24 March 2023
Dear Friends in Christ,
The late theologian, Louis Weil wrote, “When the Christian community meets to do the whole eucharistic action in obedience to the Lord, he comes. He gives himself to us again and again. It is part of the mystery of time” (p. 154 Liturgy for Living by Louis Weil and Charles P. Price)
The ancient Christian practice of sharing a chalice (Latin for “mug”) for the blessed wine of Jesus is a symbol for Professor Weil’s description of the “whole Eucharistic action.”
When we celebrate Holy Communion we point to God’s incarnation in two ways:
- We use earthly things such as bread and wine which Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives
- We gather in community—in our bodies—to keep and to share the feast. Every time we gather we become a new expression of Christ’s Body in the world.
For Anglicans (and other Christians) the Eucharist is Life Itself; it’s our way to share in the mystery of Jesus Christ. We often refer to this as his Real Presence, coming to us in consecrated bread and wine, including a common chalice.
Our experience with a pandemic for the past three years (and COVID remains!), however, required us to alter the way we celebrated and distributed Holy Communion. At the outset I worked with a team of advisors; together we announced guidelines that reflected our commitment to the common good, science, flexibility, and to the fact that our practices for administering the Sacrament varied depending upon our community’s demographics, our buildings and their HVAC systems, and their physical size. At the time, wide permission was given to innovate and to do whatever seemed reasonable to gather for worship and to celebrate the Holy Eucharist.
Last fall at clergy day I asked us to return to pre-COVID Eucharistic practices, and to stop using pre-packaged wafers and grape juice, and to begin the process of re-introducing the common chalice.
Today, with the endorsement of the COVID advisors, I am announcing further changes, and asking that all faith communities institute these practices no later than the Day of Pentecost, 28 May 2023.
- Administer consecrated wine from a common chalice. For congregations using paper or glass cups this will require additional communication and education; now is an excellent time to re-train eucharistic ministers about how to administer a chalice (wiping and turning). I recognize that for some congregations this decision will require your navigating emotionally-laden resistance. We are here to help you when that happens.
- Include/Acknowledge people who do not wish to drink from the chalice. Bear in mind that people’s reasons to refrain from taking the chalice may center on concerns that have nothing to do with the risk of infection. Make certain your parishioners understand that receiving the consecrated bread, only, is “full communion.” Furthermore, if you are not yet inviting people who don’t receive the chalice to touch the chalice, please do. Chalice bearers should be instructed to hold the chalice in front of people and to say “The Blood of Christ. The Cup of Salvation” irrespective of whether people drink from or touch the chalice.
- There is wide consensus among medical and public health professionals that when the common chalice is shared it is much safer not to allow “intinction” (dipping the wafer into the chalice). Some of your parishioners will say, “but my fingers never touch the wine.” They are probably right! Yet every clergyperson and eucharistic minister knows that some people do indeed accidentally touch the wine or drop the wafer. Therefore, intinction is prohibited, as is administering the consecrated bread onto a person’s tongue.
- The laity and clergy who administer the Sacrament must use hand sanitizer; presiders should make use of a lavabo bowl and towel after using hand sanitizer.
The theological symbolism is key, and so is the science.
In a study on Eucharistic practices in late 2020, scientists note that in the long history of communities sharing the common chalice, a worldwide practice, “the transmission of any infectious disease has never been documented.”
For articles and statements that are for ecclesiastical contexts please see the work of a priest in Ottawa as well as the Bishops of Indianapolis and Massachusetts, all of whom made similar changes a year ago.
The Right Reverend Thomas J. Brown
Bishop of Maine