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Helpful post/blog on the ” communion in one kind” debate

Have come across this blog post:

http://jamesthevicar.com/blog/?post=20090727_onekind

written by Rev James Ogley – its one ofthe most helpful things Ive read yet on the matter- so if the issue of discontinuing use of the chalice is worrying you or your congregation, its worth a read:

Last week, a letter was sent by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to all diocesan bishops in the Church of England saying that in the current pandemic situation of Swine Flu, the use of the chalice in Holy Communion ought to be suspended. Yesterday, at our three (three!) communion services, we used wafers only and did not even have a chalice on the table. Discussion was abounding last night on Twitter about this with me offering some brief (140 characters at a time of course) theological thoughts on the subject. Interest was expressed in a fuller treatment of my position and so here it is.

The first thing I should do is explain roughly where I sit (or stand perhaps?) within the multi-dimensional continuum that is self-designated ecclesial identity (or churchmanship if you prefer). I’m an evangelical but I definitely spell it with a lower-case ‘e’. I don’t belong to any of the evangelical power-groups in the church and I have very little time at all for GAFCON/FCA/Anglican Mainstream. My passion is for getting to grips with what the scriptures – both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian scriptures – really say (or as close as possible) and not what a particular tradition within the modern reformed church tells us they ought to say. Style-wise, I’m pretty informal, sort of Anglo-Vineyard although when it comes to robing (when I have to), I would appear more catholic as I’ll normally be seen in cassock-alb with stole. That’s really just to help people who don’t actually know me personally to get a grip on where I’m coming from in this.

The Church of England has always had provision for communion to be administered in one kind only. The Rt Revd John Packer (Bishop of Ripon and Leeds) helpfully reminded us all last month of the Sacrament Act 1547 which says that two kinds is the norm but when neccessary, one kind will do (my paraphrase). The order for the administration of home communion in Common Worship Pastoral Services allows for the one kind to be either bread or wine. The letter from the Archbishops basically has advised the use of a chalice for the purpose of intincting (dipping) wafers in the case of people who absolutely wish to receive in both kinds (and presumably, the president at the service would also receive then in both kinds). That’s the national situation.

As I said, we dispensed with even having a chalice on the table. There are a variety of reasons for this both theological and practical. The practicality first. If the purpose is to avoid the possibility of transmission of infection then intinction even by the elder (there’s a whole other article to be written on why I use the word elder as a translation of the Greek πρεσβυτερος rather than priest) is likely to transmit infection in the event of one person receiving having the infection as any other means of receiving in both kinds. Secondly a theological rationale. The presence of a chalice from which only the president receives represents a distinction between that person and the rest of the congregation. We’ve done away with language of a ‘celebrant’ in favour of ‘president’ to represent the fact that the community as a whole is celebrating and one of that community is presiding during that service, a president-only chalice would be a step (or more) backwards. In fact, it would be a move back to the bad old days of medieval catholicism with only the priest receiving a full communion. Having one member of the community receive in both kinds undermines the message that receiving in one kind is acceptable and represents a full communion.

So, why can receiving in one kind alone be acceptable? There is a significance in the words that we use. When we recall the institution of the sacrament in the eucharistic prayer and when we invite people to receive the element[s], the language that is used is of body and blood. Turning to 1 Corinthians 11, likely the earliest written version of the institution narrative, we see exactly this formula with Paul using the word σωμα which we translate body in verse 24. Generally when Paul uses this word (and he uses it a lot), he uses it to indicate the whole being of a person. Receiving the body of the Messiah implies receiving the blood. Interestingly, the reverse does not appear to naturally be true but there is an extent to which we take it on faith that if a person cannot take solid food then receiving wine only will do. We do not invite people to receive the flesh and blood of the Messiah but the body and so in a situation where neccesity requires us to only use bread, the full communion is implied. The second set of words that have significance are from the invitation to communion:

Draw near with faith, receive the body of our Lord Jesus Christ which he gave for you
and his blood which he shed for you.
Eat and drink in remembrance that Christ died for you
and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.

In order to make sense in the context of not sharing a chalice, I removed the words in italics and replaced the underlined words with “this gift”. The key clause is the one in bold type. The act of communion is one of faith. Jesus promises to be present in the Eucharist – the thanksgiving – not if we get the consecration right technically, not if we use the right words or make sure we’re using both elements but if we approach him in faith.

One final thought that arose as a result of thinking about this and it’s about wafers. Communion wafers and a common cup are the default position in the Church of England normally. Wafers are very useful for counting the number of communicants without a doubt but the element that reflects us as being one body (of the Messiah – again, σωμα) is for Paul the sharing of one loaf (1 Cor 10.17). This is perhaps a great opportunity to reclaim sharing one loaf rather than wafers. Theologically and symbolically there is enormous benefit and in terms of the risk of transmitting infection, this is likely no greater than with wafers. It may make counting communicants more difficult but I’d sacrifice adminstrative ease for theological and symbolic significance any day.

Paxtovic writes: I know of some clergy/rural deans who are getting flack from folk in congregations as the chalice is being withdrawn – and it isnt always easy to know how to respond in a theologically sensitive way.

There is quite a lot of debate going on now on blogs about this topic – and maybe we can see it as a good time to open up discussion on the meaning of the Eucharist?

July 29, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

3 Comments »

  1. Lot of good stuff here, I like the bit about sharing the one bread, e.g a loaf – just me again.

    Comment by Peter Hagger | July 29, 2009 | Reply

  2. like Peter I like actual bread at communion too. I suppose similar hygiene issues may apply at the present but it would be nice when we can.

    Comment by Nick | July 29, 2009 | Reply

  3. Thanks Nick and Peter for your comments -the communion in one kind issue has got the church bloggers and twitters and writers thinking hard about the meaning of what we do at the Eucharist.. not a bad thing. Certainly when there are smaller numbers its lovely to share broken bread – suppose there would by hygiene issues though at the moment

    Comment by paxtonvic | July 29, 2009 | Reply


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