[Europe.justus] On the common cup

Pierre Whalon bppwhalon at aol.com
Fri Jun 12 07:27:32 GMT 2009

A meditation by the Rev. Stephen Gerth, Rector of St Mary the Virgin,  
New York.

Bishop Pierre

Début du message réexpédié :

> I thought you might find this of interest, historically and  
> theologically.
> It is from Stephen Gerth, the Recor at St Mary the Virgin.
> Peter
> From the Rector: One Body, One Cup
> The first time I attended a service in an Episcopal parish church  
> was sometime during my teenage years.  I was there with friends and,  
> frankly, I don't remember much.  But I do remember how everyone  
> received communion.  They were drinking from the same cup.  In the  
> Southern Baptist congregations in which I was brought up, we drank  
> from individual cups.  In my paternal grandparents' Roman Catholic  
> Church, the only person I ever saw drinking was the priest.   
> Episcopalians sharing one cup was something that made enough of an  
> impression for me to remember it, but I never gave it much thought  
> until some years later.  That was in the 1970s when I was in  
> graduate school in Chicago.
> One Sunday some friends and I attended Mass at one of Chicago's  
> historically black parishes, Saint Edmund's Church.  At communion,  
> the priest had some kind of combination plate and cup set I had  
> never seen before.  Everyone received communion from one of the  
> priests at the altar rail who dipped the host into the wine before  
> placing it on one's tongue.  I was told this "intinction set" was  
> the way communion was given in African-American congregations.  The  
> practice was a legacy from the days of segregation so blacks and  
> persons of mixed race would not have to drink after one another, not  
> to mention the occasional white visitor.
> There's nothing wrong of course with receiving communion by  
> intinction, but the reason this tradition had come about at Saint  
> Edmund's, though understandable, was so sad, so wrong.  It was one  
> of the many ways the sin of racism continued to express itself in a  
> denomination long after the end of the American Civil War.  I think  
> it is important to remember that even after World War II, support  
> for racial segregation was no bar to membership or leadership in the  
> Episcopal Church until all too recently - nor, if you were a bishop,  
> was it ever a bar to receiving an invitation from the archbishop of  
> Canterbury to a Lambeth Conference.
> Except for the occasional person who held a host in the palm of his  
> or her hand for a minister to take and dip in the wine because he or  
> she had been sick, I don't think I was really aware of communion by  
> intinction again until I got out of seminary.  That was in 1983.   
> People were starting to be very worried about AIDS.  Intinction came  
> back, and this time with a twist: Priests in many places started to  
> permit communicants to dip the host they had received into the wine  
> themselves.
> One of the things one learns early as a member of the clergy is that  
> you don't have to worry about getting sick when drinking after  
> others.  If that were a problem, none of the clergy of the Church  
> would be here for very long, or would ever be healthy.  We drink  
> after everybody, often daily.
> The practice of letting communicants, kneeling or standing, put a  
> host into the chalice themselves always results in many fingers  
> going into the wine.  In congregations where this practice has  
> become normative, one can always see some communicants bringing  
> handkerchiefs or tissues with them to the altar rail to be prepared  
> to wipe their fingers if they get wine on them.  Father Mead tells a  
> useful story from his days serving as seminarian in a parish where  
> people dipped the host into the wine themselves.  One Sunday when he  
> was serving as a minister of the chalice, with the light just right,  
> he saw a film form on the surface as communion continued.  The word  
> he uses when he recounts the experience is "disgusting."
> Recently I had the chance to ask the Reverend George Brandt, rector,  
> Saint Michael's Church, New York City, about Saint Edmund's Church.   
> Father Brandt had grown up in one of the great black parishes of  
> Harlem.  He said my memory was correct.  One of his own childhood  
> memories is singing with his parish's boys' choir at a Eucharist in  
> a Manhattan parish.  The parishioners, white, drank from the  
> chalice.  The boys, black, received by intinction.  Father's memory  
> made me wonder what happened at Saint Mary's in days past, knowing  
> as I do that as late as 1914 and perhaps later, it was the practice  
> here for African-American members to be seated in the rear of the  
> church on the side aisles.
> Let me be clear: intinction is not the problem.  The practice is  
> ancient and has its roots in reverence, not racism or in prejudice  
> against persons living with HIV or other diseases.  But its new and  
> widespread place in our Church's common life isn't a renewal of  
> reverence.  The practice of "auto-intinction," doing it yourself, to  
> coin a phrase, is a new thing for Episcopalians and it is very  
> troubling.  It should be eschewed for reasons practical (see  
> above).  The general encouragement being given for intinction should  
> stop for reasons theological (continue reading).
> Why does the way in which we receive communion matter?  First and  
> most important of all, we do not pray over bread and wine at Mass to  
> consecrate bread and wine.  God doesn't need us to make more  
> Christ.  We, the congregation, pray - note well, the presider is  
> always proclaiming "our" prayer on behalf of all of us, never "his"  
> or "her" prayer - that the Holy Spirit will come to fill the gifts  
> of bread and wine with his presence and to fill us with his presence  
> so that the holy meal may help us grow to be one in Christ.  The  
> Mass is not about God's bread and wine as much as it is about God's  
> people.  We are not at Mass to be or grow spiritually merely as  
> individuals but to be one in Christ.
> The sharing of a meal and the use of a common cup starts with Jesus  
> and his disciples.  But our customs have always been about more than  
> the way people drank in earlier days.  How we eat and drink was and  
> is a sign of relationship, a recognition, rooted in our human  
> biology, of the other being of the same family, language, tribe and  
> nation.  Nothing continues to say who we are in Christ as Episcopal  
> Christians more than how we eat the Lord's Supper.  Again, the  
> common cup proclaims and reminds us and all who join us that we are  
> sisters and brothers in Christ, one family, one body, one Christ.   
> My own impression is that receiving by intinction is practically  
> unknown in families that have been Episcopalian for more than two  
> generations, except in African-American congregations.
> We at Saint Mary's are heirs of a tradition that sets aside a  
> Sunday, commonly called "Corpus Christi" - Latin for "Body of  
> Christ," to celebrate the gift of the Eucharist.  This is what we  
> will be celebrating on June 14, this "Second Sunday after  
> Pentecost."  I invite you to be here to share the one cup, to be  
> made even more a part of Christ's one body.  Stephen Gerth

The Rt. Rev. Pierre W. Whalon, D.D.
Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe
23 avenue George V
75008 Paris France
+33 1 53 23 84 06  (tel)
+33 1 49 52 96 85 (fax)
office at tec-europe.org

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