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Church News

Lawyers call for individual cups to be allowed for Communion in Church of England

by Cara Bentley

Members of the Church of England are discussing whether wine should be allowed at Holy Communion in individual cups if a common cup cannot be shared because of coronavirus. 

In normal times, Holy Communion would have to involve sharing wine from a shared cup, or several cups from the same 'vessel', with church family passing bread along to represent the sacrifice of Jesus' blood and body on the cross and the church's unity.  

However, since coronavirus, when priests and church goers have been able to meet, only the bread has been allowed because there is less risk of spreading the disease than when drinking from the same cup of wine. Individual wafers or pieces of bread have been allowed but not individual cups. 

Individual cups are used in many non-Church of England churches and some Church of England churches do use them, although it is unclear whether this is allowed or if they have been given permission out of necessity. 

Changing the practise to make separate cups legal was discussed in July at the Church's General Synod and it was decided that: "Drinking from a common cup is a strong symbol of unity, and of a Christian's belonging to, and responsibility towards, others and, not least, Christ. 

"In the current situation, there appears to be no obvious adaptation of the way in which the consecrated wine is administered that permits this key symbolic association to be expressed."

It is also customary for the vicar to finish off any wine left in the glass, something that would certainly not be "Covid-secure."

To try to bring back the full experience, six lawyers, prompted by evangelical General Synod member Mary Durlacher, have argued that individual cups do not pose a problem with Church law and that a ban on them by Bishops is wrong. 

Rt Rev Sarah Mullally, Bishop of London, , has said it is "contrary to law for individual cups to be used for each communicant", citing the 1547 Sacrament Act.

The QCs and barristers wrote: "there are no grounds for concluding that the use of individual cups at communion iscontrary to the law. The conclusion that individual cups are legal is a conclusion which is reached, as a matter of law, independent of the present public health emergency. They were legal before the first case of Covid-19, they are currently legal, and they will continue to be legal when the pandemic is over."

The legal opinion was written by Christian legal experts Stephen Hofmeyr QC, Mark Cawson QC, Andrew Wales QC - all in commercial law - and Carolyn Johnson, Carl Fender and Jonathan Schaffer-Goddard - who work in family, employment and international arbitration respectively. 

The current rules remain the same. 

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