Vicar's Monthly Letter
At the time of writing we are expecting to end all Covid related restrictions by 21st June. On the face of it that may be a great relief to us but it also carries with it a sense of trepidation for many people. People who have been isolated for their own sake or that of vulnerable loved ones will no doubt still be concerned. Coming out of lockdown may be, for some, almost as stressful as going into it.
The more I reflect on these strange times, the more I realise that many of us have got comfortable with a new normal that is far from what could be genuinely described as normal at all. How will we cope with being told we can get back to the way things were?
For the church I hope that this will mean that we can sing hymns for the first time in over a year and perhaps stay after services for a cup of tea or coffee. At the same time I am worried about other things such as sharing the peace and more so about receiving communion in both kinds.
I’m sure many of you would share my concern about receiving Communion wine from a shared chalice even after the 21st June. In the Church of England the way in which this element of the sacrament is received in a shared vessel is of great importance. Drinking from a common cup is a strong symbol of unity, and of a Christian’s belonging to, and responsibility towards others and, not least, Christ. The cup from which the communicant drinks is not their own, but Christ’s cup of self-sacrificial love.
In the current situation, there appears to be no obvious adaptation of the way in which the consecrated wine is administered that permits this key symbolic association to be expressed.
A number of people have asked if we could use individual disposable cups to receive Communion wine but a report by the Church of England states that this practice carries significant public health risks. Furthermore, there are practical problems with their liturgical use in the Church of England. This relates to any consecrated wine that may remain in individual cups after the communicant has received. Any remaining wine is consumed, usually by the presiding priest, after communion, this includes the practice of pouring water into the chalice and drinking it to make sure no wine remains.
If we believe that Christ is truly present in the bread and wine at the Eucharist then it would seem wrong to dispose of it in the bin in single use plastic cups.
For our predecessors at the Reformation the threat of pandemic was never too far away and they legislated for this eventuality in Church law. The Sacrament Act of 1547 notes that ‘the... blessed sacrament [shall] be hereafter commonly delivered and ministered unto the people... under both kinds, that is to say of bread and wine, except necessity otherwise require.’ It is these last few words that have enabled us to suspend the use of the common cup during the pandemic.
I will look closely at what the church advises on these issues closer to the time but I feel very strongly that nobody should feel under any obligation to receive wine from a shared chalice at this stage until we all feel it is safe to do so.