A Common Cup or Individual Cups?

Thursday, December 26th 2019

I mentioned last week that is was not until late in the nineteenth century that anyone departed from the use of the Chalice as the chief means of distributing the wine in Holy Communion. And last week I promised that I would discuss how this came to be.

According to the Rev’d J. D. Krout in a 1906 article reprinted in the United Brethren Review from the Lutheran Quarterly, the use of individual cups was first suggested by Mr. A. Van Derwerken, of Brooklym, NY, in the year 1882. In 1887 Mr. Derwerken wrote an article advocating the use of individual cups, and the article appeared a year later in the Annals of Hygiene, of Philadelphia. In November 1893, the Psi Upsilon fraternity, of Rochester, NY, celebrated the Lord’s Supper with individual cups. The practice then spread quickly.

The main concern for the substitution of individual cups taking the place of the chalice was for practical reasons, namely concern for good hygiene. It was not for theological reasons.

It is noteworthy that this new practice originated among the Reformed branches of the Christian Church in America. Unlike Lutherans, the Reformed believed that in dealing with the elements of Communion they were only dealing with earthly elements. For Reformed theology there is no giving of Christ’s body and blood in the meal. Any communing with Christ is held to be spiritual. It turns out that the Reformed followed the Methodists in also substituting grape juice for wine. Again, this transition was an easy one for the Reformed given the view that the earthly elements are symbolic only.

Of course, Lutherans and many others would also begin using individual cups in the twentieth century and up to the present. Practical issues, such as convenience, but especially over hygiene, have been the reason for the widespread practice.

In the next edition of Grace Notes we will consider whether the concerns over hygiene are overblown, even as we reflect on what is compromised when the Chalice is laid aside.

Since You Asked…

Does the receiving of money offerings play a significant role in the worship service?

Yes, more than you might think! Cash is one of the strongest symbols in modern culture. When we offer our money on the altar it should represent our time and effort – our very selves. In early Christian worship gifts-in-kind were handled during the weekly assemblage. In our post-industrial societies, we now exchange in paper or metal symbols. The offering of our selves upon the altar is in response to God’s love proclaimed in the Good News and in anticipation of how God offers back that which is entrusted to him. During the moment of offering we also offer bread and wine upon the altar, and in return these gifts are offered back to us as the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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