Two years ago, when the COVID-19 Pandemic began, St Stephen’s responded by shifting our worship to forms of Morning Prayer shared via Zoom. As we have progressed through the pandemic, we have aimed to be as open as possible while recognizing our duty of care for one another as members of Christ’s body. We have carefully followed the public health orders and guidance from our Diocesan leadership. When it was possible, we returned to holding worship with some of the congregation present in the building and, more recently, we returned to offering Holy Eucharist (also called Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper) in a single form (just the wafer). Now, additional restrictions will be lifted effective April 8, 2022, and we will be able to return to offering both the wafers and the wine for Holy Eucharist. The first service where this will be an option will be Maundy Thursday, April 14, at 7:00pm (a Simple Soup Supper will precede worship at 6pm; come to only one or both).
Here is what you need to know about receiving Holy Communion at St Stephen’s (effective April 14, 2022)
St Stephen’s main Sunday worship usually includes Holy Communion, also called Holy Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper. Holy Eucharist is “a holy meal given to us by Jesus which we share under the leadership of a priest chosen by God and ordained by the church. When we do this together, we are part of a sacred tradition that precedes us and will be there long after we are gone. It is our spiritual food, and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet God invites us into (Episcopal Church's BCP Cathecism).”
At St Stephen’s, we share this meal with wafers (a form of bread) and wine. There are gluten-free wafers available if you ask the priest.
To receive the wafer, come forward at the appropriate time and hold your hands, one on top of the other, palms up at about chest high. The priest will place the wafer in your hands and say, “This is the body of Christ” (or a similar phrase). Your response is “Amen.”
If you plan to receive wine, you should eat the wafer at this time. If you are wearing your mask and do not plan to receive the wine, you may carry the wafer back to your seat to eat it when unmasking at greater social distance.
The wine is shared from a single chalice (a fancy cup) and individuals receiving it are asked to take a small sip. The Lay Eucharistic Administrator (the non-ordained person assisting with Communion) will offer you the cup saying, “This is the cup of salvation” (or a similar phrase). You should place your hand on the base of the cup to help guide it. The Administrator will wipe the lip of the chalice with a linen cloth before and after you receive.
If you would prefer not to receive the wine (for any reason), you may simply return to your seat after receiving the wafer OR you may wait for the chalice to be brought to you, touch the base of the cup briefly while the Lay Eucharistic Administrator acknowledges you.
If you would prefer that the elements of Holy Communion are brought to you, please let one of the greeters know. The priest is also happy to come to you to offer a blessing. Common reasons people ask for this are mobility concerns, a desire to maintain a bit more physical distancing, or because you are accompanying a young child who it would be best to not disturb.
If you would prefer not to receive Holy Communion, you are welcome to remain seated in your pew. Our worship bulletin contains a prayer for those who are present but not receiving communion which you may wish to say quietly during this time. Our Zoom Host leads this prayer on the Zoom call. Alternatively, you may come forward and instead of placing your hands out to receive the wafer, cross your arms over your chest (right hand to left shoulder, left hand to right shoulder or your best approximation). This will signal to the priest to offer a prayer of blessing for you.
It remains our belief that receiving Holy Communion in one form only is having fully received it. It also remains our belief that participating in the worship of our community without receiving Holy Communion is meaningful and worthwhile.
Isn’t sharing one cup a great way to spread disease?
We share one cup because by sharing Christ’s body and blood we are all united with him. The single chalice is a sign and a symbol of that unity.
The possibility of spreading infection has been a concern for Christians on and off for over one hundred years. In a paper on the risks of Holy Communion during the COVID-19 pandemic, a review of the science notes:
In general, the majority of the research has focused on determining if virus or bacteria can be isolated from the common cup after use (i.e., after all eucharistic participants have been served) rather than on whether transmission of disease can occur from one participant to the next through sharing the common cup. To date, there is no documented evidence of disease transmission through the common cup (see Michael Garner's article in the links below).
We reduce the risks of spreading infection from person to person by keeping a cloth over the chalice during the prayers, using a silver chalice and a high-alcohol wine, and by wiping the rim of the chalice with the linen cloth. All of our Lay Eucharistic Administrators are being re-trained in these practices.
Why can’t I dip the wafer into the wine?
Dipping the wafer into the wine (called intinction) and consuming the bread and wine together is a practice whose origins are vague. The theological arguments against it all relate to the way that Jesus taught his disciples to follow his act of sharing his body and blood in bread and wine.
It produces several potential practical problems. First, it is inevitable that during the distribution of Communion someone attempting to dip their wafer misjudges the depth (or the Lay Eucharistic Administrator aims to be helpful and adjusts the chalice) and fingers are dipped into the wine instead. Unwashed hands having direct contact with the wine eliminates any hygiene improvements intinction might have. Second, nearly as often as someone’s fingers go in, someone drops their wafer into the wine. This is a more significant issue in congregations where loaves of bread are used for Communion (a practice St Stephen’s isn’t currently doing). Floating bits of bread (or wafer) are unpleasant for everyone else. They also create a gluten-contaminant for the most gluten-sensitive among us. Our diocesan policy is that we are not to use intinction as part of our practice of Holy Communion.
Couldn’t we use individual cups for the wine?
The use of individual cups as part of the sharing of Holy Communion is a fairly recent addition to Christian practice. It is most popular in traditions which have strong anti-alcohol stances and use, for at least some portion of the congregation, grape juice instead of wine. Individual cups eliminate the sense of unity that a common cup symbolizes.
Additionally, Anglicans officially believe that once prayed over (consecrated) the wafers and the wine remain holy. For this reason, when there are leftovers, they are either consumed (you’ll see the priest finish the chalice of wine most Sundays) or returned to the earth. Practically, the little bit of wine at the bottom of every individual cup should be rinsed and poured directly into the ground. In addition, the cups must be successfully sanitized each time. Disposable cups are an environmental concern. Passing a tray of open cups through the church offers additional opportunities for aerosols and droplets to land in the wine or on the cups. Our diocesan policy is that we are not to use individual cups as part of our practice of Holy Communion.
I still think it is gross/have questions/want to read more.
This continues to be a “all may, some will, none must” circumstance in the life of our church. Everyone will be welcome to receive Holy Eucharist in both forms. Some of you will be ready to do so, but none of you must.
Pastor Ruth’s Top Two: If you can get through only two articles, read Hilary Bogart-Winkler’s piece reminding us that our “ewwww” reaction to sharing a common cup can be rooted in beliefs that run deeper than germ theory and Michael Garner’s perspective as a priest with a background in public health is particularly helpful in distilling past scientific studies about the risk of infection from Holy Communion.
Bogart-Winkler, Hilary. “Individual communion cups, community, and COVID-19,” Eucharistic Practice & Sacramental Theology in Pandemic Times: Reflections by Canadian Anglicans, edited by J Eileen Scully. Toronto: General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, 2021. Copy also found: https://montrealdio.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Bogert-Winkler-Common-Cup.pdf.
Garner, Michael. “The Common Cup & SARS-CoV-2 Infection Risk,” http://www.ottawa.anglican.ca/images/COVID-19/2022-03-The-Common-Cup-M-Garner.pdf?type=file&fbclid=IwAR2nU4Pq3hF_Fjp73PF_ozPb-VUeh_FVnA3L6hnIscwXyhr8lJHbG3S9IHI.
The Anglican Church of Canada’s Office of Faith, Worship, and Ministry commissioned a collection of essays entitled Eucharistic Practice and Sacramental Theology in Pandemic Times: Reflections by Canadian Anglicans which is available as a PDF online: https://www.anglican.ca/faith/ministry/pandemic-times/?fbclid=IwAR1dn5u15k8jYsJ2nrMVDO8UjY9eYdRCzmozNaGzw8WFGJnHFSgsX9l0pR8. It is too large a document to print, but individual essays can be made available, please speak to the Church Office.
The Anglican Journal ran several articles touching on our respond to the pandemic and what it meant for us to not be able to receive Communion. This one by Martha Tatarnic is useful in thinking about what Eucharist means for our overall mission: https://anglicanjournal.com/our-eucharistic-prayer-matters-and-not-just-for-us/
NOTE: if you are unable to click on the links, there are some printed copies available at the church of the top two articles.