Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 10, 2003
Can the Communion cup infect?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
Our daughter has just made her First Communion and cannot understand why we won't let her receive the cup. We would like to have her receive, but as parents, we feel it is unsafe for her to do so. We do not want to expose her to the many diseases one could contract sharing a common cup.
Both home and school teach our children not to share drinking boxes, glasses, straws. Yet the Church expects a large group of people to drink from the same Communion cup. That may be one of the reasons why only one-quarter to one-third receive from the cup at our Masses.
Our daughter prompted us to seek clarification. We are regular churchgoers, but still are uncomfortable about drinking from a common cup. In the United Church, I noticed individual disposable plastic glasses were provided. Could not the Catholic Church have something similar or is there something about drinking from the common cup? If there is a possibility for change, how do we go about it?
There was much said and written about this a few years ago when we were first allowed to partake of the cup and again when AIDS became prominent.
An article in the Edmonton Journal of Feb. 22, 2001 spoke of a case in New Brunswick where those who had attended a funeral were told to see their doctors after a woman who had also attended was diagnosed with meningitis. However, there was no mention that anyone else contracted the disease.
That same article indicated that Dr. Gerry Preddy, medical officer of health, believes there is a risk of contracting infectious diseases from the shared cup but the possibility is low. As no cases have been attributed to such exposure, he says, it is more of a theoretical risk than a real one.
An article by a Dr. Kolyvas published in the Canadian Orthodox Messenger, Spring 1995 (which I found on the Internet) indicates that fermented wine, even without the alcohol, is an antiseptic. It seems that in ancient times, fermented wine was used to cleanse wounds and was added to water to purify it. During the fermentation process, the antiseptic substances (polyphenols) split off from the sugars and become active. Polyphenols are a class of substances still used in hospitals to disinfect.
Dr. Kolyvas also indicates that the chalice itself has an antiseptic effect because germs are not able to survive on its surface because of the silver, copper, zinc from which the chalices are made. He concludes that no disease, not even those such as Hepatitis B, which is known to be transmitted by sharing utensils, has ever been transmitted by taking Communion.
A pamphlet published by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Communion from the Cup in 1996 indicates that medical studies over the years show that there is little chance of transmitting disease "when the cup is carefully wiped after each communicant."
Although they note that it is up to each one to decide, they caution those with colds or flu to refrain from receiving the cup. If persons are medically fragile or allergic to a lot of substances, they would be wise to receive the bread only, knowing they are receiving fully the body and blood of Christ.
Your question regarding the one cup is significant. At the Last Supper, Jesus and the disciples shared one loaf and one cup. We, too, as one Body of Christ, are to share the one loaf and one cup. That is why, sometimes, we see a whole loaf used and broken at Mass.
However, we have, to some extent, diminished the significance of the one loaf shared by using individual hosts, although they are put together in one vessel. And the priest breaks the host as Jesus broke the loaf at the Last Supper. So, yes, the ideal is sharing the one cup and unless something drastic happens because of that sharing, there is not likely to be any change in the future.
The Canadian bishops, in their pamphlet, give us some history and theology of Communion. During the first three or four centuries, Christians received under both forms at every Eucharistic celebration as a holy food and drink for a holy people of God.
However, during the Middle Ages, partly as a result of no longer understanding Latin, people's misunderstanding of the Eucharist grew. Feeling they were unworthy to receive a majestic and distant God into their hearts, they focused on gazing at the Sacred Host. Eventually, they had to be commanded to receive Communion at least once a year.
As the Church believes Christ is wholly present in both the bread and wine, Communion with bread alone became common and partaking of the Cup was stopped for the laity.
Vatican II renewed our practices and strengthened our faith. We were again invited to live up to the privilege of our Baptismal priesthood and to take part fully in the liturgy, including Communion under both species. We eat and drink in response to Christ's invitation at the Last Supper: "Take and eat, this is my body; Take and drink, this is my blood."
For we believe Jesus' words: "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life. . . . (They) abide in me and I in them" (John 6:54-6). As we take part in Jesus' banquet, we express our readiness to share in his cup of suffering in order to share in his glory.
Truly, with Paul we can say "the cup of blessing that we bless is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?" (1 Corinthians 10:16).