With an email to all clergy and churchwardens on Tuesday 20 July 2021, the Bishop of the Oxford Diocese gave advice on how to proceed with Holy Communion after the Covid-19 restrictions were lifted from Monday 19 July.
In the Bishop’s email it was noted that ‘as Bishops in the Diocese of Oxford we advise extreme caution at present in respect of re-introducing the common cup at services of Holy Communion for the time being. This advice comes from the perspective of both the congregation and the priest (who will need to consume the elements). The safety and wellbeing of all, including clergy and ministers, must be foundational in decision making’.
Two papers, as far as we were made aware of, were publicised regarding the administration of both kinds of the sacraments, bread and wine, which argued against the re-introduction of the consummation of wine to the congregation, in particular in individual glasses.
The first paper is about the Administration of the Sacrament by the Legal Advisory Commission of the General Synod. The second paper is called Liturgical Considerations written by a representative of the Liturgical Commission and National Liturgy and the Worship Advisor. Obviously, both papers bear less ecclesial jurisdiction than the three defining doctrines, statements and practices of the Church of England (which are the BCP, the 39 Articles and the Homilies) as both papers are either advices or considerations.
Besides, both papers refer to Section 8 of the 1547/1558 Sacrament Act to defend their case of declining the cup to the congregation, or using individual glasses, but the legal content of this Act was revoked with the publication of the 39 Articles.
Even more so, a similar case was brought forward during the Swine Flu pandemic in 2009 to withhold the wine for the communicants. Ecclesial Lawyers argued this was unlawful in their statement that ‘Even if the ‘necessitie’ provision does apply to the BCP and authorised modern liturgies and to public health scares, it certainly does not empower Archbishops and bishops to order communion under one kind only. S.8 is addressed directly to all the clergy as ministers of the sacrament, not to bishops or Church courts. If there is a necessity justifying refusal of the communion cup, this is for the officiating clergyman to decide…..Moreover, as a matter of law, necessity is a defence, not a basis of authority. It is a shield, not a sword. The courts may accept necessity as a defence to an otherwise illegal act. However, it cannot order the commission of an illegal act on ground of necessity. Thus the Church authorities cannot order a clergyman to refuse to administer the wine. https://ecclesiasticallaw.wordpress.com/2012/04/07/swine-flu-and-the-sacrament-act-1547/
The legal position of the Thirty-Nine Articles is established in Canon A2 and A5. Furthermore, General Synod can authorise alternative services to those in the Book of Common Prayer provided that they are neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter, which are the 39 Articles.
Based on this statement (Article 30 about receiving of the wine) the 39 Articles remain the prime Church-authoritative statement about the offering of full communion to the communicants during Holy Communion. No mention is made in either Article 28 or 30 about the use of only one cup. Therefore, because Article 30 states that the cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the lay-people, it is lawful to return to offering the wine to all who are present at the Eucharist after this lockdown, because of a Governmental decree that ended all restrictions.
Once it has been favourably argued that the presentation of wine to the communicant is ecclesially lawful, the next question is how the wine is given to the communicant.
It is difficult to deny that the use of a common cup is customary for the Church of England and individual glasses are not commonly used. This custom is based on scriptural evidence where Jesus blessed a cup to share it with His disciples. Later in his letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul reiterates this practice.
Debate has arisen however, with what is exactly meant by drinking from the same common cup? Is there a possibility to use shot glasses if the wine is blessed in the one common cup and then poured into an individual shot glass to be consumed?
The use of the word 'drinking' is here under consideration and how literally this must be interpreted. We enter the same debate as in the 15th century when Zwingly argued (in a dispute about the Eucharist) about how we use the 'spirit of the word' to translate it into our theology. Zwingly argued for example that when Jesus calls Himself the door of the sheep, no one will think He is a wooden plank.
The translation of figurative speaking is similar to how we drink the wine. How we drink or consume the wine in itself is not the hinge of the matter, but the blessing of the cup from which each receives the wine. Even when the wine out of hygienic reasons, and based on health and safety rules, is transferred from the consecrated common cup to a small glass when being handed over to the communicant, we can still speak of drinking (as sharing) from the same cup. Arguments for allowing the use of individual wafers at the Eucharist are defended on a similar basis.
As long as we all drink/receive from the same consecrated common cup there is no contradiction in taking the wine in accordance with the command of Jesus to drink this in remembrance of Him as He spoke out in the Synoptic Gospels.
As a concluding remark Luke 22:17 springs to mind, when Luke described how Jesus shared the chalice during the Last Supper: ‘And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He said; Take this and divide it among yourselves’. This is what is done during Holy Communion when wine is given from the common cup into an individual glass to each one of us; we divide it among ourselves.