Thomas Renz writes: Decisions that had to be made in response to the current pandemic previously prompted me to write briefly on the history of withholding the cup, on arguments against it, on the Communion of the sick, on the doctrines of transubstantiation and concomitance, and on God’s real presence, pondering the implications for celebrating and receiving Holy Communion.
The restoration of the cup to the laity was a key concern of the Reformers. While they disagreed on the way in which Christ should be understood to be present in the Eucharist, they were “united in demanding that there should be no celebration of the Eucharist which did not include the communion of the people and not just of the priest alone, and that this reception should be of both bread and cup and not just of bread alone” (R. C. D. Jasper and Paul F. Bradshaw, A Companion to the Alternative Service Book [London: SPCK, 1986], 162).
There seems to be no evidence of bishops or clergy within the Church of England denying the Cup to the laity in subsequent centuries, including during the great plague years, until the Swine Flu epidemic in 2009. This had perhaps been facilitated by the notes in the liturgy for ministry to the sick in Common Worship which lacked the Book of Common Prayer‘s emphasis on the desirability of a congregation of communicants surrounding the sick…
Appeal has, in the last year, been made to the Roman Catholic doctrine of ‘concomitance’, meaning that we receive Christ by faith equally in each of the elements of bread and wine, so that receiving only the bread is sufficient to still receive Christ in the sacrament. But, as I point out, this doctrine relies on an understanding of what is happening in Communion which is foreign to Anglican understanding.
New Church of England guidance allows its clergy to offer the common cup again from 19 July. Here I summarise the key theological points to consider as clergy decide whether to take up this offer and again offer the common cup.
What is offered to communicants with the cup? The blood of Christ, in a sense.
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 11:16).
Put like this, withholding the cup must present a serious deprivation. But many clergy have convinced themselves that because what is offered with the cup is the same as what is offered with the bread – Christ, not different parts of Christ – it is permissible to offer only one or the other. Is this true?
First, let us note that the elements were blessed separately and offered separately by Christ when he instituted the Lord’s Supper. The clear distinction between the two elements speaks of the separation of body and blood on the cross and so proclaims Christ’s death (1 Corinthians 11:26). But this does not mean that the bread offers us the (dead) body of Christ and the wine His (shed) blood. As we eat and drink, we are offered communion with the living Christ, even if the emphasis is on the benefits of his death (body broken, blood shed) which we receive, as we receive Him. There is therefore a sense in which we can say that the cup and the bread offer exactly the same. But does it follow that we can therefore dispense with consuming one or the other?
Our Anglican forbears, among others, did not think so. The Book of Common Prayer never envisages communion in one kind and William Laud calls it ‘a damnable error’ (see here for this and other voices against mutilating the sacrament). The Book of Common Prayer does, however, allow for spiritual communion which is participation in (not merely watching) Holy Communion without either eating or drinking. The relevant paragraph is worth reading and pondering in full:
But if a man, either by reason of extremity of sickness, or for want of warning in due time to the curate, or for lack of company to receive with him, or by any other just impediment, do not receive the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, the Curate shall instruct him, that if he do truly repent him of his sins, and stedfastly believe that Jesus Christ both suffered death upon the Cross for him, and shed his Blood for his redemption, earnestly remembering the benefits he hath thereby, and giving him hearty thanks therefore, he doth eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ profitably to his Soul’s health, although he do not receive the Sacrament with his mouth.
The reasoning behind this is clearly not a doctrine of concomitance (the whole Christ being present under each Eucharistic species), since the Book of Common Prayer does not anticipate reception of either element. In fact, the doctrine of concomitance was rejected by Reformed Catholics and Church of England theologians of all shades, including Tractarians, right until the twentieth century. There is instead an emphasis on repentance and faith as that which gets hold of Christ. Bread and wine are not essential to eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ.
But if Christ and His benefits can be received without physically eating and drinking, why did Christ institute the Holy Communion? Because we receive Christ and his benefits in a different manner, as we partake in the Holy Communion. Once we have understood this, we can see that the question whether the cup offers us something different from the bread is not the right question to ask. (It does not offer us something different, and neither cup nor bread offer anything different from what is offered in the faithful preaching of the word of God.) The question is whether the cup offers us Christ and his benefits in a different manner. I answer this in the affirmative because eating and drinking are different, albeit related, modes of receiving.
While the Sacrament under one kind conveys all the graces necessary to salvation [as does the faithful preaching of the word of God, I would add], the Chalice has a special grace of its own – the grace of gladdening.
He identified the special grace of “the meat” as “to strengthen the weak” (page 599). Perhaps this is more precise than warranted, but it is based on a careful reading of Scripture and we would be foolish to deny the possibility that the same Christ is received in one way by eating and differently by drinking. Some certainly report that the shedding of Christ’s blood for the forgiveness of our sins is especially imprinted upon them in receiving the wine.
As stewards of Christ’s mysteries, clergy should not curtail Christ’s offer to “take and eat” the bread which is his body (Matthew 26:26) and to take the cup and “drink from it, all of you” (Matthew 26:27). It is one thing for individual members of the congregation to refrain from eating or drinking with their mouths, it is a different thing for clergy to withhold the bread or the cup from faithful believers. Should Church of England clergy therefore immediately return to offering the common cup?
If Holy Communion has any spiritual health benefits, and it stands to reason that it does, then those who have withheld the cup from the laity for the last sixteen months should arguably restore it as a matter of urgency. There are two concerns, however. One is to do with the possibility of viral transmission through sharing a cup, the other is that fear of infection will prevent people from taking the cup. How can these be addressed? Not entirely satisfactorily, it seems to me, by those who feel bound to adhere to the Church of England guidance which continues to state that “Methods of administering the wine other than by means of a shared cup or simultaneous administration should not be employed.” We have already noted that “simultaneous administration” (that is, the administration of wine simultaneously with the bread by dipping the bread in the wine, often called ‘intinction’) obscures the proclamation of Christ’s death in the clear separation of body and blood and eating a wafer that has been dipped into the cup does not constitute eating and drinking. The Church of England guidance offers no theologically sound alternative to a shared cup. The use of purificators that are soaked in high alcohol spirits might be the only way to mitigate the two concerns noted with putting lips to a shared cup.
Others, mindful of the high infection rates and noting that the guidance saying what should not be done is (explicitly) “not instruction” stating what must not be done, may decide to depart from the guidance in favour of safeguarding both spiritual and physical health. The way forward then is to consecrate a single cup (with covered lid) or flagon and to invite communicants to hold out their hands for the bread and their own cup for the wine. The fretfulness about ablutions is fed by the same erroneous doctrines that support the claim that just eating the bread is entirely sufficient. The Book of Common Prayer is merely concerned with making sure that what has been consecrated is consumed so that it cannot be used for any purposes other than Holy Communion.
In short, it is time to offer the cup to the laity whether directly offering the same cup to the lips of all the faithful or by way of sharing the contents of the one cup by means of smaller cups. Not doing so, however infrequently, is negligent and risks the further spread of doctrines that are contrary to the sound teaching of Scripture and the formularies of the Church of England.
Revd Dr Thomas Renz came to England from Germany in 1993 to pursue doctoral studies and taught Old Testament and Hebrew at Oak Hill Theological College for 12 years before entering parish ministry. He has been Rector at Monken Hadley since 2012. His wife is a Modern Foreign Languages Teacher at St Albans School and they have two adult children.
Other articles on the issue of receiving Communion in both kinds:
A year ago, Andrew Goddard commented:
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.
Andrew Atherstone followed up with this observation on the question of the legality of individual cups:
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.
I explored the possibility that Jesus and the disciples actually used multiple (individual) cups at the Last Supper:
All through the Seder liturgy there is reference to ‘the cup’ or ‘the four cups’. But no-one thinks that this refers to one or a set of physical objects. If you had the text, but were unaware of actual practice, then you might try and recreate the event using one or several large shared cups—and of course this is exactly the situation that any Gentile reader or hearer of the Last Supper accounts would be in. It turns out that the language of ‘common cup’ here refers not to a single vessel, but to a shared experience and a shared understanding of the symbolic meaning of what it happening in the ritual.
And Andrew Atherstone offers guidance on how to use individual cups in practice, in which he notes:
Individual cups are also entirely Anglican, and indeed are used in other parts of the Anglican Communion (like the Province of Kenya, for instance). The English House of Bishops have made the surprising mistake of trying to ban individual cups before finding a theological rationale for doing so. They are now playing catch-up, with theological seminars for the College of Bishops in October 2020 and the House of Bishops in January 2021. Some bishops will always resist the practice, on the Tractarian principle that there may be miniscule droplets of wine left unconsumed, because individual cups cannot be ritually cleansed. But this has never been the mainstream teaching or practice of the Church of England – at least not since the Reformation – and it is wrong for a few bishops to hold the rest of the Church of England in hostage to their personal liturgical preferences. No one has been able to produce a coherent Anglican case against individual cups, because there is none. On the contrary, the Anglican case in favour of individual cups has been laid out repeatedly and at length.