House of Bishops, for the entire Church of England. This is authoritarian over-reach.

This sudden laying down of the law is particularly startling given the way the House of Bishops have bent over backwards to accommodate liturgical flexibility and variety during the pandemic. Their earlier guidance document, COVID-19 Advice on the Administration of Holy Communion, even permits the practice of solo Communion, with only the priest present. Solo Communion is out of step with classic Anglican theology and is expressly forbidden by the Book of Common Prayer rubrics. But in our current disrupted circumstances, the House of Bishops nod sagely and let it pass, on the basis that sometimes “exceptional actions” are needed “to preserve a greater principle”. And yet breathe a word of “individual cups” – an entirely innocent practice – and it seems the sky has fallen in.

Holy Communion and the Distribution of the Elements is an attempt to bolt and bar the liturgical door, before any cup touches Anglican lips – unless the communicant happens to be an ordained priest, in which case drinking from an individual cup is not only permitted but obligatory. It also introduces some new red-herrings, which need to be dispatched before we come to the substance of the matter.

Red-Herring No.1: Purification Rituals

The House are Bishops are concerned about “any consecrated wine that may remain in individual cups after the communicant has received” (HCDE §4). How could this be safely consumed by the priest? But this is a needless worry. The whole point of an individual cup, containing an individual portion of wine, is that it is all consumed by the communicant, in one or two gulps – there is none left.

In some Anglican parishes, every chalice is ritually cleansed during the service, with rinsing, and wiping, and more drinking, to ensure that every drop of wine is removed. Some priests may therefore quail at the prospect of purifying a table-full of cups. But these purity rituals are not universal Anglican practice. The Book of Common Prayer only directs that surplus consecrated bread or wine must be “reverently” consumed after the service has finished. Any wine in an individual cup touched by a communicant will already have been reverently consumed by that communicant. There is no difficulty here. Ritual ablutions are a red-herring.

Red-Herring No.2: Public Health Risks

The House of Bishops are also concerned that individual cups pose “significant public health risks” (HCDE §4, 13-17) – for example, the use of small glasses packed closely together on a small tray, or the pouring of wine into cups brought from home. What about spillages, or accidental touching? But there are other possibilities of course, such as a banqueting table laid with wine glasses, spaced out from each other. Yes, these practical questions certainly need “very careful consideration” (HCDE §15). The health of the congregation is paramount. But similar concerns might be raised about sharing individual wafers – every wafer is touched by the fingers of the priest as it is dropped in the hands of the communicant. And yet on a balance of risks, individual wafers are allowed during Covid Recovery. It is not beyond human wisdom to find a safe way to distribute wine also. This is an important practical question, but another red-herring for the issue at hand. The central claim of the House of Bishops is not that individual cups are unsafe to use in time of pandemic, but that individual cups are illegal, everywhere and always.

The Central Question: Are Individual Cups Illegal?

Let us return to the matter at hand: are individual cups illegal in the Church of England? Is the House of Bishops right to try to ban them? It is the contention of this paper that individual cups are already legally permissible. If individual cups are illegal, then individual wafers should be illegal also. If individual wafers are legal (as is now widely accepted), then on the same theological, historical and liturgical grounds individual cups must be legal. The cases are directly parallel.

For the sake of comparison, let us consider the legal case against individual wafers. This question dominated the destructive “worship wars” of Victorian Anglicanism and was argued at great length in the courts. In the middle of the nineteenth century, Tractarians began to innovate with Communion wafers, and the case against them rested on the following six points:

  • Individual wafers were “not customary” in the Church of England.
  • Individual wafers were “not envisaged” by the Anglican Reformers.
  • Individual wafers undermined the symbolism of “one loaf”. Indeed, as St Paul writes: “we who are many are one body, because we all partake of one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10:17).
  • Individual wafers were associated with other denominations, especially those scary Roman Catholics.
  • Individual wafers were deliberately excised from the Book of Common Prayer by Thomas Cranmer. The 2011 LAC paper claimed the fact that wafers were permitted in the 1549 Prayer Book as evidence in their favour. But the LAC read this history the wrong way around. Wafers were deliberately omitted from the 1552 Prayer Book. To understand the theology of our Prayer Book we need to pay attention not only to what is added in, but also to what is left out.
  • Individual wafers were explicitly prohibited by the Book of Common Prayer rubrics, which insist: “And to take away all occasion of dissension, and superstition, which any person hath or might have concerning the bread and wine, it shall suffice that the bread be such as is usual to be eaten; but the best and purest wheat bread that conveniently may be gotten.” Not many people usually eat wafers, and you won’t find them in the bakery.

On these six grounds, individual wafers were widely resisted in the Victorian Church. But today they are permitted, because we have learnt to tolerate a variety of liturgical practice. Some of us prefer to use a loaf of bread from the baker’s shop, others prefer individual wafers. There is no fundamental doctrine at stake here. Everyone now agrees that the Church of England has capacity for both types of practice, and the House of Bishops would be foolish to go around trying to ban individual wafers like their predecessors did.

And yet the case currently being constructed by the House of Bishops against individual cups is directly parallel to the old case against individual wafers, as follows:

  • Individual cups are “not customary” in the Church of England (HCDE §4).
  • Individual cups were “not envisaged” by the Anglican Reformers (LAC 2011).
  • Individual cups undermine the symbolism of “one cup” (HCDE §4).
  • Individual cups are associated with other denominations, especially those scary “Free Churches”, like the Methodists and Baptists (HCDE §14).

If these arguments were unsustainable 150 years ago against individual wafers, they are unsustainable today against individual cups. If individual wafers are permissible, then on the same basis and by the same logic, individual cups must be permissible too.

Indeed, the case against individual cups is even weaker than the case against individual wafers. The rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer stand against individual wafers, but open the door to separate cups. At Communion, the minister is instructed to “lay his hand upon every vessel (be it chalice or flagon) in which there is any wine to be consecrated”. This takes for granted that there may be more than “one cup” and that the wine may not actually be in a cup, but in a “flagon” or jug from which it is then poured out into smaller vessels. Holy Communion and the Distribution of the Elements admits this, and therefore tries subtly to shift the ground to a new line of argument. It no longer insists on “one cup” – because in many churches there is often more than one cup – but upon “shared vessels” (HCDE §4). So now multiple cups are to be permitted, an extension of the “common cup”, as long as they are all shared cups! This is vanishingly small ground on which to stand, riddled with contradictions.

It seems to be grudgingly conceded by the House of Bishops that the symbolic sharing of “one loaf” and “one cup” does not necessitate literally “one loaf” and “one cup”. To take a natural analogy, if my family share bread at lunch, it does not matter if it is one unbroken loaf, or pre-cut into slices, or baked as individual bread rolls – we are still sharing the meal together. If my friends share wine at supper, it is poured from the bottle into individual glasses – we are still sharing the wine together, even if we don’t pass around a single goblet. Congregations are intelligent enough to make these connections in a Holy Communion context. Yes, the symbolic sharing is visually enhanced if we share one loaf of bread and one cup of wine, but individual wafers and individual cups are still a viable form of sharing in the family meal. To insist that we are not sharing unless the vessels are shared is pedantic literalism. And the House of Bishops have already conceded the point by allowing that the “common cup” may expand to take the form of multiple cups! They are left clutching at straws.

Struggling to find any legal or liturgical grounds on which to ban individual cups, Holy Communion and the Distribution of the Elements invents a theological rationale. It acknowledges that during the pandemic some change to our normal practice is necessary, but then insists that any adaptation must take account of the “primary symbolic association” of each element (HCDE §4). We learn that the primary symbol of the bread is “broken”, and the primary symbol of the wine is “shared”. So it follows that individual wafers are permitted, provided one of them is “broken”, but individual cups are forbidden, because they cannot be “shared”. This is special pleading at its most extreme. It would be easy to argue the opposite case – that the primary symbol of the bread is “shared”, and the primary symbol of the wine is “poured out”. Therefore, the House of Bishops might as well ban individual wafers and permit individual cups! Bread and wine are both “broken” and “poured out”. Bread and wine are both “shared”. It is entirely arbitrary to give special weighting to different halves of the equation, and there is no biblical or theological ground for doing so.

Despite having failed to build any sort of coherent case against individual cups, Holy Communion and the Distribution of the Elements concludes:

The use of individual cups could be made lawful in the present circumstances only if they were lawful at all other times. Such a change can only be sanctioned by the House of Bishops or by the General Synod. In view of the above, such a change is likely to be highly contentious, and would generate significant controversy without the prospect of agreement being reached. (HCDE §19)

But this again misses the point. Individual cups don’t need to be made lawful. No law needs rescinding, no canon needs revising, no Prayer Book rubric needs glossing, no General Synod vote needs counting. If individual wafers are legal, then there can be no case against individual cups. Unless the House of Bishops is planning to ban individual wafers, then they must concede that individual cups are already lawful as things stand. Local congregations must thus be at liberty to use them immediately, if they can find a safe and practical way to do so.

It is not the duty of the House of Bishops to go around banning things. In the use of individual cups at Holy Communion, no biblical doctrine is impugned and no moral imperative is transgressed. These episcopal missives merely confuse congregations and generate the very controversy we all want to avoid. In this period of Covid Recovery they also place Church of England clergy in an invidious position, of seeking to obey the House of Bishops or seeking to obey the commands of Jesus, who said: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Revd Dr Andrew Atherstone is Latimer research fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and author of The Anglican Ordinal: Gospel Priorities for Church of England Ministry (Latimer Trust, 2020). He is a member of the Church of England’s Liturgical Commission.

Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.

Comments policy: Do engage with the subject. Please don't turn this into a private discussion board. Do challenge others in the debate; please don't attack them personally. I no longer allow anonymous comments; if there are very good reasons, you may publish under a pseudonym; otherwise please include your full name, both first and surnames.

63 thoughts on “Receiving Communion in individual cups: round two”

  1. “It is not the duty of the House of Bishops to go around banning things.”

    Except that’s exactly what they’ve done over the last four months: first, clergy praying alone in their own church buildings (later risibly and disingenuously claimed to be “advice” and “guidance” — an insult to my intelligence and their integrity). Second, church funerals (despite being allowed by the government). Now this. More ultra vires overreach.

    Incumbents have rights and responsibilities; my bishop expects me to discharge the latter and I expect him to respect the former.

    Bishops should speak truth to power. During the current crisis they have spoken power to truth.

  2. Many thanks for this. We must keep pushing this issue. The ‘common cup’ is not coming back for a long time!

  3. As someone who grew up in the Church of England but who has spent the last 20 years in the Methodist Church (where individual cups are the norm), I am am completely against individual cups. Their use distorts the whole practice of *communion* as *communion*, changing it it from a communal act to an individual one. As for the legal position, I’m not an expert. My late brother-in-law was a canon lawyer who generally railed against the kind of innovation you’re pushing for, and having looked at the 2011 LAC paper I don’t share your negative assessment. The acceptance of wafers over the last 150 years that you cite as support for your case has one major flaw: it is wrong, legally, theologically and liturgically. The fact that the Church has acquiesced in this un-Anglican practice doesn’t change that. The common cup really does matter, as does the common loaf and receiving communion in both kinds. There are temporary solutions to this to safeguard health during the pandemic that would entail deviation from normal practice. For example, it is possible to have a common vessel from which the wine is poured for each communicant (I have taken communion done like this several times). But whatever the solution, it must be made clear that it is temporary, and that the normal practice will be restored as soon as it is safe to do so.

    • ‘The acceptance of wafers over the last 150 years that you cite as support for your case has one major flaw: it is wrong, legally, theologically and liturgically.’ Well, I for one would agree with you on that.

      So do you think that the bishops should ban both individual cups and individual wafers? Do you think that is likely? Do you think the controversy will be worthwhile?

      But surely you must agree that if the latter are permitted, the former must be also…?

      • The Bishops won’t ban wafers – that’s too far gone, unfortunately. Anyway, I agree with your inference: the controversy wouldn’t be worthwhile. But I do actively encourage ordained friends of mine (including my own brother!) not to use them.

        ‘But surely you must agree that if the latter are permitted, the former must be also…?’ This seems to me an obvious non sequitur. Using one flawed argument to legitimate another flawed argument isn’t a foundation for good theology, good policy making or good practice. There does need to be a solution that enables safe communication in both kinds, and that will have to entail some form of individual cups for the time being. But as I hinted in my comment, there are ways to do that while retaining the commonality of reception (i.e. not simply mimicking various non-conformist churches). The main thing here is to be pragmatic and creative; perhaps the ‘single flagon’ argument could be used to support this (which is what I was more less advocating), though I think it’s a pretty big leap from the BCP rubric (which I am certain assumed a ‘flagon’ would be used to fill more than one communal chalice) to using individual cups. Whatever solution they come up with, it needs to be emphasized that anything which deviates from the normal common cup is strictly temporary, and to be clear why. I’m critical of those who are using current restrictions as a vehicle to push more general agendas like individual cups and online communion, but I have to say that one of the reasons they can do so is because the Church of England isn’t always as clear as it could be in articulating why practices are as they are. Cranmer and other Reformers who developed the Church of England’s liturgical and sacramental practices were fantastically precise in all they did, and it’s one of the great weaknesses of the contemporary church (especially among the evangelicals, I’m sad to say) that this precision has been abandoned, often through a combination of ignorance and arrogance (N.B. I’m not advocating no change in worship styles or content, just careful thought!). So in my view an essential step at this stage is to make sure that the precision of these foundational practices is properly understood when proposing any major changes, whether temporary or permanent.

        • it’s one of the great weaknesses of the contemporary church (especially among the evangelicals, I’m sad to say) that this precision has been abandoned, often through a combination of ignorance and arrogance

          Is it not mainly due to a deliberate policy of constructive ambiguity?

    • Their use distorts the whole practice of *communion* as *communion*, changing it it from a communal act to an individual one.

      But they don’t at all. If anything when everyone drinks at the same time it is a more communal act than when people drink sequentially one after the other. Do you not think that the act of drinking a toast is a communal act?

      For example, it is possible to have a common vessel from which the wine is poured for each communicant (I have taken communion done like this several times).

      Surely this is exactly what happens when the wine is poured from a single bottle or jar into individual cups for each communicant?

      But whatever the solution, it must be made clear that it is temporary, and that the normal practice will be restored as soon as it is safe to do so.

      On that we must all agree. This is not a ‘new normal’ and it must not be allowed to become established as such. No one must be allowed to get away with sneaking in changes they have always wanted to make under the guise of ‘temporary emergency measures’ only to have them become permanent changes.

      • I understand your argument here, but I just don’t agree. The difference between individual cups, innovated by non-conformists in the 19th century, and a common cup is profound. Even before covid, I was at a point where it was a major struggle to continue the practice of using individual cups in my own church, and I’ve been communicating more often at a local CofE parish church than in my own. It was more and more a sense of disconnection, even as we communicated it at the same time. See my reply above (or below – I’m not sure!) for further thoughts on creative pragmatism and temporary vs permanent.

        • I understand your argument here, but I just don’t agree.

          That’s fine; if it really does come down to such subjective, fuzzy concepts as ‘a sense of disconnection’ then there’s no way we are going to agree.

          But can we at least agree that in that case there are no objective grounds for claiming that the use of individual cups ‘distorts the whole practice of *communion* as *communion*’?

        • I grew up Baptist and the norm was individual cups/bread.
          Far from being an act of disconnection there was something powerfully ‘com-union’ when all ate & drank at the same time.

          As was made clear in the comments following Andrew’s post -in most churches, there is use of multiple cups – in my church we have approaching 10 in term time. We drink from separate chalices, yet all drink from the one cup Jesus drank of.

    • For example, it is possible to have a common vessel from which the wine is poured for each communicant (I have taken communion done like this several times).

      What do you think of the practice at large cathedrals when there is a service with over a thousand in attendance. In my experience (I have administered the chalice at such an occasion), there are perhaps 9 distribution points, some with two chalices. All the chalices are filled before the service and are consecrated on the table* together. Is that a sufficient sharing?

      I think there is lurking in people’s minds something about a sharing of the vessel between people being more significant than simply a sharing in timing. Many of the bishops will have attended the older universities and experienced the ritual of the ‘loving cup’ at some college feast. Towards the end of the meal, this cup is passed round to be drunk in turn by each. There is a ritual of the neighbours standing beside the drinker to guard them. (Aparently, someone was stabbed while his hands were holding the cup, so guarding expresses protection of your neighbour). But this passing round does represent an inter-personal connection which is not present in individual cups.

      However, that inter-personal connection is less present in the distribution at the communion rail by an authorised server. Some years ago I attended a service at an Eglise Reformée church in the South of France. For the distribution of communion we all moved to the front of the church and formed a circle. The elements were passed round. The wine was in ancient pewter chalices. There was a real communion in that with people I had not met before.

      * I believe that there was an important case in canon law circa 1960 that established that CofE churches do not have altars but communion tables. That law is more honoured in the breach than the observance.

        • For the last point I do not. However, I was told this in the context of the Round Church in Cambridge in the ’70s (my church), which was the particular church over which the case was brought. I think the occasion was a previous incumbent had wanted to install a stone ‘table’ and this was challenged. As a result, in my time the wooden table never had any frontal hiding its wooden framework and the empty space. The celebrant would stand to the North (there being no space to the East).

          The liturgy does not refer to ‘altar’, but many ministers and others do refer to such!

          • David is correct about it being the Round Church but over a century out with the date. And it was the (absentee pluralist) vicar who had objected to the installation of a stone altar during a restoration organised and largely financed by the Cambridge Camden Society (later the Ecclesiological Society). The judgement was given by the Court of Arches in January 1845, and is noticed briefly on the Round Church website (
            Sadly, the issue has now been slightly muddied by a judgement in the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved in 1987 (see for some details). As I understand it, it still has to be a ‘table’, but a table can now be made of stone and need not be movable….

        • Cranmer referred to the ‘altar’ in the 1549 prayer book, but replaced it with ‘table’ in 1552. He also changed the rubric for the priest so that he was no longer standing between the people and the table, but was on the north side. And he expunged references to the ‘mass’. So there are no ‘altars’ in the Church of England, only ‘tables’ – and quite deliberately so.

  4. This is very helpful, thank you.
    I’ve ordered from Amazon and am waiting on a stainless steel pot with a goose-neck spout (normally used for pour-over coffee making). I can’t wait to see how well it does pour and if it is possible to fill individual cups quickly and conveniently in a controlled way. If so, all the wine can be consecrated together in what is effectively one cup, and then decanted into the appropriate amount of individual glasses for consumption. A number determined by the amount of communicants present, which, presumably won’t be that many during the pandemic (for us 20-50). If it works well, I had already planned on buying a second one, and making a gift of it to my bishop, with my love.

  5. Whatever disputed C16th rubrics say, the law governing the administration of communion is an Act of Parliament, which takes precedence over all other forms of ecclesiastical legislation. The Sacrament Act 1547 states in its title that it is to ensure that the Sacrament is treated reverently. The purpose of the remaining unrepealed section viii is to require that the Sacrament is administered in both kinds, “except necessity otherwise require”. The Act was provided in a time when the Plague was a frequent visitor to London, and although its terminology may be of its time, its purpose is entirely contemporary. This is the provision which has been made for times of necessity like ours, after which administration in both kinds may safely resume. It is not a reversion to the mediaeval practice in which only the priest received the chalice – this is an Act which expressly puts an end to that.

    We should not use an emergency situation to change our doctrine or liturgical practice in such a way as to establish yet another means of dividing Anglicans one from another, especially in view of the intention of the 1547 Act to ensure reverence for the Sacrament.

    The Canon law of the Church of England, which regulates such things more specifically than Acts of Parliament, has this to say in Canon F3 about the vessels to be used for Holy Communion:

    “In every church and chapel there shall be provided, for the celebration of the Holy
    Communion, a chalice for the wine and a paten or other vessel for the bread, of gold, silver,
    or other suitable metal.”

    It is not negotiable – it requires the provision of a chalice, not any other alternative. Where there is a large congregation, it requires more than one chalice.

    The sharing of a chalice (or chalices) preserves the symbolism of sharing a common cup, and the intimacy of the Last Supper in which Jesus shared the cup with the apostles. By contrast, the use of dozens or even hundreds of vessels atomises the congregation as individuals.

    There are other issues with such individual cups which have been referred to above. They are a risk for transmission of the virus. They can not be cleansed by the celebrant. Putting them in a dishwasher is not a reverent way to handle the sacrament.

    But the principle here is simple and it is twofold. In the Church of England we are required to use a chalice for the administration of Holy Communion. If it is not possible in a time of Plague, the 1547 Act envisages suspension of administration in both kinds until it is safe to do so. That is both the law and the tradition of the Church of England.

  6. Since it became known that the sharing of the cup was suspended I have had three requests from within our congregation:
    The first is that we borrow the shared glasses from the Methodists across the road who have chosen not to re-open yet.
    The Second is that we share Communion on Zoom with everyone having bread and wine in front of the computer for the Eucharistic prayer.
    The third is that I take the cup as the minister (something I am not doing at the moment as I identify as one of the church family who share in the deprivation) and everyone who wants to. drinks from whatever they have brought at the same time.
    The first suggestion has been dealt with by your excellent article. For the second we have had a clear warning that the bread and wine could not be consecrated over the internet. This raises big questions about what consecration is and limitations of the work of the Holy Spirit which I was unaware of! The third suggestion would, I suspect, cause apoplexy amongst many liturgists.
    I understand the objections to all three, but there is something here that I think is greater than liturgical niceties, or even legal priorities. They are all examples of God’s people trying to find ways to both obey their Lord’s command and strengthen their relationship with him in unusual circumstances. As such I would happily go with any of these three ideas if I wasn’t so concerned with the potential consequences of doing so. (one near brush with CDM was enough for me!) I long for the day when the Church if England has leadership that encourages untidy obedience to Jesus rather than tidy obedience to the whim of the presiding authority. Many will be aware of the analogy of the untidy nursery versus the tidy graveyard.

    • … not to mention the small incongruity that we are angsting about all this at a time when Christians in Nigeria (to name just one country!) where Christians are dying in their hundreds! I wonder what they’d say if they could join our debate …

  7. Again so much time spent on non essential theology which to an outsider would be incomprehensible. During a pandemic and now a second wave any practice that can spread sars COVID 19 amongst people should be stopped. The churches should look outwards not onwards trying to support people through a pandemic rather than trying to gather together increasing risk and spread which is non essential and both inward looking and self serving. The Clericalist undertones of the argument seem to again show an anachronistic set of rubrics that have little sense to secular society battling a pandemic.

  8. I think any idea that there’s a kind of mysterious symbolism by drinking from the one cup is overdone. Is there great symbolism among cattle or sheep that drink from the same trough? Are birds that drink from the one bird table on a winter’s morning symbolically joined together? Of course not!

    What is important here is obviously the wine itself. Why? Because by means of it Jesus imparted a covenant symbol, visible and partaken, which forever after would remind Christians that their salvation was won by the pouring out of Jesus’ blood. The covenant for us Christians, in the same way as happened for the Israelites at the first Passover, is that God has seen his Son’s blood shed on that terrible day once and for all; he has accepted it and will save, without further question, all who believe. It’s a poignant reminder for all of us that God will keep his word. Of course Christians who are not very familiar with the events of the first Passover would have a far better understanding of their Communion services if they became so, but surely that cannot apply to bishops?

    Yet they do seem intent that their own additional rules must dominate even over Communion’s life affirming demonstration of God’s grace. Jesus alone chose to institute it with so few words and with such simplicity that nothing further was added to it in the New Testament save for Paul’s reminder that it speaks of the oneness of all Christians, and that it should be treated reverently.

    In view of the current unusual circumstances during which bishops have clumsily grabbed at power for less than convincing reasons, this latest absurdity suggests to me that it’s high time they examine themselves…

    • Finally – some sense… “What is important here is obviously the wine itself. Why? Because by means of it Jesus imparted a covenant symbol, visible and partaken, which forever after would remind Christians that their salvation was won by the pouring out of Jesus’ blood. ”
      YES / YES / YES!!! … Someone – Please help me… I’ve rowed twice with my vicar – and with many other ministers of the Christian church. They tell me they are taking the blood for me! How dare they be so pompous! I refuse to take merely the body of Christ (the bread). I read my bible – Christ says to take both the body & the blood. I am not knowledgeable about denominations – but I am now I’m to the point where I’d go ANYWHERE to receive Holy Communion. It must be well over a year for me… Can anyone please tell me where I go? I live in the Reading area… Thank you…

  9. Dear O dear,
    To me this is akin to rule of Pharisees.
    In my ignorance I’m not sure that I’ve picked up it up correctly: a minister can partake of bread and wine in splendid isolation, the only one?
    If that is correct, where is the theological and scriptural warrant?
    Surely, please say it is not correct or, if it is, it is not supported by an argument that it is vicarious on behalf of others, which has no New Covenant, New Testament support so far as I can see.
    The separation of rules relating to.bread and wine, which in effect operate as judicial orders of mandamus and prohibition for what is one indivisible symbolic act relating to a once and for all bodily crucifixion of the Christ, vacariously, as our substitute. Clergy can not vicariously substitute for Him, nor for me, in salvation nor in eating and drinking.

  10. Thank you Andrew and Ian for this. I know the practical theology is important and really value this exploration….. but o dear Church of England there must be a better process unless we do want to be like Turl Street in Oxford.

    • Rhona – nice – I shall walk up along it this afternoon – Since her beginnings trying to hold together Reformed n catholic, the CofE has always needed a Turl Street

        • Rain stopped play – off there this afto for a cuppa at Missing Bean on Turl.
          I know Jesus well – High king of heaven, and the college
          your alma mater?

          • No – would have been great … but have used the Turl Street analogy in a number of talks – and you have to be an Anglican to get away with it ..

  11. “Putting them in a dishwasher is not a reverent way to handle the sacrament”.

    I’m totally flabbergasted at this. Is this attempt to enable Communion really going to flounder on how glasses are washed? Does anyone actually imagine that every chalice is wiped utterly dry and devoid of wine before it goes into the sink? If I believed in mediaeval transubstantiation things might be different. However…. Camels and gnats….

    Drinking/eating all in the shared moment is surely as significant and as truthful to the meaning as lining up to take the elements individually at a Communion rail and taking 30 minutes for it. (in front of the Holy Table… Yes I recall an “altar” being rejected a few decades ago. I was thinking it was in London but could mistaken.)

    If we’re going down the line of literalism then that “one loaf” we are called to share in needs to be pretty large….

    I’m convert to the reasonableness of the single cup (preferring/but not insisting the “old ways” of chalice and patten) but to deem Baptists and Methodists to be in error and mistaken in thinking they are celebrating Communion is surely indefensible, to be mild.

    Communion void over zoom? I’m not comfortable with it as a practising Anglican of nearly 60 years and ordained for 43 years….. But one could ask what consecration really means. Does the minister actually, from within him/herself actually change something (and only in front of him) or is it God at work… and does zoom limit him?

    The HoB misses the target entirely. I think most “laity” will find it completely at odds with their practice in the pandemic and contrary what their hearts and minds are living.

    • to deem Baptists and Methodists to be in error and mistaken in thinking they are celebrating Communion is surely indefensible

      Why does everyone forget the Presbyterians?

      • Who?
        Oh them….
        Because they’re an Anglocentric bunch here and English Presbyterianism was largely swallowed up in the URC – which is where now?
        How do Free Churches, Vineyard etc adminster communion?

          • Yes, Presbyterians were swallowed up by the URC. What presbyterians there now are have a degree of succession from Welsh Calvinistic Methodists (and the USA, Ulster and The Netherlands).

            This presbyterian’s church usually has a common loaf and cup but bread and wine are both temporarily in plastic shot glasses that are thrown away after the service.

            And it seems a strange reading of the Sacrament Act to use ‘necessity’ to forbid distribution of an element in a less than ideal way, rather than in support of its provision to communicants.

            But, heigh ho, if clergy are disciplined for this but not for failing to preach the gospel as set out in the Articles, you might be better off looking for a church that would be prefer to run its disciplinary sanctions the other way around.

          • What presbyterians there now are have a degree of succession from Welsh Calvinistic Methodists (and the USA, Ulster and The Netherlands).

            Ah, well, Ulster’s been setting the lost straight since the days of Columbanus, so no surprise there.

    • I wouldn’t want to put individual communion cups in a dishwasher … most of them would fall through the baskets and be chewed up!

  12. Baptists have a real baptism but nonalcoholic fake wine
    Anglicals have fake baptism but real wine.
    All denoninations justify their position.
    If only he had said I am the tea and biscuits we would all be happy.

  13. I can’t comment on Anglican legal niceties, but writing as a Methodist presbyter I want to ask this: if using individual cups means it isn’t properly the sacrament, how come the C of E signed up to the Anglican-Methodist Covenant in which Affirmation 2 states, ‘We affirm that in both our churches the word of God is authentically preached, and the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist are duly administered and celebrated’?

    • For any non-Anglican readers here who are struggling to make sense of this discussion, it may be helpful to bear in mind the Three Fundamental Principles of the Church of England in 2020:
      1. The doctrine and practice of the Church of England are determined by the Book of Common Prayer and the decisions of the General Synod – unless a bishop decides to ignore them and act unilaterally.
      2. The Supreme and indeed Unique Meaning of Ordination to the Priesthood means …. who gets to say the eucharistic prayer. Everything else – preaching, teaching the Bible, pastoring, praying, baptising, marrying, burying – well, anybody can do that at a pinch. But not saying the Special Words. (Don’t ask why. It’s in the Bible, somewhere. )
      3. Despite what people have taught and believed for 2000 years, the Bible is really, really unclear and uncertain about homosexuality and “gay marriage ” (come to think of it, it is probably in favour) and it has nothing whatsoever to say on abortion (it’s a personal preference, really, like stamp collecting – perhaps not for me but OK for others), but on no account whatsoever put communion wine in little glasses. Like layfolk saying the Special Words, this is also an unspeakable offence against religion. (Again, don’t ask why. This is also somewhere in the Bible. Or maybe Carl Jung.)

  14. A simple answer to all of this would be to instruct followers of Christ, whenever having a meal with each other (which hopefully is often), to do the following: have some bread, break it, share it and eat it whilst thanking and remembering Christ for his death, the forgiveness that it brings. Crack open a bottle of wine, share it and drink it whilst proclaiming Christ, his death, resurrection and his future coming. Straightforward, simple, participatory with the added advantage of doing justice to the biblical text

  15. What, Jeremy
    And then join together to take communion with those not invited, who would in effect be excluded, who could not afford their own wine, or are on their own? Sounds a little like a process discredited in scripture.

  16. Oh my, how you Anglicans sound just like Adrian Plass’s second 70 sent out by Jesus.

    “behold one of the seventy raiseth his hand and enquireth, ‘When thou sayest “sandals”, Lord, do we taketh that to be an generic term which denoteth all forms of footwear, or focusseth thou in on sandals in particular? I asketh only because I possesseth an exceeding fine pair of walking boots, ideal for those who hiketh around as thou art indeed commanding us to do.’

    …….Can you not see the stupidity of arguing over what cups, how many cups, what kind of bread or should it be wafers …….

    • Leslie, I think there are plenty of Anglicans who do indeed see the stupidity of arguing over ridiculous trivialities. Some of us just blow our tops in exasperation. Others, like Andrew Atherstone here, take the trouble to set out for the bishops in their own language, and on their own specious terms, exactly why they are being so absurd.

      Meanwhile the Church of England – presumably as a voice of moral and spiritual authority – apparently has nothing useful to say to a nation which is rather clearly under immense spiritual attack…

    • how you Anglicans sound just like Adrian Plass’s second 70how you Anglicans sound just like Adrian Plass’s second 70

      Well, I mean, Plass is an Anglican and he did know whereof he wrote…

  17. As someone from Scotland’s National Church I shouldn’t berate my Anglican brothers and sisters, we have the disease as well.
    However the Head of the Church of England who becomes part of us when she crosses the border receives Communion in a separate cup when here.

  18. Hi everyone

    You’ll have to forgive me for a rather long reply on this.

    One the first Sunday this was an issue I decided to try individual cups at our 8am BCP Holy Communion service. I placed a tray of small empty ‘shot’ glasses near the front and said to everyone that they could come and drink from the common cup or pick up a small glass and I would pour out a small amount of wine from a vessel that I had consecrated at the same time. So far, so Prayer Book I would have thought. There is nothing in the Prayer Book or the ‘advice’ the House of Bishops are relying on which would prohibit this. Interestingly out of about 20 people at our 8am service 16 opted to take an individual cup. When I had to tell the congregation the following week that this was apparently ‘unlawful’ there was general disappointment and lack of comprehension which I share.

    So what to do about our online service? I decided to ask my bishop – could I encourage people to have some bread and wine at home so I would say the words of consecration on line and they would eat and drink at home. Apparently not – but we could have an agape service using the words from 1 Corinthians 11. Which is what we did. Of course for my money this is a perfectly valid communion service – we are remembering Christ’s sacrifice with bread and wine using his words of institution. The need for a ‘priest’ to act as gatekeeper went out with the Reformation. You can share communion with one another at home. But however one looked at it the people used bread AND wine as the Lord instructed and people appreciated the opportunity to do so.

    Then we were allowed to have face to face but socially distanced services. My solution for communion was to use individual wafers – not because I like them – they make absolutely no sense if we are sharing ‘one bread’. But they are easy to use in a socially distanced service. I consecrated the wafers in a covered ciborium and used a small chalice (from a home communion set) filled with wine covered with a paten. Then (having sanitised my hands and put on surgical gloves) the people were invited to come forward. I asked them to line up 2 metres apart and hold out their hands. I stood on the chancel step, said ‘The body and blood of Christ keep you in eternal life’, dipped a wafer in the wine and dropped it onto their outstretched palm. Everyone got ‘bread’ (if you can call a wafer bread) and wine. (By the way I communicated myself at the end to avoid any cross contamination.)

    So the agape meal or dipping the wafer might be a helpful solutions. Just a final comment on this whole issue. The reason why high church liturgical Anglicans are against individual cups though willing to tolerate individual wafers is because they want to follow Roman Catholics. When the Tractarians misguidedly decided in the1830s that the solution to the decline in the CofE was to ape medieval Roman Catholicism, a huge amount of RC practices and vestments were imported into the CofE. I don’t know if the individual wafers arrived then but RC vestments and practices did and are now mainstream in many churches. This is behind the crazy prohibition on individual cups and the obsession with individual wafers – not that it is unAnglican but it in not (Roman) catholic. Frankly I don’t care if clergy choose to dress up as medieval priests or not – but let’s not kid ourselves this is authentically Anglican (unless ‘Anglican’ means anything goes). And let’s also not delude ourselves that the objection to individual cups is authentically Anglican either.

  19. I mentioned Adrian Plass’s sending out of the 70 with all the pharisaic-like questions whether sandals meant actual sandals or footwear in general etc.
    Del Boy came to mind also with his time saving plan for Priests. Bless a big batch and send out a lorry for all who wanted consecrated bread and wine.

    I think the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper has been transformed into medieval magical words and processes with the ordinary elements of bread and wine.

  20. I think there is a bit in the NT where St. Paul says “you shall administer cities in the age to come” or something along those lines. Paul seems to think that being in charge of logistics is top of the list of interesting things to do in eternity. Not my idea of heaven! So, if bishops want to spend time on the details of law governing cups and plates … let them. They probably won’t even notice when they pass over and join another committee.

  21. I’ve come to this rather late, but the phrase ‘clutching at straws’ suggests an alternative. One cup, one drinking straw each, and everybody’s happy. Let’s see the HoB theologically reflect on that.

  22. Reading all this – both the article and the comments – it reminds me of the old argument about how many angels can fit on a pinhead! No less ridiculous!

    What Jesus intended to be a simple way of remembering his sacrificial death – sharing bread and wine over a meal – has been turned into an elaborate ritual which can be performed only by fancily- attired, ‘ordained’ clergy, who must use only ‘sanctified’ vessels and obey a set of complex rules!

    However do they manage in labour camps in North Korea, or secret meetings in homes in Iran or China? Get real!!

  23. First, thanks to everyone who contributed to this lengthy conversation. We in Canada had to put up with a House of Bishops that ordered a “communion abstinence” in the early stages of the pandemic. This was both widely ignored and short-lived. Mostly, communion is now in one species, using wafers.
    Much of the debate and fear about the use of individual cups is based on the now abandoned idea that the virus is widely spread through contact with contaminated surfaces. We now know that this is not correct; most spread is via aerosols and droplets. Both can largely be contained by adequate masks. Secondly, as we all come to have complete vaccination, we will then again be able to gather in communities. The debate will revert to the old, old anxiety, quite widely shared among Anglicans, that common cups breed disease. The answer? Use the common cup and for those who ae anxious, cross your arms as you come to the communion station for wine. It’s a relatively common practice, easily accommodated, without having to move to individual cups that would be certain to mimic outrageous and divisive debates of days gone by.

  24. There is a whole world out there in darkness, fear, hunger, homeless, unloved, lonely, anxious. The gospel is about the good news of the kingdom. The church of england is hemorrhaging members and what are we doing? Discussing the legality of individual cups, it really is pathetic. Im afraid this is a protestant versus catholic question. The Anglo Catholics believe in transubstantiation and protestants believe as per BCP that the receiving of Chr8s5s Body and Blood is by faith in a spiritual and heavenly manner. I reverance the elements but I do not believe that they are literally the Body and Blood in the table. This is nub of this issue. The Church is controlled by Anglo Catholics and they want to ritually clean the vessels, hence their ridiculous interptetstion of the sacrament act. The Church of England is a protestant church which has been taken over by catholics in the last 150 years. I do wonder how long I can stay.

    • I understand your frustration—but I don’t think this is a merely abstract concern. For me it connects with key questions of ministry and discipleship.


Leave a comment