The Common Cup and Hygiene

Thursday, January 9th 2020

As I stated in the last edition of Grace Notes, hygiene is probably the most cited reason for the rather late development of serving Communion Wine in individual glasses instead of from a common cup, or chalice.

It would appear that this concern over public health and the matter of germs and viruses is more an imagined concern, than one born out about actual data and observed experience.

It may surprise you to know there have been a number of studies examining participation in Holy Communion and the spread of viruses and infections. A number of these studies are cited in an appendix in the Altar Guild Manual published by Concordia Publishing House which has been authorized by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Commission on Worship. This appendix directly examines the use of the common cup.

Mention of some of these studies include one conducted on the use of the common cup by professors Burroughs and Hemmers in 1965 and reported in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. In 1985 a study was done by Dr. David Ho in the New England Journal of Medicine (Dec. 1985) over concerns about the spread of the AIDS virus in saliva through common eating and drinking utensils. The subject was presented at the 97th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in May of 1997. And the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 1998 published an official position about the risk of infectious disease transmission from a common communion cup.

To summarize the consistent findings: although not being able to absolutely rule out the danger of transmission, the danger seems to be slight to none. There has been no indication that those who receive communion have more illnesses or are at a higher risk than the public at large, and there has not been a case of a community outbreak of infectious disease related to its spread via Communion.

Next time we will examine why alternatives to the common cup are likely less hygienic.

Since You Asked…

What is the significance of the Epiphany and the Season that follows?

The word Epiphany means “manifestation” or “a revealing”. Since light helps to reveal and make manifest, on January 6 we recall the Magi led by the light of the star to the manger to worship Jesus, “the Light of the World” given birth by Mary. We will go on in the Season that follows to commemorate the manifestation of the Trinity at Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan River, where the voice of the Father spoke, and the Holy Spirit descended and alighted on Jesus as he came forth from the river. The voice identifies Jesus as God’s Son in whom the Father is well pleased. The Season after the Epiphany closes with the Transfiguration whereby a future glimpse of the Resurrected glory of Christ was revealed.

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