The Common Cup: Part One
The Common Cup as a Symbol of Baptismal Unity
Gracious and loving God, you have made us one body in the one bread we share, and you have made us the Body of Christ in baptism. For the ways in which we come to know and love you through this unity, we thank you. For the ways in which we have grieved you and pulled away from one another, we repent. Guide us this Lent, and always, in your ways, bringing us together, and drawing us closer to you. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
- Today is our first session talking about the “Common Cup” of the Holy Eucharist. What do you already know about the “Common Cup”? How did you learn what you already know?
- We will be talking about the Common Cup as being a symbol of unity that reflects back to us our identity as the Body of Christ. What do you think of when you hear the words “Body of Christ”? Can you describe an experience from church liturgy that formed your identity as a member of the Body of Christ?
The first Christians would share in a eucharistic meal, and through that meal (along with reading and reflecting upon the Scriptures and caring for one another), they grew into a community. Once a person decided to join this community, they were baptized into the community, which was called “The Body of Christ.” Saint Paul wrote that through baptism, we are all “made one” in the Body of Christ, and in our unity, we share; for example, we share “one bread” and “one cup” during the Eucharist, which, in turn, helps us to remember that we are one body. Let’s read what Saint Paul wrote:
“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? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
Saint Paul wrote the fledgling Christian community in Corinth because he was receiving reports that there were divisions and arguments within the community (see 1 Corinthians 1:10-11); it was important to him that the community remain committed to one another. And so, he reminded them about what he taught them when he was there, that in Christ, they have been made one. This happens through baptism, and we are reminded of it whenever we share the one cup and one bread. In the Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyer’s article, The Common Cup and Common Loaf, she notes that “Paul reminds the fractious Christian community in Corinth, ‘we who are many are one body, for we all partake in the one bread,’ (1 Cor. 17). By sharing the common cup and a common loaf, the unity Christians share with Christ and with one another by virtue of their baptism is made manifest.” 1 By sharing one bread, one cup, we express a unity forged in baptism.
Therefore, the unity created in baptism and lived out in the sharing of Communion, has been a core identity of Christianity ever since the very first communities of Christ-followers. These foundational Christian symbols (water in baptism, bread and wine, in one shared cup) are symbols of our identity as the Body of Christ. And furthermore, they remind us not only of our identity, but they also remind us to whom we belong: Jesus Christ.
- Have you ever been a part of a community where there was tension or even division? What words were able – or would have been able – to bring everyone back together? How do you think that the people of Corinth received Saint Paul’s words?
- What are the symbols of identity and belonging in your life? Maybe a sports team’s logo? Or the image of a college mascot? Maybe the flag of a country that matters to you? Or a photo of the people whom you love the most? What impact on your life do these symbols have?
- What does it mean to you that you have been baptized into the Body of Christ (if you have been)? What do you think it means for other Christians in our world? Does the symbol of the Communion Cup help you to remember that you are a member of the Body of Christ?
Is there a volunteer who would like to close us in prayer?
1 Meyers, Ruth A. “The Common Cup and Common Loaf” from Revising the Eucharist: Groundwork for the Anglican Communion, ed. David R. Holeton. March, 1994, pg. 46.
The Common Cup: Part Two
The Common Cup as a Symbol that Transcends Time
Gracious and loving God, you have guided the church throughout all times and places, and filled it with your blessing. For the traditions which have been handed down to us, and by which we grow closer to you, we thank you. For the times and places when the church has not used those traditions for the blessing of all people, we repent. Guide us this Lent, and always, in your wisdom, that we may draw closer to you. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
- Today we are continuing our conversation on the “Common Cup” at the Holy Eucharist. What do you remember from last week? What can you recall about Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians? Have any questions arisen for you since last week?
- We will be talking about the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. What do you already know about the Reformation?
The History of the Common Cup
Last week we read a passage from Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians; Saint Paul has heard that there were divisions within the church in Corinth and wrote to remind them that they are one in the Body of Christ, and are reminded of this each time they share the one bread and one cup (Communion). This teaching became a core identity for the followers of Jesus throughout the history of the church, and remains that way to today. One Early Church Father, John Chrysostom (347-407), also noted that this unity given to us in baptism, and in the sharing of the cup and bread, is one more way that Jesus shows his love for us: “The union is effected through the food that he has given us in his desire to show the love he has for us. For this reason he united himself intimately with us, he blended his body with ours like leaven, so that we should become one single entity, as the body is joined to the head.” 2 Therefore, the shared bread and cup of wine at communion has historically been understood as a holy love offering.
Tragically, as the emphasis grew on the idea that the communion bread was the literal body of Jesus and the wine was his literal blood, the fear of spilling the wine increased significantly, to the point where the laity (non-ordained) were kept from receiving the common cup. The Rev. Dr. Louis Weil, one of the great liturgists of the Episcopal Church, explains, “By the late sixth and early seventh centuries, communion of the laity had begun a precipitous decline. There was no textual emphasis on the term ‘communion’ since, as the patterns of eucharistic worship developed, the emphasis in practice was upon the communion of the priest/celebrant. By the late Middle Ages, the focus for the laity in the Mass ritual was upon the elevation of the host, that is, the lifting up of the bread that would then be consumed as the communion of the priest.”3 It came to be that in most places, the laity only received Holy Communion one time a year (Easter) and only received the bread.
Withholding the Common Cup of wine from the laity became one of the key motivators for the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century; the reformers wanted the laity to receive communion “in both kinds” (the bread and the wine). The Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers, liturgy professor, explains, “Restoration of the common cup to the laity, the use of a single loaf, and the elimination of the masses at which only the priest communicated were important accomplishments of the Reformation.” 4 To this day, our Book of Common Prayer instructs that “The ministers receive the Sacrament in both kinds, and then immediately deliver it to the people.” (page 365) It is important to note, however, that in the Episcopal Church, we believe that receiving Holy Communion “in one kind” (bread only) is still full participation in the sacrament. This has been especially helpful to know during the pandemic.
- Living through the pandemic, you can begin to imagine what it was like for Christians before the Reformation to not have access to the Common Cup. What do you think it was like for them? What has it been like for you to not be able to receive communion in both kinds?
- When you look at the chalice (the cup that holds the wine on the altar), is it a symbol for you of Jesus’ presence? And if so, what side of the debate would you have been on during the Reformation: that it should be kept safe from spilling and therefore only given to clergy, or that it needs to be shared with the whole Body of Christ (baptized persons)? Why would you have made that argument? What argument would you make today?
Is there a volunteer who would like to close us in prayer?
2 John Chrysostom, Homilies on John, 46, 3.
3 Weil, Louis. “On the Integrity of Eucharistic Communion” from In Spirit & Truth: A Vision of Episcopal Worship, ed. Stephanie Budwey, Kevin Moroney, Sylvia Sweeney, and Samuel Torvend. (Church Publishing Incorporated, 2020), 99.
4 Meyers, Ruth A. “The Common Cup and Common Loaf” from Revising the Eucharist: Groundwork for the Anglican Communion, ed. David R. Holeton. March, 1994, pg. 46.