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The Use of the Chalice

A Report of the House of Bishops on
the Use of the Cup in the Holy Communion, 1913

Milwaukee: Morehouse, n.d.

The following Report was submitted to the House of Bishops during the General Convention of 1913, by a committee consisting of the Bishops of Atlanta, Florida, Pittsburgh, Albany, Western Michigan, Colorado, and Mississippi. The appended resolutions were adopted:

Having sought and secured expert medical advice, your committee reports as follows:

The consideration of the matter referred is one which must be approached with great seriousness, since it touches the immediately pressing question of the prevention of the communication of disease by the public use of a single cup and has a direct bearing upon the mode of administration of the most sacred Rite of the Christian Religion.

The alarm over the possibility of infection communicable by the mouth from vessels in common use, not only of the tubercular bacillus but of other diseases, is widespread. The Church should not be put in the position of delaying action on such a matter until compelled by the civil authorities to use the precautions which they consider necessary.

Various societies and associations have for years been working to abate the danger from this source, and have gathered about them a volume of sympathetic feeling and cooperation which cannot be disregarded, as the spirit of the movement enters into many of our congregations in separate sections; and probably the larger number of members of this House have had occasion to deal with the question in some form.

It is also well known that many states and cities of the Union have adopted ordinances prohibitive of common drinking cups in public places; and an act of Congress regulates the sanitary conditions in interstate traffic. These effective statutes are broadening and expanding sentiment in opposition to a second use of any drinking vessel until it has been sterilized.

We are bound to stress the point that laws regulative of water-vessels which convey infection do not apply to the use of a vessel containing any alcoholic liquid. With astonishing oversight Boards of Health have taken no action, as far as we know, upon glasses at soda-fountains, beer-mugs, vessels used at picnics, not to mention spoons, forks, cups and saucers in public eating places, which are among the most successful vehicles for the carrying of microbes from one individual to another.

The rise and rapid prevalence among many Christian denominations of the individual cup encourages a public sentiment against the use of a single cup. It seems to your committee that the time has arrived to relieve the tension upon some of the members of this House by reason of existing conditions. We are unanimously of the opinion that this very modern mode of delivering the wine, both extremely awkward and unseemly and distasteful to many devoutly religious people, does not meet the situation. It does not take into account the multiplied chances of uncleanliness, owing to the uncertainty attending the complete disinfecting of a large number of vessels.

The committee submits that it is much simpler, easier, and safer to sterilize a single cup after each contact with the lips of an individual than by any customary method of washing a number of vessels. The more intelligent and appreciative responsibility of the clergy is without doubt more trustworthy than any attention given by a sexton or a church committee. It is to be feared that unless such action be taken, distress will be caused either by too much stiffness of those who are rightly conservative of the Church's traditions, or too great readiness on the part of others to yield to the pressure of a popular, perhaps of a temporary, demand.

It is proper to observe that the case with us is different from that among the bodies which use unfermented grape-juice; as it is well known that the presence of alcohol in the contents of our Communion Cup acts to a great extent as a prophylactic. Of the twenty or more sterilizing fluids in use, including chlorides, lysol, etc., experts are agreed that alcohol is the most effective. The 20 per cent, of alcohol in the wine of our ordinary use for the purpose, or 10 or 15 per cent, after dilution when the mixed chalice is in vogue, is of itself sufficient to neutralize the effect of the light contact of the lips to the Chalice as delivered among us. It is interesting in this connection to keep in mind that the clergy of the Anglican Communion who habitually drain the Communion Cup after common use are singularly, if not completely, free from the consequences of an infected vessel.

Your committee directs attention to the fact that a report on this subject was presented to the Lambeth Conference (No. VI.) in 1908, which after the most careful study (with advice of the highest authorities) in which one of our committee participated, closed with the following words:

"It would be unwise to recognize and encourage by a change an alarm which should be met by the exercise of common sense."

The tradition of the whole Church has been remarkably uniform in consecrating and administering the Sacrament with a single cup; but there arc two exceptions:

1. The multiplication of cups in administration to meet the needs of a specially large number of communicants on a given occasion;

2. A widely prevalent use in the West about the beginning of the twelfth century of the practice of Intinction, lasting about one hundred years. There was, however, no suggestion of any sanitary purpose, such as is involved in this discussion.

The arguments against this practice do not seem to be such as would carry any great weight among us. In isolated cases this practice crops out in public as well as in private administration of the Sacrament, but without that sort of authorization which this Church recognizes as necessary to such variation from established rules.

We are bound to give some consideration to the sentiment in favor of retaining the single cup. The symbol of unity for which the One Chalice stands is among the most interesting and revered of ceremonial uses. At the same time, and along with the other, should be considered the complete abandonment in the Church of the symbolism of the single loaf, which in the institution is quite as strongly emphasized as the one cup.

We may deplore that the symbolism so closely associated with the initial use in the first Christian Sacrament in the hands of our Blessed Redeemer should be laid aside; but it is well that the faithful should distinguish between the essentials and the accessories even here. For apart from the symbolism there is in every Eucharist, however administered, Sacramentum, Res Sacramenti, and Virtus Sacramenti. If then the Church in her wisdom should lay aside that which is a symbol only, she would not deprive anyone of any part of a complete sacrament either as to its outward or its inward part or that which is signified.

At the same time if there be any way of quieting the extraordinary anxiety by many and satisfying the desire for a cleanly and safe plan without sacrificing proper tradition or modifying the mode and language of our rubrical order, we feel that this House would do well to make it plain, and entrust the practice to the guidance and direction of the several Bishops. The time will almost certainly come when each one of us will have to take order to meet such an emergency as that of a large number of people avoiding the Sacrament on account of some supposed danger lurking in the cup.

We would strongly stress the different and more favorable condition in the generally careful use of a vessel devoted to a sacred purpose in a congregation of people who are instructed in reverent approach to and reception of the Holy Mysteries, as compared with the hasty, careless, and unclean conditions surrounding the ordinary drinking cup in schools, lodges, stations, public houses, and passenger trains, and assert without fear of successful contention, and with the assent of high medical authority, that the chances are remote that a sip from the rim of the Chalice will communicate any disease-germ.

Nevertheless the prevalent dread affects a very large number of people who do not and cannot be made to distinguish between modes and uses, and we have now an issue which the Church is compelled to meet reverently and intelligently.

Your committee offers for adoption the following declaration:

(1) That after making, by a competent committee, a thorough search into the causes leading to the exaggerated fear arising from the customary use of one cup in the Holy Communion, and having had abundant and capable expert advice in consultation on the subject, we see no reason to authorize any general change in the usage obtaining in this Church.

(2) That proper care of the Communion Vessels, both at the time of and after the Celebration, will meet all reasonable needs; and

(3) That for emergencies arising in special cases the Bishops are in our judgment competent to provide in their several dioceses without resorting to the use of individual cups, or without doing anything which may impair the Sacrament according to its original institution and the order of this Church.

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