Saturday, August 08, 2009

A bloodless feast: swine flu and communion

XXX. Of Both Kinds.
THE Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the lay people; for both parts of the Lord's sacrament, by Christ's ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike.

- The XXXIX Articles of Religion in The Book of Common Prayer, 1662.

The Archbishops of York and Canterbury have recently advised all members of the clergy to refrain from offering both elements at communion due to risk of swine flu infection through the use of the common cup. If clergy wish to offer both elements they may use intinction (dipping the bread into the wine), as long as this is done by the presiding minister rather than the communicant (since many people misjudge and end up sticking their fingers in the cup, which obviously defeats the hygiene purpose). However, this is not required. Have the Archbishops thrown out the Articles? Is this blatant disregard for a founding document on the basis of a few sniffles?

I realise that many people smarter than I are genuinely concerned about swine flu, and a little research also uncovered the fact that section 8 of the Sacrament Act of 1547 provides that
"... the... most blessed Sacrament be hereafter commonly delivered and ministered unto the people... under both the kinds, that is to say of bread and wine, except necessity otherwise require..."
It is generally thought that the exception was because communicants ought to avoid a common cup in the event of plague. I am not sure why this exception was not included in the articles themselves, and since I can't currently find a copy of Cranmer's Forty-Two Articles (which preceded the more streamlined and famous Thirty-Nine Articles), I am not sure if this was simply an oversight.

While communion in both kinds is the norm for Anglicans (in faithfulness to Christ's institution), when only one element is received, the communicant is nonetheless still receiving the full sacrament. However, wouldn't it be better as a temporary measure during pandemnic simply to use personal vessels rather than no-one getting any wine? I realise that a common cup is a powerful symbol, but then so is everyone receiving both kinds.


Matthew Moffitt said...

Surely individual cups would be the best option.

I can't believe how hard it is to find the Forty-two Articles online...and I can't remember which book compares the 42 and 39 side by side.

goannatree said...

i am with Matthew. Individual cups would be a good solution.

Matthew Moffitt said...

Found the 42 in O'Donovan's book on the 39. As far as I could see, the 42 don't say anything about taking communion in both kinds.

Anonymous said...

Hey Byron.
If the bread is being dipped in the wine, how is that not two elements? They're both there in wine-soaked bread, aren't they?

I first experienced this method of taking the Lord's Supper in Uganda, where it was used to avoid passing on disease through saliva to the members of the congregation who are HIV+. Plastic cups weren't an option there, but as you point out, would be in Britain. Maybe they want to discourage the use of plastic??

byron smith said...

Matt, yep, the dipping is called "intinction" as I mentioned in my post. I guess my point is that it is (a) only given as an option, rather than the norm with the option of only serving one element and (b) it is the only option mentioned (not individual cups, which is another option). To put it another way, I see three ways forward (well four really, with one being just to keep using the common cup):
i) Bread only
ii) Intinction
iii) Individual cups
The ABC & ABY say (i) and maybe (ii) without mentioning (iii). In my mind, I would say (iii) > (ii) > (i).

Faced with the choice of bread only (RC) or of individual cups (dissenter), the Anglican archbishops seem to imply that the latter is more dangerous than the former. Sydney Anglican is really dissenter in tone and ecclesiology, so I guess it is no surprise that we see individual cups as a no-brainer.

andrewE said...

Amen. And depending how faithful they are to other ordinances, does this mean there are a lot of drunk clergy?

Martin Kemp said...

My understanding is that intinction (or rather 'intincture'???) is banned in Sydney. Anyone know why? (or even if it's true?)

gbroughto said...

@ Martin,
as I was once told by someone more knowledgeable about these matters: banned in Sydney for the president / priest / presbyter to intinct, but not so for the communicant.
But if hygeine is the issue, then the problem of 'over-intinction' ('can I really get away with that?) remains...

byron smith said...

Intinction is not banned in Sydney, but it does require permission from the bishop. I am not really sure why. Though note that in the instructions from the ABC & ABY, that only the presiding minister can intinct (to avoid overintincture - what a marvellous term!).

AE - wouldn't it actually reduce the risk of drunk clergy, since the amount of wine required (one serve only) is known in advance? ;-)

Bruce Yabsley said...

Byron: you wrote "In my mind, I would say (iii) > (ii) > (i)."

Pardon me if I'm being dense, but I don't get it.

If the symbolism of the common cup — which I most freely agree is important — is the main game here, then intinction would seem to beat individual cups in a straightforward way.

And as for receiving communion in both kinds, which I will also agree is important, isn't one, well, receiving communion in both kinds, by both methods?

byron smith said...

Bruce - sorry for not being clearer. Intinction does involve communion in both kinds, yes. Why would I therefore put it as less desirable than individual cups? Good question. Perhaps it is simply my own background and what I am more familiar with. Perhaps there are other aspects of intinction that make me a little less comfortable with it (though none are without good answers, I know). First, intinction is not necessarily much more hygienic than a common cup (unless it is done carefully - hence the ABC/ABY's instructions that the presiding minister do it). Second, intinction in my experience is nearly always done with wafers rather than real bread. I am not at all a fan of wafers. Perhaps this deserves its own post. But if the symbolism of the common cup is important, then I think a common loaf is far more important. I take it that the scriptural basis for a common cup is language in 1 Cor about sharing in the cup (not cups) of the Lord. But sharing a common loaf gets a much stronger reference in both scripturally and then liturgically: we who are many are one body for we all share in the one bread.

Of course, it is possible to intinct with real bread, though if you use this for a whole congregation, you're likely to end up with a cup full of mushy crumbs! Hence wafers, and hence my hesitation, I guess. Does this make sense? Maybe I've missed something. My experience of intinction is fairly limited.

byron smith said...

PS The BCP rubric says that "the Bread be such as is usual to be eaten". I don't usually eat wafers.

Bruce Yabsley said...

Byron I think your earlier comment, "Sydney Anglican is really dissenter in tone and ecclesiology, so I guess it is no surprise that we see individual cups as a no-brainer" is relevant here, and it needs to be borne in mind that Sydney is quite peculiar in this matter.

Intinction is well-established as an option in the tradition, and in some places and times it's normal practice; rightly or wrongly, there are particular hygenic concerns at the moment; temporary advice has been given in re. This all seems unremarkable — it's not obvious that this needs to be interpreted further — and to me the reflex to ask is-the-Arch-really-being-faithful questions smells of anti-Catholicism. Not meaning that I'm alleging you're an anti-Catholic (since I believe you're not) but meaning that the evangelical tradition, especially in Sydney, carries a good deal of that sentiment within it, and I think it breeds habits of thought that develop a life of their own.

And a lot of this is about perception. Some evangelical Anglicans and lots of people from other Protestant backgrounds seem to find individual cups unremarkable, but there are many of us for whom the whole individual-cup-thing is frustratingly individualistic and bloodless. (That's not a deliberate pun, but the term's a propos: English uses that metaphor for a reason.) Someone who knows more of the history may correct me here, but surely individual cups must also be an innovation? As a concession for those who want to stick to grape juice, for reasons of conscience or out of concern for their health and/or personal weakness? Fine, yes, whatever: let all things be done to edifying. But I've never seen what the reason could be for the sense that they're the default. That is, I can't see good reasons; some bad reasons, as mentioned, do suggest themselves.

As for wafers, I'm not a fan on aesthetic grounds (tearing of at least nominally common bread is I agree a better look) and clearly this is one area where the choice of the means has been driven in the past by a theological/Eucharistic concern that we don't hold to (i.e. transsubstantiation). Having said that, it doesn't make wafers wrong in themselves; and they are time-honoured.

As to relative importance: well, I'm not sure that this is quite a matter of checking for specific Scriptural references. Eating bread, by the nature of the thing, involves eating a piece of the stuff, while wine is by its nature continuous. The mechanics of sharing are different in the two cases.

byron smith said...

Bruce - I'm hardly the ABC's greatest critic. :-)

This post was as much a chance to reflect upon my own assumptions as it was a piece of criticism. And really, it was more about questioning (i) than advocating (iii) over (ii). Thanks for continuing the discussion, which is helping me reflect on these matters.

Do you know more about the history and current prevalence of intinction? I'm not particularly familiar with these issues.

I agree that individual cups are a fairly modern innovation and have their own drawbacks. However, do you agree that they would still be preferable to receiving only one element? (as a retrieval ethic)

I agree that the symbolism of sharing is different with bread and with cup, and so find it curious that Paul selects the bread as the symbol of unity (or perhaps quotes an existing early tradition that has made this move). It is because the common cup is in some ways a more obvious communal symbol that I think the scriptural/liturgical mention of bread is worth pondering.

On a slightly different tangent (though still related to my hesitation over wafers), I wonder whether the gathering of twelve baskets of crumbs from the feeding of the 5,000 is a sign that bread shared in a common meal ought to produce plenty of crumbs! :-) More seriously, the crumbs are a sign of abundance and ring bells for me about dogs getting to eat crumbs under the table and not harvesting to the edge of the field and so on. The piety that seeks to avoid crumbs for the sake of avoiding dishonouring the body of the Lord is less wrong about real presence than about the abundance of God's provision, which has enough for all with crumbs left over.

Bruce Yabsley said...

"I'm hardly the ABC's greatest critic": Indeed not, and that's actually one of the reasons I'm giving you a hard time over this. If you were merely one of the usual suspects performing a drive-by, then at a guess I'd either be ignoring the post/blog or taking a real full-blown return shot ... :-)

As to the history and current prevalence of intinction, no, I'm afraid, it's not been a big part of my experience. It's more something I know at second hand.

As a retrieval ethic: yes, I guess I would be happier with individual cups than with receiving one element. But to speak frankly, it would depend somewhat on who was doing the proposing, and where. Between the two of us here: no problem. From some other people I might suspect a wedge being driven in at opportunity, in favour of individual cups, out of suspicion / opposition to more frankly metaphorical or visceral traditions.

The comment about place is important. So, to turn the example around, if someone in Sydney proposed intinction in these circumstances and didn't mention individual cups at all I would think: "Hey, hang on, what's going on here," because individual cups are (albeit to my annoyance) a big part of the scene here, whereas intinction is not. But coming from a couple of senior arch's in the UK, I tend to assume that this sort of advice is not proceeding from an agenda.

The idea about crumbs and abundance is quite pleasing. My only negative comment about it (if it really is negative) is that this isn't a point which has typically been emphasised in the tradition, as far as I know. Maybe it should have been.

Julie said...

Individual cups would be a good solution.

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byron smith said...

Here is an example of why people don't like individual cups of non-alcoholic grape juice. OK, so it's more about the latter than the former, but interesting nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

Hi Byron

In response to your "I'm not really sure why" - here are some comments from a bishop of the north (when this issue came up in a different context):

Those who are ordained have "signed a document at your ordination that you would offer the bread and wine separately."


"We allow the liberty of the communicant to intinct, that is to dip the bread/wafer in the wine. However, it is not for us to refuse the wine to a communicant, which would be the case if you only offered wine for intinction rather than consumption [...] The practice derives from the theology that the wine might be spilled, and hence the blood of Christ spilled. Hence in medieval times only bread was offered. However, these days it is more aligned to avoiding communicable diseases."


byron smith said...

Tony, thanks for clarifying.