Should we withhold the giving of wine in Holy Communion?

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.

I noted:

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.

The Scottish Episcopalian Bishop Alexander Forbes in his Explanation of the Thirty-Nine Articles (1871) was more specific:

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.

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99 thoughts on “Should we withhold the giving of wine in Holy Communion?”

  1. A great article. Thank you.
    If we can have individual wafers why not individual cups? I bought a set in may 2020 ready for re-opening but have not used it yet.
    Some of my higher Anglican colleagues object to this idea saying “what happens to Christ’s blood at the bottom of each cup?” And “do we trust the laity to wash their own cups properly?” Our bishop has permitted a drop of wine to be pipetted onto precut bread. I do this before the service begins and cover them with a linen cloth while I say the Eucharistic prayer. Seems an ok, temporary compromise.

    • Some of my higher Anglican colleagues object to this idea saying “what happens to Christ’s blood at the bottom of each cup?”

      To which presumably you respond, ‘nothing, because what’s at the bottom of the cup isn’t Christ’s blood, it’s wine which is symbolic of Christ’s blood’?

        • Since when did the C of E believe in transubstantiation?

          Sometimes one gets the distinct impression that it’s the only miracle they do believe in.

        • “Indeed! Since when did the C of E believe in transubstantiation?”

          Since quite a long time ago. As the CofE ‘What we believe’ website puts it:
          “The Eucharist (also known as Holy Communion, the Mass, or the Lord’s Supper), can take many different forms across the Church of England, and it may be understood by Christians in different ways…”

          You should be well aware, Ian, of those different ways and of the quite traditional understanding held by the many Anglo Catholic members of the Anglican Church.

          • Also worth bearing in mind the ARCIC joint statement on the Eucharist
            “Communion with Christ in the eucharist presupposes his true presence, effectually signified by the bread and wine which, in this mystery, become his body and blood.”

            And the Anglican Communion website points out that:

            “An important caveat is about this question is that if you ask three Anglicans about doctrine you’ll get five different answers! Anglicanism’s greatest strength – its willingness to tolerate a wide variety in Anglican faith and lifestyle – is also the thing that provokes the most debate among its practitioners.

            Anglicans, however, do agree that their beliefs and practices, their authority, derive from an integration of Scripture (the Holy Bible), Reason (the intellect and the experience of God) and Tradition (the practices and beliefs of the historical church). This ‘three-legged stool’ is said to demonstrate a ‘balance’ in the Anglican approach to faith contrasting it with Roman Catholic and the Protestant doctrines. The term via media when used in reference to the Anglican tradition generally refers to the idea that Anglicanism represents a middle way between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.

            Rather than saying Anglicanism is Protestant – like Lutheranism or Calvinism – rather it would be more accurate to say it is catholic (believing it is still part of God’s one Church and having bishops as Church leaders) but reformed (in that it shares the principles of other Christian Churches that broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in 16th Century) in what has become known as the Protestant Reformation.“

          • The Church of England does not believe in a three-legged stool of doctrine. In its formularies it believes that Scripture is the final authority in all matters of faith and conduct.

            And ARCIC does not determine the Church’s doctrine; its formularies do. When I have been in debate with Anglo-Catholics about this, when they take a sort of transubstantiationist position, they also quickly add ‘But of course this is not the doctrine of the C of E.’

          • I am quoting the exact words from the Anglican Communion website about doctrine. As I understand it the Cof E is part of the Anglican Communion. Or is that something else you wish to argue about?

            ARCIC does not determine doctrine, no. It seeks to state where there is already agreement about doctrine.

          • It seeks to state where there is already agreement about doctrine.

            Funny, I thought it sought to use constructive ambiguity to manufacture agreement where none really exists.

          • The Communion website on the one hand disowns the label ‘Reformed’ and then notes that the C of E was part of the Protestant Reformation. Hmmmm…

            Canon law states clearly that the doctrine of the C of E is to be found in the formularies, that is, the 39 Articles and the BCP. Other members of the Communion have indeed moved away from them, which is why the Communion does not actually have a shared doctrine on a number of matters.

          • Ian, that’s just incorrect. The Communion website clearly *owns* the term reformed. Anglicans are catholic and reformed. It’s there in black and white.
            As to formularies: best of luck trying to persuade any canon lawyers you are right. I can only repeat what I have quoted before.
            “In 1968, a report on Subscription and Assent to the 39 Articles was produced by the Archbishops’ Commission on Christian Doctrine. Focusing in particular on the approach to Scripture set out in the Articles, it called for the then current Declaration of Assent to
            be changed, so that it would ‘not tie down the person using it to acceptance of every one of the Articles’, and would leave open ‘The possibility of fresh understandings of Christian truth’, while also leaving room ‘for an appeal to the Articles as a norm within Anglican theology’

            “In response, in 1975, a new form of Declaration of Assent came into force in the Church of England.317 The preface states of the Church of England that:

            It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.

            In response, the person being ordained or licensed affirms their loyalty to ‘this inheritance of faith as your inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making Him known to those in your care, and declares their belief in, this inheritance of faith.’
            Opinions around the Church of England differ about the implications of this form of the Declaration for appeal to the Articles in disagreements like ours.”

          • The Communion website clearly *owns* the term reformed.

            The Presbyterians, and others, might object to this claimed ownership of the word ‘reformed’.

          • Nothing ‘proves’ transubstantiation Ian, because it’s unprovable.
            It ‘proves’ the Real Presence. There’s nothing memorial about it.
            Plain teaching of scripture.

          • John does not seem to address ecclesiastical issues. There is no mention of the Lord’s supper. Jn 6 is metaphor for a saving union with Christ.

    • I wonder if those concerned about unconsumed wine at the bottom of individual cups have realised that there are also significant quantities of unconsumed wine in a purifcator – which I guess ends up being washed out and disposed of. Has anyone ever heard an articulation of this concern, or a response to it?

      • It is indeed illogical to be concerned about the former and not about the latter. A (traditional) Catholic would regard throwing the used purificators into the washing machine as equally sacrilegious as tipping the dregs from each mini-cup down the sink while rinsing it out. In the old ‘General Instruction of the Roman Missal’ it said (from memory) that the priest or sacristan was to reverently conduct the first rinse of the purificator with water that went straight down the sacrarium into the ground NOT in a sink that feeds into the sewer system. If too stained or worn for further use, it should be burnt rather than simply discarded. I’m sure someone somewhere in the C of E has done this at some time in the past, but I have no evidence.

        I would also like to say that if the eucharistic prayers in CW do not positively state a belief in transsubstantiation, then the burden of proof is really on the person who wishes to argue that the C of E believes in it. The form of words looks to me to represent an uneasy truce in which it is left open to the individual to construe either way — rather like BCP.

      • Certainly at the Church where I was Vicar there was a sink in the sacristy dedicated for the use of cleansing vessels and purificators. The outlet pipe went straight to a ground soak away and not to the mains drainage system. That, I think, is ‘normal’ practice.

        • Thank you Wm and Andrew, those clarifications are really helpful.
          While all may be agreed of the richness of the symbolism of drinking from a common cup, the CofE bishops have already indicated that, under the present circumstances, an alternative method of ingesting the consecrated wine is permissible, namely through intinction onto consecrated bread (which some diocesans have explicitly permitted to be done through pipetting) There therefore doesn’t seem to be any in-principle objection to temporarily using an unconventional means of transferring the consecrated wine into each of the recipients, while avoiding the risk of infection.
          As has been pointed out elsewhere in this blog and/or comments, transferring a part of the consecrated wine via a smaller vessel has the immense advantage that it can be drunk by the recipient, thus obeying the Lord’s injunction considerably more closely, and enabling a benefit not only from the objective transfer of the consecrated element, but also from all the sensations associated with drinking. Given that, under the present circumstances, other less-than-ideal means of transfer have already been accepted, the only substantial objection to this appears to be the undue wastage of consecrated wine that this probably entails. However the above comments on the careful initial rinsing of the purificators, and also of the chalice, in a dedicated sacristy sink leading to a soakaway indicates that, for those with such concerns (and maybe if necessary the rest of us too, for the sake of the consciences of others in the denomination) there are already tried and tested practices available to alleviate them

  2. Perfectly adequate sharing is done by believers simply drinking red wine together in a dedicated part of a gathering; there is no need for it to be drunk from an insanitary shared cup. I know an Anglican church which, since covid, sensibly pours it out into a container that each recipient brings (just as Christ poured out his blood for us). I do not know, and care little, whether this is licit according to the Church of England. But can we please have red wine, not this golden stuff that some churches serve? Christ’s blood would have been red.

  3. Thank you.
    The BCP suggests Communion is primarily a memory of ‘that his precious death’.

    Our rituals, whatever version we have, are almost inevitably a long way from the way that the Last Supper was conducted, and even how Paul describes the meal in Corinthians – especially in churches where numbers are large.

    Dominant in many Anglican churches are silver, ceremonial chalices, wafers which are dangerously akin to pills, or large loaves or rolls of yeast-risen bread, no longer set in the context of a festival meal; We have set practices of movement and involvement, for some it is daily, for some weekly, for some monthly. The richness of Communion / Eucharist cannot be reduced to one way of doing things.

    I am not sure I would necessarily distinguish the eating from the drinking as being different, but you remind us that the instruction is both to eat and to drink. Two actions for the disciple each of which should reinforce the other. We should aim to keep that.

    Like many who have commented, I can see no good reason why individual cups are contrary either to Anglican heritage or Scripture, even if we might prefer to have shared cups.

    In the parishes here, there is a real concern about going back to a common cup, and I think most would simply decide not to partake, even if we used high alcohol wipes as purificators.

    After 17 months new practices are becoming embedded; as other restrictions ease so those new practices could become traditions!

    As I read the legislation and arguments, I am not sure the bishops are able to give permission for communion in one kind now the government has removed the restrictions, unless the bishops declare we are still in plague territory – I am not sure, though, if I am correct in this interpretation.

    A consecrated flagon from which wine is poured into small cups, whether provided by the church or brought by the communicant, seems a practical and sensible way forward, in what is still “unusual times”.

    If they ate the first Passover in haste, while there is instruction to consume, I am sure there were crumbs and leftovers! Likewise my experience of Near East hospitality leads me to think there were many crumbs etc at the Last Supper; it is our ritualisation of the event (necessary but always flawed) which has led to a hang-up about remnant elements. We handle the holy with care, but the holy is ‘in’ the material and communal. (bit simplistic but ..)

    Of course Christ is present spiritually, but, if we can gather to share the meal, remembering Christ, his death and resurrection, then we should share the meal, even if that means some accommodating to particular circumstances.

    Thank you for a timely and provoking piece.

  4. In a clergy chapter meeting a few months ago, someone commented that there are many cups at a cathedral celebration of Holy Communion, so what is the distiction between that and individual cups in a parish church? We used individual cups once, before the instruction against was reinforced locally. Actually they were disposable plastic shot glasses, which raised questions of sustainability which exercised us rather more than theological questions. The House of Bishops really needs to get to grips with this issue.

    PS I always use our Elizabethan Communion cup rather than the Victorian and Deutero-Elizabethan chalices and have mentioned the reason why (and probably bored the congregation as a result). If some of our Bishops don’t get Anglican practice what chance have our parishioners unless we help them?

      • Only that it’s a cup, not a chalice. The cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper was not a special liturgical vessel with sacrificial overtones but a cup – poterion is used for both this cup and the cup of cold water Jesus refers to in Matthew 10.42. Maybe I’m being a bit oversensitive given my RC upbringing and the emphasis on the ‘sacrifice of the mass’, a theology of the Holy Communion that I can no longer subscribe to, and which signifies a divergence from Article 28, ‘Of the Lord’s Supper’.

  5. Copied across from my earlier Facebook post:
    I am just amazed that no-one has so far mentioned the Eastern Orthodox practice of giving communion (in both kinds, in one go) using a spoon. In my wife’s Orthodox church they have continued to give communion in both kinds using a spoon, but with a modified technique (and possibly multiple spoons). I am an Anglican, and in an Anglican context, I would wholeheartedly agree with those who say that communion in both kinds is essential. The withdrawal of the cup from the laity has been deeply unsatisfactory, regardless of the health challenges from Covid-19. However, to satisfy the bishops and lawyers who insist on the use of a common cup (as against individual cups), would not giving the sacramental blood from a common cup using spoons (that could easily be washed, sterilised and reused) be a win-win situation for everyone? Spoons at communion would certainly be a novelty for Anglicans, but they have an earlier precedent in the Eastern Church (not sure exactly how old the practice is).

    • That’s interesting, but two reasons.

      First, in this practice there is no real ‘drinking’ from the spoon. It is not used like drinking soup from a soup spoon! The issue is obedience to Jesus’ command to ‘eat and drink’.

      Second, the separation here is really no different from using individual cups, so it is hard to see why one should be allowed and the other not.

      The use of individual cups need not undermine the symbolism of ‘one cup’ if they are filled, after the Eucharistic Prayer, from a single vessel which has been ‘consecrated’.

      • I can’t agree that your first point is weighty, and in your second, when spoons are used, there is a critical difference in the timing of the separation. However, I would concur with your final proposal of a common flagon from which individual cups are filled.

        • Well the real problem is that the Last Supper was indeed a Supper, as the Seder meal continues to be.

          The root of all our problems is, I think, the development of a rarified, ritualised, act, in place of what Jesus gave us—an actual meal.

      • Just to note that some home communion sets contain spoons, and also quite small cups … so there are evidently practices which use them. When the sacrament is “reserved” for the sick, it is not normally received from the vessel in which it was first “consecrated”. (Quotation marks to indicate potentially contested terms – circumlocution would add no clarity – it is the practice I want to highlight rather than the interpretation).

  6. I have not received Holy Communion in my church for 16 months and don’t know when I will because it is only offered in one kind, the bread. I view those who think only of the common cup as seeing the ritual (common cup) as more important than the substance receiving the wine as we are instructed to do by our Lord. Regarding concomitance, if I view this as a Jewish meal, then when Christ said this is my body, according to Jewish law there would be no blood in it. To have the blood for the Jews was radical because the life is in the Blood. Through the wine then Christ is giving us his life.

  7. Who knew that a simple but sublimely profound humble-access-sharing of bread and wine had so many rules and regs, so much complexity that it would resemble something from Leviticus, rather than the new covenantal passover; a reminder that the death of Christ puts death to death, as those in union with Christ have also died to be raised in and seated with him in victory and righteousness, justified, sanctified, righteous, new life in him; to his praise and never-ending glory; lost in wonder, love and thankful praise: unique, unrepeatable, a hideous- offensive – foolish-unmerited – unrepayable, one-way gift?

    • Geoff, thanks for being humble enough to go the heart of the matter!

      If ever there were an issue where projection of post biblical invention onto the real biblical narrative has subverted simple and essential truth, the Lord’s Supper must be the prime example. As a result far too many Christians have made a right ‘meal’ of it! I’ve always thought that if someone fortunate enough not to have heard any of the fantastical theories around Jesus’s institution of this act of rembrance were to investigate objectively what the Bible alone says about it, they would arrive at a conclusion in line with your lovely summary.

      We might ask why all the theoretical gymnastics and invention happened. I’d suggest that it is just another example of fallen human nature – the desire to look clever, to enjoy status, and to wield power over other people.

      • I’d suggest that it is just another example of fallen human nature – the desire to look clever, to enjoy status, and to wield power over other people.

        There is a more charitable explanation, which is that it’s often easier to keep piling fixes and patches on an increasinly-baroque theory, than to admit you’ve got it wrong and start over.

        That’s how we got epicycles, after all, in the days before there were the instruments of sufficient precision to provide conclusive proof of heliocentrism.

        • S, my friend, be careful with your illustrations. It is true that increasing accuracy of observations led to Copernicus to propose a heloicentric model. However, this was because this model simplified the epicyclic model, needing fewer of them. It was Kepler who made the bolder step in abandoning the Greek notion of the perfection of the heavens requiring circular motion by finding that ellipses were a much simpler means to model the motions of the planets.

          • It is true that increasing accuracy of observations led to Copernicus to propose a heloicentric model. However, this was because this model simplified the epicyclic model, needing fewer of them.

            Yes but I don’t think any of that affects my point that sometimes the reason you end up with ‘theoretical gymnastics and invention’ is not because of ‘ the desire to look clever, to enjoy status, and to wield power over other people’, but simply because adding layer upon layer of complexity is the only way to get your model to work.

  8. Bread, torn, dipped in red wine. What a passionate symbol!
    In Cyprus they have a spikey green garnish. I think it should be made available to all.

  9. The first quotation from Scripture – I Cor 10:16, not I Cor 11:16 – is an important one, because it emphasises that the cup, singular, represents (the) fellowship, koinonia, of the blood of Christ – same grammatical construction as in I Cor 1:9, where the Corinthians are called into (the) koinonia of God’s son, Jesus Christ. The distinction may be subtle, but the sense is not that we each as individuals participate in the blood but that the blood makes us one and therefore there is no individuality. As Paul goes on to say, ‘Because there is one bread [and one cup], we who are many are one body.’ The bread and the wine represent that oneness.

    He goes on to liken the practice to eating food sacrificed on the altar (v. 18). Hence it is reasonable to argue that just as the food was not symbolic but the reality itself, by analogy neither is the wine and the bread. It is the blood of Christ and the body of Christ, as Jesus explicitly says (I Cor 11:24, Mk 14:24).

    Present practice, in all the churches, is a mockery of what the Lord intended. We do not participate in a meal. We do not celebrate our oneness and draw strength from it. We may (before covid) have drunk from one cup and eaten from one loaf, but it was only after getting up from our separate places in the building and queuing as individuals. The tasteless discs say it all: individual pieces from the start, joyless, and devoid of nourishment. The drop of wine says it all, the exact equivalent of being sprinkled on the forehead and calling that ‘baptism’. Whatever you do, don’t get too wet, too involved, too spiritual, too close! Is this what we mean by ‘true food’ and ‘true drink’ (Jn 6:55)? If we are concerned about what the ‘elements’ symbolise, we should be concerned first and foremost about what a tasteless wafer and a few drops of wine or fruit juice symbolise.

    If there is no communion in the sense of community, no passion in the sense of zeal, no expectation of the Lord’s return, what does it matter whether we drink from one cup or eat from one loaf? Whatever the symbols, the reality is not there. And if the reality is not there, we might just as well not ‘take communion’ at all. Indeed, better not to.

  10. Thanks Ian for this. A question – aware I may have missed something – but how come there are multiple cups / chalices at ordination services and other big services in the Cathedral – and how is this different to using multiple cups in a normal Church service ?

    • Well, apparently, according to the House of Bishops, having multiple cups at cathedrals and large churches ‘does not lose the symbolism of one cup’, but having a single flagon from which wine is poured into individual cups does.

      Can you make sense of that? I can’t.

      • Perhaps a lambskin filled with wine and dispensed into each comunicant’s personal cup would display the truth of Christ’s blood poured out for many.
        ….not that I would like it one bit .

  11. I learned from an old Italian priest in Muscat, who had to cater for 1,000 or so communicants each Friday, to dip the tip of a wedge from a priest’s wafer into the consecrated wine of the communion cup, and then touch each wafer with a drop of wine before distribution. I have been using this method for a while, with sanitised fingers of course, and so far no-one has told me to stop.

    • But are then not following Jesus’ command to ‘Drink this all of you…’

      He did not command ‘Take into your body some molecules of wine in whatever way you can’. He said ‘Drink’. Anglican eucharistic theology is receptionist; what matters is the receiving, not the physical imbibing of molecules.

  12. A few practical observations.

    1) if the issue is sharing one cup, surely intinction meets that requirement – each communicant consumes a small amount of wine from the one cup, albeit soaked in the wafer/bread, rather than sipped.

    2) if intinction is then accepted, but wafers still objected to (because they are ‘tasteless’, or not ‘torn’ from a single ‘loaf’, or just not ‘real’ bread), and ‘normal’ bread doesn’t lend itself to intinction (too messy/ crumby/ soggy in the hand), torn pieces of pita or flatbread work just fine. In the right setting one pita can serve the whole congregation, and each piece is still large enough for the communicant to take from the president ‘contactlessly’ (even after intinction) – no need to ‘drop’ a soggy wafer and no worries about drops of wine on the hands.

    3) individual (I prefer the term ‘multiple’) cups – if the issue is leftover consecrated wine, why not offer a small cup/cruet/bottle of water with each cup. Communicants can then rinse out the cup with the wine and consume the ‘rinse water’ (as I’ve always done as a priest after the distribution).

    4) with intincted wafers, it works well asking communicants to wait till all (or at least a whole ‘row’) have received their intincted wafers in the hand, and then for everyone to consume together (‘simultaneous consumption’?) – a common historic practice in eg Methodism. It also has the advantage of reducing multiple close face-to-faces of (masked) clergy with unmarked communicants.

    5) a pastoral point – if multiple cups were to be allowed, each cup could be shared among each household/bubble. This would at least retain an element of the cup used being shared – which after all was happening pre-pandemic eg in York Minster at *every* eucharist (they often used up to a dozen or more chalices/ flagons of wine which was never and could never, at any time, have been in a single vessel.)

    • On your last point, yes, someone online has been doing that; it was the first I had heard, but appears to work well.

      On wafers, they are themselves problematic since they go against the specific instruction of the BCP, and their use arises because of concern about lost crumbs, which in turn depends on a ‘transubstantiation’ view of the elements, which is not Anglican doctrine.

      On intinction, as mentioned above, this does not involve ‘drinking,’ which is what Jesus commanded us to do. Again, its use arises from the idea that it is the transformed elements that matter, rather than the reception of Jesus in the act, and the communal dimension of a shared meal.

      • “On wafers, they are themselves problematic since they go against the specific instruction of the BCP, and their use arises because of concern about lost crumbs, which in turn depends on a ‘transubstantiation’ view of the elements, which is not Anglican doctrine.”

        The BCP is not the last word on instructions. It’s part of our historic formularies. We have seen several times how those are interesting, but often superseded.

        A transubstantiation view is certainly within Anglican doctrine. One look at the Anglican Communion website and ARCIC documents make that clear.

        • The BCP is not the last word on instructions.

          No — as you mention above, the last word is obviously the Anglican Communion website.

          • Hi Chris: no, it isn’t actually. I don’t think that’s compatible with later understandings of the laws of physics and reality. I am, however, persuaded by the idea of transignification and the work of Edward Schillebeeckx and others who explore this.
            It is important, however complex that is in reality, to remember that the Anglican Church, of which the C of E is part, has a very broad understanding of the Eucharist and Holy Communion. There are those who hold clearly Calvinistic beliefs and thsoe who do hold with transubstantiation. I think it important to respct that breadth and not belittle any position around Holy Communion.

          • I don’t think that’s compatible with later understandings of the laws of physics and reality.

            Neither is the resurrection, of course, but you’re okay with that…

            … aren’t you?

          • S, I believe that Andrew Godsall has stated unequivocally a number of times elsewhere on this blog that he does believe in a literal resurrection of Christ and not a symbolic one. He simply thinks that some Anglicans can be free to hold a view on transubstantiation and still remain in what is termed ‘Anglicanism’ as part of its reformation origins.
            I am no expert on Anglican history but in the Protestant Reformation, the break from Roman Catholicism was not 100% complete, with residues of RC doctrine still embedded in Anglican praxis and I would have thought transubstantiation was one of them -especially among some Anglo-Catholics. I’d be very surprised to find it among Anglican Evangelicals though. In fact I think this issue was one of the factors in the further development of the reformation into the non-conformist denominations.

          • I believe that Andrew Godsall has stated unequivocally a number of times elsewhere on this blog that he does believe in a literal resurrection of Christ and not a symbolic one.

            He has, but he hasn’t yet explained how he reconciles that with his beliefs that God is powerless to affect the forces of nature, and that the miraculous events recorded in the gospel did not in fact happen.

            So I’m not sure what to make of that. How can a God capable of reversing entropy and raising a dead body to life, be incapable of raising or stilling a storm because that’s determined by ‘the forces of nature’?

  13. I think it would be helpful to determine where transubstantiation as a church doctrine originated from and why.
    I am not aware that it was a view shared by the early church fathers so when (and where) did it first appear? Who were the theological protagonists of this view?

    • I *think* it’s Thomist, an Aristotelian view of substance and accidents. But, no doubt, someone will appear to correct me!

      As Andrew observes, the ‘science’ of transubstantiation has been superseded (largely). But many Anglicans (myself included) believe in the Real Presence.

      Ironically, because it is a belief with real scriptural support and witness!

      • As Andrew observes, the ‘science’ of transubstantiation has been superseded (largely)

        That’s the second time someone has made this point, and I still don’t understand it. Obviously we know a lot more now about the structure of matter than was known before the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But I don’t know of anything we have learnt which would affect the doctrine of transubstantiation, such that it would be compatible with theories of matter before, say, the identification of the subatomic particles of proton, neutron and election, yet not compatible with models incorporating the ‘atomic solar system’.

        Perhaps someone could explain exactly what it is that means a proton is obviously incapable of being transubstantiated, which does not apply to, say, phlogiston?

        The doctrine of transubstantiation is incorrect, of course; but such was obvious to the reformers in the sixteenth century, long before anyone had ever dreamt a quark.

        So for those who claim the problem with transubstantiation is the ‘science’: exactly which bit of science do you mean?

      • Joseph Martos in his book ‘Doors to the sacred’ is clear that transignification is a doctrine that allows for the real presence. I find it a very helpful elucidation:
        “the reality of the bread and wine is changed during the mass not in any physical way but in a way which is nonetheless real, for as soon as they signify the body and blood of Christ they become sacramental, embodying and revealing Christ’s presence in a way which is experienceably real. In other words, when the meaning of the elements changes, their reality changes for those who have faith in Christ and accept the new meaning that he gave them, whereas for those without faith and who are unaware of their divinely given meaning, they appear to remain bread and wine.”

        I think there are some who will argue that this is what Cranmer really believed.

          • Thank you. That’s interesting and helpful
            As I understand it, concomitance means that we receive not *just* Christ’s body, but the whole of Christ: divine and human.

        • the reality of the bread and wine is changed during the mass not in any physical way but in a way which is nonetheless real

          Except the quotation you give them goes on to describe a change which is not real in any way, but is just a change in the way the same materials are perceived in the heads of the congregation.

          That is not a ‘real change’ at all.

          • Now where have we heard that before?
            Otherwise, I recall hearing or reading a crude mockery from an atheist, against Christianity as cannibalism! Sure it was meant to startle, to offend, but it is the start of a thought process to be followed through to a terminus, to be countered!

          • Now where have we heard that before?

            It does make one wonder: if someone can call something which is clearly in no way a real change, ‘real’, what do they actually mean when they say they believe in a real resurrection?

            Do they actually believe in a physical resurrection as outlined in the Updike poem? Or do they mean ‘real’ in the sense that it had a ‘real’ effect on the disciples? Or something else?

        • For Crammer see Diarmaid Macculloch p613 FF
          More generally The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Anglican Tradition by Abp Henry McAdoo and Bp Kenneth Stevenson.

      • From that impeccable resource, Wikipedia, I learn that transubstantiation was used at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.
        Also that real presence was in the work of the Church Fathers. Hardly surprising when, of course, it’s right there in the earliest church traditions, 1 Corinthians and the Didache.

          • It doesn’t help this discussion when you keep going ‘Yah booh’ and reading later views back into Paul.

            This is the Paul, remember, who had absolutely no conception of any views of same-sex relationships outside the most narrow possible conception of what might have been current in his milieu; yet who was apparently able to anticipate a millennium’s worth of theological developments.

          • Ian

            You really believe 1 Corinthians 11.23ff and the Didache don’t reflect a belief in the Real Presence? As well as John 6 of course which I cited above.
            And I wasn’t saying ‘yah boo’ to anyone, I was responding to Chris’s question with further thoughts.

          • Ian it doesn’t help the discussion when you are scornful about the sincerely held views of the vast majority of Christians – Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican. It doesn’t help the discussion when you oppose great swathes of NT scholarship but are fundamentalist about the 39 articles. If ever there was anything ‘ya booh’ that was it.

          • Oh and publishing and supporting the libellous rants of anonymous trolls doesn’t exactly help your case either.

  14. How do we create appropriate ritual, which has a unity and a lived-ness, and which can bear the brunt of repetition?
    Should we keep to unleavened bread, red wine, reclining, and small enough numbers to allow for real unity? What happens when the numbers wishing to attend become too big? Do we make the cup bigger, use a jug or ..?
    We might learn much from the Jewish traditions where the home and family also play a part especially in Passover celebrations. It doesn’t need to be all in church??
    We can get too hung up on correctness: we can get dangerously independent to do it our way. We will get anxious about how our culture requires us in some aspects to do things differently, and because our culture is different from the Ancient Near Eastern cultures.
    This article suggests that the command to eat and drink, two separate actions, is transcultural and for all Christians. What else is, and does it matter (too much)?
    The C of E wants to control tightly who may preside and how the Communion is to be “done”, including with some required words, though the essence of BCP with consecration through the words of Jesus said, is different from the essence of Common Worship where consecration is through the whole prayer but particularly the epiclesis and the prayer for God’s Spirit so the bread becomes the body and the wine becomes the blood of Christ.
    The broad church then also has multiple liturgical practices, and tolerates them. The benefits – we may discern something more of this wonderful mystery in the different emphases. The weakness – the different emphases seem to some, to befog the sacrament not clarify things!
    The hierarchy try and keep some control, and allow more difference than they are probably happy with, with purists of various persuasions snapping at the edges ..
    And then covid comes along and the boat starts rocking more – things are shaken – what should fall and what should we retain?
    Answers on a postcard from Rome, Canterbury, Geneva or Schleitheim or your own back garden??

  15. All the comments on this page seem to be made from a quasi-transubstantiation point of view, because they all imply that one is in some sense ingesting Christ with the bread and the wine, whether literally or not. But whether the bread and the wine turn literally into his body – and Gavin Ashenden became a Catholic partly because of convincing scientific evidence that it did – or they are considered to be his body in some real but non-literal sense, what does it matter? What if we were literally ingesting Christ’s physical body? Eating flesh and blood, be it a Sunday roast or (perish the thought) the body of a human being, satisfies only the temporary needs of the body. It’s a non-issue. If you don’t take communion for a year, or five years, it won’t make the slightest difference. Your being ‘in’ Christ does not depend on taking communion; it’s not something that has to be periodically renewed; it depends only on daily faith, on abiding in the vine.

    The communion ritual is about the corporate body reminding itself that it is part of the koinonia of Christ. What matters is that we, as churches, should be worthy of the teaching that we are spiritually, non-metaphorically, the body of Christ. The body and blood represent that spiritual body. Christ has no presence on earth except through his Church. If we do not, corporately, live in a manner worthy of that calling, we should not be going through the motions of the ritual. That the bread and the wine have been reduced to a tasteless individual wafer (in many, probably most, churches, because it is easier than buying the bread or making it oneself) and the wine to the tiniest sip is symbolic of the fact that we are not adequately feeding on Christ in spiritual terms and not fulfilling the call to be his body on earth. That is the only question of symbolism that matters: is what we eat and drink a fitting symbol of Christ’s body, and are we in our corporate life a worthy representation of that body?

    • Scientific evidence for transubstantiation? I thought that the whole basis for this was that although the essence of the elements were transformed, the accidents, i.e. the external visible properties, remained those of bread and wine. Surely science can only examine the material, i.e. the accidents.

      • Following a very quick search:
        If interested, you may find other material.

        As I have indicated in other ways, I think the essence of the one cup and the one loaf is recognising that Christ has granted us to be his body on earth. It’s not a question of whether the physical wine and bread become physical blood and flesh, as if Jesus’s rebuke at Matt 16:8f had still not been heeded. Phil 2:1f – ‘If there is any koinonia of Spirit… complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, united in soul, of one mind … [that of Christ]’.

        The importance of transubstantiation for Catholics, I understand, has to do with the doctrine that in the Mass Christ is re-sacrificed. My remarks have all been within the Protestant context.

  16. Jesus is real bread. Bread made from flour is a symbol.
    Jesus is real life. Blood is a symbol of life and wine is symbolic of Jesus’ life in us.
    Likewise Jesus is the real Groom and the church his bride. Marriage is just a symbol of the ultimate reality.
    This is why to me marriage is between a man and a woman and why beer and crisps would never do for communion .

    • crisps would never do for communion .

      With you up to this point. Surely Jesus is real potatoes as much as He is real bread? Potatoes are after all are just as much a staple food as bread (indeed some would say that the fusion of the two in potato bread, especially when fried, is the pinnacle of the very concept of a staple food)

  17. New or old wineskins? New or old wine?
    Cue for the following article?
    Sounds like the CoE is one big messy church, unmanageable, hierarchically doctrinally divided, with little to no coherence, even while there is a fixed, immovable, adherence to all doing what is right in their own eyes: tragedy and dissolution lies that way, scripture unwaveringly teaches.
    What seems to be missing is a sense of catholic magisterium, but in protestant form! I’m sure it is there in its Articles and elsewhere, but they are traduced, subverted, by those of vestigial catholic persuasion who at the same time seek to impose their magisterium tendencies, liberal and post-modern though some are, and certainly outwith the precepts of catholic structural tradition, from which they emerged and retain some longing, and affinity for its traditional-form.
    A simple question, what is the CoE for? What is the main reason, purpose, for its existence today?
    A question for us all; even when we serve others, are we ultimately serving ourselves, self-seeking, self preserving as individuals; collectively, as church? Just who are we serving? Worshipping? Bearing in mind that our hearts are idol factories.
    To echo Peter Reiss, above, answers on a postcard.

  18. Today at a funeral mass service for my RC aunt who died recently, one large wafer was divided into multiple pieces, each piece dipped into one chalice and there was a procession to the front to partake. The minister drank the residue and wiped the chalice clean.
    And no, although not expressly forbidden, my wife and I did not partake.
    While I could gaun much from the service, there were aspects of it that I found jarring and in self-contradiction. One surprising, to me, was that the service was expressed as a sacrifice for my my aunt’s salvation. And while I accept that Christ’s sacrifice was for her salvation, the mass itself isn’t.
    And while my wife and I recognised the transubstatiation aspect, it wasn’t emphasised and it would be highly unlikely to have been picked up by *casual* attenders who were there because they knew my aunt, such as unchurched neighbours who afterwards said it was a good service.
    It was reverent, with only church hymns and no eulogies, with a mention that her life was centred her faithful church sacremental service attendance and on her family.
    The other jarring point to me, was praying to Mary to intercede for my aunt.
    Yet, there were aspects to the service that her salvation was certain through the resurrection of Christ. Indeed the resurrection was emphasised as was the scripture readings from John, and Romans without any iota of disbelief, accepted as fact.
    The gospel was in there, but clouded.
    At 93 it marks a passing of my parents working class generation, a life lived mostly in one village, apart from WW2. An irreplaceable, robust, societal loss. Their offspring are living vestiges, remnants.
    Even while those of faith in Christ are remnants of his birth, life, death and resurrection.
    As we grieve, their absence, their presence inn our lives, may we grieve the absence or loss of the presence of Christ in our lives, in living generations who do not know him.

  19. In the diocese my church is in the bishop has decided on communion in one kind (bread) only. The officiant will drink the wine on behalf of those present. This for me would be the same as I have you over for dinner and have a nice bottle of wine to serve with it. I then drink it for you and say you enjoyed the wine. Simplistic yes but the same thing.
    I understand the health concerns but the theology cannot be ignored, there are alternatives that can satisfy both. It is for me a question of form versus substance. The form being the common cup (which I prefer) versus substance each person drinking the wine and thereby obeying Christ’s command. The obvious answer is to have separate cup. This may have to continue into the future in some form for the medically compromised because no-one should be excluded.
    For me personally, I will return to church when the bishop restores full communion to all people not just to the privilege few. If the officiant can drink the wine on my behalf then why can’t he/she eat the bread, take confession and do all the other sacraments on my behalf. After all if he/she is my proxy on this he/she can be my proxy on everything. They the bishops can say I am exaggerating, yes, but with on-line churches or at least online congregants becoming a reality this is a predictable outcome and the bishops have laid the groundwork.

  20. I have been taking communion since I was confirmed in 1962 at St Marks Church in Marylebone Road, London. I am now 71 and I am finding it difficult to accept the bread of christ but not his blood. I have decided therefore to take a small amount of wine to church in a vessel and when the priest sanctifies the wine at the alter so he/she will be sanctifying mine.
    I can’t see a problem in that.

    I believe that in mid/late July Wine will be back on the table so to speak so all our troubles will be over

  21. I have been unable to bring myself to take the blood of Christ ever since it was reintroduced in our local church. The COVID pandemic has left me with a real phobia about it, so I only take the bread / body of Christ. If they introduced individual cups, I would be a lot happier. Even before COVID I used to worry when I heard people coughing and sneezing in church, during the winter months. But post pandemic, I feel almost a sense of PTSD, especially as new mutations of the virus emerge. Individual small cups would help me and many other who worry as I do.


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