Dear Siblings in Christ,
I am happy to announce that we will be bringing back the sharing of the wine chalice during communion. Due to COVID, this was temporarily suspended, and we believe now is the time to bring it back. I know many of you will be happy about this news. This is one more step towards our full common life of worship together.
Once again, receiving communion will occur at the communion rail near the altar. Ushers will help to direct. If you do not feel comfortable drinking from the chalice, that is fine. Receiving communion in one kind – in this case the bread – is receiving full communion. The Episcopal Church teaches that you receive a complete eucharistic experience in receiving the Body of Christ. This has been true these last months and will continue to be true moving forward. Just because the chalice is being offered does not mean you have to partake. If, because of COVID, you do not feel comfortable drinking from the chalice, you may choose not to do so. You can also continue to come forward and receive a blessing.
The diocese has provided detailed information to help parishes make decisions regarding communion. The most recent RRR guidance references a recent letter by British medical experts that states, “Currently, available data do not provide any support for the suggestion that the practice of sharing a common communion cup can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 because SARS-CoV-2 transmission from a patient with COVID-19 or asymptomatic carrier to other people has not been reported.” Dr. Phil Lewis, Co-Chair of The Diocese of New Jersey RRR Task Force has also stated, “We need to remember that coronavirus is transmitted by the virus having contact with respiratory epithelium or surfaces which does not happen with oral contact with food, liquid or surfaces that have come in contact with food or liquid.” To date, it is believed that there is little to no risk of spreading COVID by drinking from the common cup. But, again, if you do not feel comfortable as of yet, you may choose to abstain from drinking from the chalice.
This of course raises the question of intinction. While this might seem like a helpful alternative to drinking from the chalice, it presents many other health concerns. Intinction, for many years, has been understood as the least hygienic practice for receiving communion. The Anglican Church of Canada published the study Eucharistic Practice and the Risk some years ago. It looks at the health risks and lack of health risks in communion. Regarding intinction, it states, “There is, however, real concern that many of the modes of intinction used in parishes do not diminish the threat of infection, and some may actually increase it.”
I strongly encourage you not to intinct your bread in the chalice. Intinction actually raises the risk of spreading other infections. In trying to be safe, dipping our bread in the wine greatly increases the risk to everyone. It raises health and hygiene concerns completely separate from COVID.
A helpful alternative is one I have seen in recovery communities. The chalice can still be presented to you with the words “The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation” while you hold the bread near the cup and say “Amen.” This allows you to still have a ritual encounter with the chalice, but avoids all the risks of dipping one’s fingers into the wine. You can find a short YouTube video demonstration here.
If you have any questions please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I suspect that for some of us, we will have to spend a few weeks adjusting to the return of the chalice. My door is always open and I am happy to talk with you.