Why don’t Catholics receive precious blood from separate cups at Communion?

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When the Spanish Flu swept the world in 1918, many churches adopted a new practice for distributing Communion. Instead of having communicants drink from the same chalice, a number of churches (starting with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) have begun to feature a large number of small cups – almost like glasses liqueur – filled with wine for members of the congregation to drink individually.

At the time, this was less of a problem for Roman Catholics, because until the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, only priests usually received the chalice. Now, a little over a century later, some Catholics are suggesting that our churches are making a similar change due to the current pandemic. Precious blood is an important part of Communion, but many people fear the risk of cross-contamination from a shared chalice. Why shouldn’t we just use separate cups?

The first major problem with using multiple communion cups is that the church is reluctant to use disposable or mass-produced vessels for the Eucharist.

The idea is unlikely to be implemented, and not just because our church is notoriously opposed to change. There are major doctrinal obstacles to such reform in receiving the Communion. Moreover, even if we could circumvent these obstacles, the theology of the one cup is an indispensable part of the symbolism of the Communion.

The first major problem with using multiple communion cups is that the church is reluctant to use disposable or mass-produced vessels for the Eucharist. The 2004 instruction of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, “Redemptionis Sacramentum”, says it explicitly: “Any practice consisting in using for the celebration of the Mass common vessels, or ‘others of insufficient quality, or devoid of any artistic value or which are merely containers, as well as other containers of glass, earthenware, clay or other materials which break easily’ (No. 117) One can imagine how much the authors of this instruction would shudder at the thought of plastic cups being thrown into a garbage can after every communicant had drunk.

The same document forbids the pouring of the precious blood from one vessel into another, “lest anything happen that harms so great a mystery” (no. 106). It is for this reason that a priest cannot consecrate the blood in a vial or jug ​​and then pour the liquid into separate chalices. Instead, each chalice must be filled with wine before consecration.

Also, communion wine should not be kept in the tabernacle after the consecration. Priests are responsible for consecrating all the wine to be used for a particular Mass at that Mass, and consuming all the rest themselves (#107).

Finally, Catholics cannot follow the practice of some Protestant churches of laying the many cups on a table and allowing communicants to help themselves to the wine. Not only would this practice leave the Eucharist unguarded (#138), but it would also go against the practice of receiving the Eucharist from another person (#94).

In fact, however, the use of additional Eucharistic ministers allows for multiple chalices for Communion (#105). Then, after Communion, the priest had to clean each of the little chalices. (Personal prayer after Communion may last for some time.)

But here we come to the real clash. The use of individual chalices would run counter to much of the Christian theology surrounding the Eucharist.

“Jesus said: ‘Take this cup’, and they all drank from it, say the Gospels. It’s tradition,” said the Reverend Dr. Maxwell Johnson, professor of liturgical studies at the University of Notre Dame, in a telephone interview with America. “Everything else is a departure from the classical Christian tradition.”

According to John Baldovin, SJ, professor of historical and liturgical theology at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, the fact that Jesus uses a cup has great significance. “There is something extremely radical and empowering about Jesus sharing the cup with his disciples at the Last Supper. In fact, some scholars argue that this was an innovation, that in Jewish practice there were a number of cups that were blessed at a Passover meal, and the Jews all drank from their own cups,” said Father Baldovin. America in a telephone interview. “To Jesus, however, it is quite clear that it is a sharing in one cup because he passes it on to the disciples.”

What is the significance of Jesus’ choice? “In the Gospels, drinking from the cup is a sign of courageous discipleship,” Jim Dinn wrote in USCatholic in 2011. “’Can you drink the cup that I will drink?’ Jesus challenges. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the same image expresses the ordeal awaiting Jesus. It is therefore not surprising that communion by the cup implied for the first Christians an openness to martyrdom, a willingness to give one’s life.

“The common cup is a testimony to the scandal of Jesus sharing, not only of his person but of his destiny,” Father Baldovin explained.

In other words, the potential to contract a disease is not at all a reason to get rid of the common cut. It’s, in a way, one of the reasons we’re sharing the cup in the first place.

The common cup is a symbol of community: sharing everything, even risk and suffering.

Sharing the cup “is an important sign of intimacy and connection with others who come to the Lord’s table,” wrote Michael Rozier, SJ in America in 2021. “It evokes participation in the suffering and resurrection of Jesus.”

For Father Baldovin, the desire to separate precious blood into separate cups indicates that our society suffers from a weak sense of community. “In our culture, we’re so individualistic, we’re so consumerist. We believe that communion is about socket something rather than participating in the whole of Christ. [Separate cups] appeal to our modern individualism and our modern consumerism.

Dr. Johnson agrees: “The Eucharist is not only about the presence of Christ in wine, but also about the presence of Christ in each other. An Episcopalian bishop, William E. Swing, mentioned by Dr. Johnson, made a prime example of this in 1985; at the height of the AIDS epidemic, he pledged to drink from the chalice after everyone in the community already had them, “so that if anyone gets sick, it’s him”.

This bishop showed us that the very fear that causes people to avoid the common cup is precisely what we are meant to face and overcome in receiving it. Using separate cups seems like the thing to do between neighbors. We have a desire to protect others from dangerous diseases, but Christians should not need to be protected from each other. The common cup is a symbol of community: sharing everything, even risk and suffering. Jesus accepted his cup, taking upon himself the worst of humanity. We are called to do the same.

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