In light of the recent information being passed around about COVID-19 and our ability to stem the impact of the epidemic, I thought it would be helpful to touch on a topic that is certainly a popular question within my own church at the moment. Is it safe to take from the common communion cup, especially during seasons of sickness and flu?
The short answer is that it is somewhat complicated. It is true that statistically there has never been a reported case of any person contracting a serious illness from the communion cup. There were many rumours and claims, especially by modern historians looking back to the plagues of the middle ages. But when the data was drawn out, and the facts laid bare, it was obvious that these theories did not hold any weight. But it is important to note that just because something hasn’t happened yet does not mean that it could not happen, especially when dealing with novel viruses like COVID-19.
You might have heard your Priest or Deacon talking about how the alcohol content combined with the material used in the composition of the cup essentially sterilizes the surface and kills anything that comes into contact. That unfortunately is not entirely true. In a study published in 1988, no appreciable change was noted in the presence of micro-organisms on the surface of the cup as a result of the wine or mixture of metals of the cup itself. In fact, what was found to be the best method of ensuring a clean communion cup was the act of wiping the surface with a corporal cloth and turning the cup for the next communicant.
The solution to ensuring that the communion cup is safe is to enforce proper protocols around the wiping and turning of the cup for the next communicant and this requires that communion not be rushed. And the best way to do this in my opinion is to actually have communicants come and kneel at the altar rail to receive communion from the celebrant and only two more communion ministers. And with adequate training and a healthy dose of reverence toward the Sacrament and how it is communicated to the faithful, there is no issue with using the common cup during seasons of illness and flu.
Another important thing to note is that the act of indenture– or dipping the host into the wine and consuming both species at the same time– is actually the worst option when it comes to hygiene. Especially when it is done by communicants themselves. The problem is that the vast majority of micro-organisms that are transmitted to surfaces around us are through our hands, and there is always a risk (and I’ve witnessed it personally many times as a Eucharistic minister) that ones fingers dip in the wine throughout the process. It is extremely unhygienic and most parishes should have a policy of outright banning indenture or only permitting it to be conducted by a Eucharistic minister (with the understanding that they’ve at least washed their hands immediately prior to distributing communion).
The safest way to receive communion and share the common cup is to approach the Eucharist with the level of reverence that many would called traditional today. We ought to be taking time between communicants, purposely moving up and away for communion, and it ought not to be a rushed affair in the hope of finishing the service within an hour window. This is probably why historically the common cup has not been an issue throughout some of the worse epidemics of our human history. I fear that might not be the case in this age of rushed Eucharistic services.
And lastly, we ought not forget that we are talking about the Blood of Christ. Through the incarnation of Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity the gifts themselves still retain their earthly properties of bread and wine. This means it is entirely within the realm of acceptable dogma to expect the potential transmission of micro-organisms on these surfaces. But there is also a divine aspect to the bread and wine as well and there is certainly something to be said about the fact that since its institution the Body and Blood of Christ has not contributed to any significant health outbreak.
At the end of the day whether you decide to take from the common cup or not is a personal choice and in no way does it impact your consumption of the Body and Blood of Christ. The presence of the cup for laity is actually a relatively new practice within the history of the liturgy and the church has always maintained that when you consume one or the other species you are consuming the entire Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. So even with all of the facts that the communion cup is safe, you can decide not to consume the Blood of Christ during periods of sickness or outbreak and still get everything out of Mass that you require to go back into the world and bring the Light of Christ to all peoples.
O for a closer walk with You, Lord Jesus so that I may draw ever closer into Your arms of grace day by day. Thank You that I can commune with You Lord as I come before You in prayer and the reading of Your Word.
Help me to seek YOU more and more for Who You are and not just that which You provide. Lord that I may spend time in Your presence – not for what I can get from You but for what I can give to You. Lord that You would fill me with Your love so that my love may flow back to You as well as out to others. Lord, I pray that my life may be a life that glorifies You in thought word and deed and that with each passing day I draw ever closer into close communion with You, in Jesus name I pray. Amen.