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House of Bishops asked to withdraw ban on individual cups at Communion

House of Bishops asked to withdraw ban on individual cups at Communion

By Andrew Symes
Aug. 13, 2020

A member of General Synod who asked the Bishops to reconsider the prohibition on individual cups, and was rebuffed by the reiteration of the view that it is "contrary to law", has presented a detailed Opinion from barristers which concludes that there is in fact no legal barrier to the practice.

Mary Durlacher, a lay member from the Diocese of Chelmsford, has sent the Opinion to the House of Bishops and all officers of General Synod, for distribution to the membership, following growing concern about the continued restriction of Communion to 'one kind' (ie bread only). In her covering letter she references articles by influential evangelical theologians on the Psephizo website (here and here), challenging the theological and legal reasoning behind the continued prohibition on church members from receiving the full sacrament, and urges the church to follow a "common sense pro tem way of sharing the Communion wine while current constraints remain."

The Opinion, entitled "The legality of the use of individual cups for communion wine in the Church of England", has been prepared under the editorship of Stephen Hofmeyr QC, a member of General Synod. Other contributors include Mark Cawson and Andrew Wales, also QC's, and Carolyn Johnson a Manchester-based barrister. It gives a detailed overview of the context: the Church of England's instructions on the matter since the outbreak of the pandemic in March, the questions which arose at the July session of Synod especially Mrs Durlacher's question no. 68, and some statutory background going back to the Sacrament Act of 1547 which established a Protestant understanding of communion whereby both elements should be taken by all communicants.

The Durlacher Opinion holds that the Bishops and their legal advisors are in error. The question of how many cups should be used is not mentioned in the 1547 Act:
"The present global health pandemic does not give rise to a necessity to cease to distribute wine. The issue is not the element, but the fact that the cup is common."

The document goes on to challenge other reasons for the ban: that the single cup is the "norm"; the idea that individuals cups were "not envisaged" in the rubrics of the BCP, and that Canon F3 does not refer to individual cups. The document concludes that the reasoning of the Bishops' legal advisors is "fundamentally flawed", and that

"There is no way in which a prohibition on the use of individual cups can be read into or derived from Canon F 3."

Concerns about disposal of leftover consecrated wine and ritual washing of vessels are similarly dismissed:
"There is no canon, rubric or regulation which governs this (and practice is diverse within the Church of England). While it may be a matter of concern for individual clergy or parishes, it is not the basis for a legal prohibition."

The argument that the common cup is essential for the symbolism of one body is countered by the obvious question about why individual wafers are permitted and the single loaf is not mandatory.

The paper concludes that while during a pandemic it might be wise to suspend Holy Communion for a time, it is erroneous to argue from law that bread might be consumed but not wine in individual cups:
"The House of Bishops' present position that the use of individual cups for distributing communion is illegal is incorrect as a matter of law. There is no legal barrier to the use of individual cups."

This debate has a number of important implications. It does bring back long-buried controversies between anglo catholics and evangelicals about the meaning of the sacraments and their proper use. But it could also be interpreted as another example of authoritarian overreach by church authorities, who appear to be thinking only of 'health and safety' concerns rather than using common sense to enable worshippers to receive the word and sacrament in practical and safe ways.

The full legal opinion prepared by the senior barristers can be found here Opinion on individual cups 12 August 2020[2].

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