An Anglican Priest

"Protestant and Reformed according to the principles of the ancient Catholic Church." Bishop John Cosin (d. 1672)

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Monday, September 17, 2007

A reflection on communion cups. . .

Being from the Methodist tradition, with relatives in the Lutheran tradition, I'm very familiar with the practice of using the small individual cups in the serving of the Communion elements. Also, when celebrating a Sunday Eucharist at a nursing home I was requested to use individual cups in delivering the elements; I complied (using my chalice and paten for the consecration and laying my hand on the tray with the individual cups per the rubrics where it states the the priest is to lay his hand on every vessel to be consecrated), while I know this is not the preferred method for most in the Anglican tradition. Indeed, one priest just out of seminary informed me that anyone who would allow this practice, the use of the small individual cups, is obviously un-Christian--his exact words were "anti-Christ."
I inquired as to why he thought this was so. His response was clear: such a practice destroys the symbolism of sharing the one Cup of the Blood of Christ, per the First Epistle of Saint Paul to the Church at Corinth. Where is the unity in Christ symbolized if each person has their own tiny cup? Also, the rubrics mention that the priest is to take the cup (not cups) into his hands during the consecration. I agreed with him, this is true. But I also asked if he had seen celebrations of the Eucharist where more than one chalice was used. He said yes, he had. I asked what the essential difference was between using one chalice, two chalices, or let's say one small chalice for each person. All destroy the symbolism he seeks. He didn't have an answer. I agreed that the use of the small cups is not ideal, but in some circumstances where it is employed (such as where it is requested in a nursing home) it does not render the sacrament in any way invalid.
Also, it must be noted that the same manner of argument used for the individual cups is used by most who desire to use wafers as the bread in the Eucharist. While the priest mentioned above had an obvious dislike of the small cups for destroying the symbolism of the one Cup, he was blind to the fact that the use of individual pieces of bread destroys the symbolism of the one Bread in the exact same manner. The loaf is not broken with each person receiving a piece; each is separate, just as the small glasses of wine are separate. The logic of protesting against one can be employed just as quickly and validly against the other. Ideally, for each celebration of the Holy Eucharist there should be one Bread and one Cup: the great Anglo-Catholic theologian Bishop Gore argued similarly. Of course, convenience has long been an argument for the use of wafer bread; it is easy to distribute and store as the reserved sacrament. If convenience is the most pressing argument for wafer bread, I can't see how this argument cannot also be used in favor of individual cups. Some things are far from the ideal, such as the use of the little cups and the tiny pieces of bread (also, there is nothing more "Catholic" in using a round wafer and somehow more "Protestant" in using square pieces of bread), but neither invalidates the sacrament. They just take away from the outward symbolism. . .


Blogger welshmann said...


Surely tiny cups and square chips of bread aren't any worse than withholding the bread altogether or mashing the bread and wine together and serving them with a spoon.


5:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With all those little cups it seems like it would be difficult to insure that the Blood of Christ was not spilled or thrown away.

6:14 PM  
Blogger welshmann said..., withholding the wine altogether. Sorry.


7:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Church has blatantly ignored the clear scriptural description of the Last Supper in many regards. First, Communion usually occurs in the morning (not in the evening) and the consecration of the elements are not separated by a full meal. In short, using strict scriptural construction for Mass rubrics is basically misguided. What the latitudes are, then, must be defined by the consensus of the Faithful. Obviously, certain practices come closer to the limits than others.

8:15 PM  
Blogger An Anglican Cleric said...


This is indeed the most serious concern, beyond that of the little cups being symbolically distasteful. Spilling is more likely when filling the cups, and this occurs before consecration. However, a little is usually left over in each cup after consumption. If these cups are used I would advise rinsing each with a little water and pouring it into the chalice for consumption ny the priest after the Eucharist. Any further rinsing of the small cups should be done in a piscina or over the earth, never in a common sink.

Here is my ideal--use of the Common Cup and use of the large diameter thin whole wafers that break into fragments for the distribution. You then have the benefits of wafer bread and the symbolism of the one loaf.

Mr. Bredon,

I appreciate your point as well--I have heard that when some folk starting a mission wanted to celebrate an evening Eucharist on Sunday an outcry went up: "But it needs to be in the morning!" From the evidence I've seen the apostolic church gathered for what we might call "Morning Prayer" on Sunday morning and then gathered for the agape and Eucharist in the evening (as you note). I'm not arguing for the practice, just commenting that when people say "that's not the right way to do it" they may be basing their opinions on their own experience, and not on a hard and fast rule handed down by divine command.


9:00 PM  
Blogger welshmann said...


As I understand the catholic position, the Real Presence remains while the recognizable elements remain, or at least, we cannot be sure that the Real Presence has departed until the forms are consumed or destroyed.

If I'm right, doesn't that involve an implied subjectivity about the continuing existence of the elements? After all, the most scrupulous priest has to know that microscopic particles of the elements remain after Communion. Do the rubrics say something like, "clean the vessels with utmost care, and then inquire no further"?

For purposes of this question, I'm not assuming a presence in the elements themselves, or transubstantiation, or any other particular theory of the Real Presence, only that there is a real consecration of the elements, and that the way in which we handle the consecrated elements is in fact the way we handle the Body and Blood of Christ.

Also, by "subjectivity" I mean that which we can see from a purely human perspective. I'm assuming that from a divine perspective, even the subjective is objective.


9:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robert Opala, the Church of England in this reflection shows me a new demention of the Eucharist. I was really moved.
Mr Robert Opala, UK

3:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I could only pick one, I'd definitely prefer the one loaf of bread over one chalice. We who are many are one body, for we all partake of one loaf. I would prefer to use a chalice, but when the congregation gets to a certain size, it would be hard to use only one chalice.

8:44 AM  

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