If concern about Swine Flu has you stocking up on hand sanitizers and questioning why any 21st century congregation would commend a common cup at Communion, you’re not alone. Recently Catholics and Methodists in southern Texas called for a halt to use of a shared chalice until more is known about the deadly virus.
However using a shared cup for Communion wine, as most Episcopal congregations do, is not as hazardous as one might expect. Episcopalians use a rather strong wine, often port, which has a much higher alcohol content than table wine. In 2000 a Canadian cardiologist named David Gould studied the issue and concluded that this high alcohol content means, “For the average communicant it would seem that the risk from drinking from the common cup is probably less than the risk of air-borne infection from using a common building.”
That said, the unknowns associated with this outbreak certainly merit reasonable cautions, and whatever your congregation’s response, it is important to keep in mind the Eucharistic theology shared by most Episcopalians. We believe in the real presence of Christ in the bread and in the wine. This means embracing the new math of God’s Grace; if you consume just the consecrated bread (often the practice of alcoholics) or just the consecrated wine (as do many with gluten allergies) you are still getting all of Jesus.
How has Swine Flu affected your congregation? Can it be an opportunity to ponder anew what the Eucharist really means to us? Drop by the home page for People Who Are Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church and leave a post if you'd like.
People ask where the information from these posts originates- and they come from one of two books I've written for inquirers and newcomers to the Episcopal Church- you can check them out at: