Q. I’ve been wondering about this for a long time. Why, at holy Communion, do we have to drink
from the same chalice that everyone else has used? It seems to me to be a very unsanitary practice, with all the germs and diseases that are around.
So my family and I do not partake of the precious blood of Jesus at Mass. Why can’t Catholics offer Communion in individual disposable cups, as some of the Protestant churches do? (Sherwood, Arkansas)
A. Over the years, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has several times answered inquiries regarding the risk of disease transmission from a common cup.
As the American Journal of Infection Control has explained (October 1998), within the CDC there is a consensus that a “theoretic” risk might exist, but that “the risk is so small that it is undetectable.” And further, “no documented transmission of any infectious disease has ever been traced” to this practice.
Anne LaGrange Loving, a New Jersey microbiologist who has conducted a study on the subject, stated in a Los Angeles Times article Jan. 1, 2005, that “people who sip from the Communion cup don’t get sick more often than anyone else” and that “it isn’t any riskier than standing in line at the movies.”
Nevertheless, common caution should be observed: Ministers should clean their hands thoroughly before distributing the Eucharist, and the Communion chalice should be washed with soap and hot water after every service. Those currently suffering from an active respiratory disease should have the good sense to receive the host only, not the chalice, and a number of Catholic dioceses have actually suspended the use of the Communion cup during outbreaks of influenza.
As to the manner of reception, Catholics, Episcopalians, and Lutherans typically use a common Communion cup, while Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists and evangelical congregations tend to pass out individual and disposable cups.
It seems to me that the common cup more closely carries on the tradition of the Last Supper and highlights our joint sharing in the eucharistic sacrifice. In Matthew’s Gospel (26:27), for example, Jesus “took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is the blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.’”
As one Lutheran parish in New Mexico explains it, Jesus “could have easily blessed all the wine that was already poured in the various cups that were already on the table on the night he was betrayed. But he didn’t. Instead he blessed the one cup to be given to many. The common cup fulfills this symbolism beautifully.”
While the answer is correct as far as it goes, it misses the mark by a long distance.
How about just “We don’t put the precious blood of Jesus in a plastic sip cup”. That pretty much says it all for me.
As Fr. Brendon Laroche on Twitter said:
Because every single one of those disposable cups would have to be purified and then buried or burnt up afterwards because they held the Precious Blood of Christ.
Once again concerning the lack of belief in the Eucharist among Catholics, to have a priest write several paragraphs to this question and only addresses health risk and symbolism is part of the problem. This could very well just be an oversight on the part of this priest. Some times we get deep into the weeds of a question and forget the totally obvious. Yet, don’t they even have an editor at the Catholic News Service?
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal specifies that sacred vessels be composed of noble metals, kind of leaves off plastic. Protestants have various devices for filling trays of these disposable cups with grape juice or wine. A variety of these devices range from simple one-click cup fillers to more complex devices with various tubes. Rather nightmarish to think of these sterile devices when it comes to Communion.
Thinking about the ignorance of so many Catholics regarding the Eucharist, I wonder how many realize that just receiving the Host, that they have fully received the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. If there was ever an actual disease vector from sharing a common Communion Cup, the answer wouldn’t be disposable plastic cups, but simply restricting the Precious Blood.
The priest’s comment about how the common cup more closely carries on the tradition of the Last Supper is fairly accurate. Receiving under both forms has a higher sign value and the priest always receives under both forms. Still, at most Masses where the Precious Blood is distributed there is not really a common cup as often there are multiple EMHC’s distributing the cup.