The common cup may now be shared.

So says the Church of England’s most recent Covid-19 guidance, issued on 25th January, repeating the guidance given in December. It is, therefore, a rather odd time to renew the campaign to allow the administration of the Eucharist by means of individual cups: after all, the Covid-19 restrictions are being eased across society, the bishops have judged it appropriate to restore the Chalice to the faithful, and there is now no pressing need to consider alternatives.

Unless, of course, this campaign has never really been about public health concerns but, rather, about altering Anglican eucharistic practice and theology.  The Book of Common Prayer 1662 makes clear, explicit provision for what is to happen with “consecrated Elements” remaining after the faithful receive the Sacrament:

When all have communicated, the Minister shall return to the Lord’s Table, and reverently place upon it what remaineth of the consecrated Elements, covering the same with a fair linen cloth.

…if any remain of that which was consecrated, it shall not be carried out of the Church, but the Priest, and such other of the Communicants as he shall then call unto him, shall, immediately after the Blessing, reverently eat and drink the same.

The key words are “consecrated” and “reverently”.  The consecrated Elements do not somehow cease to be consecrated after the faithful receive: they remain consecrated.  Thus they are to be “reverently” placed upon the Holy Table.  They are to be “reverently” consumed (this is the same practice as in the Orthodoxy). The “reverently” is an expression of the theology of consecration.

Individual cups undermine this careful, deliberate, and theologically significant provision.  Reverent consumption of the remaining consecrated Wine becomes, if not impossible, very difficult, and certainly difficult to do with reverence.  The use of individual cups thus promotes and encourages a radically different theology of consecration to that embodied in the Book of Common Prayer, suggesting that the consecrated Wine can be simply dispensed with after the administration, rather than reverently consumed.

In the Church of Ireland, our House of Bishops have permitted – on a strictly temporary basis – the use of individual cups during the Covid-19 restrictions.  In parishes where this permission has been used, it is very widely the case that the 1662’s careful and theologically significant provisions (repeated in the Church of Ireland’s BCP 2004) are entirely disregarded. Consecrated Wine is routinely disposed of with the individual cups: there is no reverent consumption, there are no ablutions (required by BCP 2004).

This is the consecrated Wine over which the Dominical words have been said: “This is my blood”.  This is the consecrated Wine which the Church of Ireland’s Eucharistic Prayer 1 describes as the “holy gifts”.  This is the consecrated Wine which the invitation to the Sacrament describes as, with the consecrated Bread, “the gifts of God”.  This is the consecrated Wine administered to the faithful with the words “The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which was shed for thee …”, “The Blood of Christ keep you in eternal life”. And through the use of individual cups, the consecrated Wine is disposed of as common rubbish.

The experience of many places in the Church of Ireland certainly suggests that use of individual cups does indeed promote and encourage a radically different theology of consecration to that embodied in the Book of Common Prayer.

The suggestion that 1662’s mention of a flagon somehow points in the direction of the permissibility of individual cups is, of course, a nonsense.  Consecrated Wine from a flagon can be reverently poured into Chalices: it is much less reverent (and much more likely to spill) when 100 individual cups are involved. Nor does the permissibility of consecrating in a flagon impede reverent consumption of the remaining consecrated Elements.

As for the view that individual cups are more appropriate than intinction, the rejection of intinction on the basis that “Jesus tells us to drink, not dip” leads to the rather obvious response that the Lord did not tell us to “knock back this nice little shot glass”.  Hooker’s strictures about “some show or dumb resemblance of a spiritual feast” (LEP V.68.3) come to mind.

Read it all in Laudable Practice