The Common Cup
Our diocesan curriculum on The Common Cup is made available to all people and communities within our diocese, with the hope that it will be a resource as we reflect more upon the meaning of the common cup in our Eucharist and in our common life. Please accept and use this curriculum in the spirit of formation, reflection, and further consideration as we move into being New Church.
The Common Cup: A Symbol of Our Faith
Written by the Reverend Canon Martha Korienek
I would like to present to you our diocesan curriculum on The Common Cup. The Rev. Canon Martha Korienek created and researched the materials in the curriculum for your use. My hope is that this will be material for use in a Lenten Adult Series or a full workshop with your parish—including your worship teams. Canon Martha consulted with The Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers, Professor of Liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, and Chair of The Episcopal Church’s Standing Committee on Liturgy, as well as The Rev. Canon Dr. Kevin Moroney who is a liturgy professor at General Theological Seminary. Their insights, resources and suggestions for focus are central to this curriculum. Finally, along with Canon Martha, The Rev. Ernie Boyer, The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall, and the Rev. Ricardo Avila reviewed the curriculum for accessibility and relevance to parishioners, as well as editorial suggestions for correction and improvement. Please accept and use this curriculum in the spirit of formation, reflection, and further consideration as we move into being New Church. My thanks to those involved in bringing this curriculum to our diocese, especially Canon Martha’s efforts on all of our behalf.
The Common Cup: Part One
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?
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: 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?
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.
The Common Cup: Part Three
The Common Cup: Part Three
The Common Cup as a Symbol of Christian Unity
Gracious and loving God, you love all your people, those who have been, those who enjoy your creation now, and those who have yet to be born. For the ways in which we reflect your everlasting love to one another, we thank you. For the ways in which we forget your love for all people, we repent. Guide us this Lent, and always, in your love, that we might 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, when we talked about the role that the Common Cup played in the Protestant Reformation? Have any questions arisen for you since last week?
We will be talking about the Holy Eucharist with regards to “The Last Supper” and the “Heavenly Banquet.” What comes to mind for you when you hear these terms?
The Common Cup and Remembering
Today’s session begins with the vocabulary word “anamnesis.” Literally translated from Greek it means “remembrance.” In our liturgical studies it takes on a larger meaning, wherein a chronological timeline yields to God’s time, and events that are chronologically separated may not feel distant at all. The Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers, professor of liturgy, describes it this way:
“Anamnesis is ‘remembrance,’ but it is a particular kind of remembrance which is more than just calling to mind, it is a remembrance in which the effects of past events are present to us and we’re anticipating the future, as well. It’s a merging together of past, present, and future, so that we are at that banquet table with Jesus. We’re not reenacting that sacrifice, but in our particular remembrance we are placing ourselves in the presence of all of the meaning that is embedded there, and what that means for our lives, and the transformative effects of that.” 5
Anamnesis is important when discussing the Common Cup because the Common Cup, along with the bread, are symbols which not only recall Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, but also help us to remember the Last Supper so profoundly that the chronological time between then and now yields to God’s closeness in both moments (the Last Supper and our Holy Communion) and the two are linked more powerfully than time can separate them. Differently, and yet the same, Christ is truly present in both the Last Supper and our Holy Communion. And Anamnesis is the word we use to describe the merging of those moments through the presence of Christ.
And because God’s time contains both what is past, as well as what is beyond this world, anamnesis is also the word that we use to describe the belief that, just as we are profoundly connected to the Last Supper in our Holy Communion, so are we also profoundly connected to the Heavenly Banquet, where Jesus and all the saints share this holy feast for all time. The Rev. Dr. Louis Weil, professor of liturgy, describes it this way: “The act is our communion with all the members of the body of the Risen Lord – all members, living and departed, who together with us form the one Mystical Body of Christ.” 6
And finally, when we think of the Common Cup as a symbol which connects us to the entirety of the Body of Christ, from Jesus’ first followers to the dearly departed, we remember that in the Body of Christ, we are also intimately connected to the other Christians around the world, today. The symbol of unity found in the Common Cup not only brings to mind those who came before us and those we will see again in the next life, but also, those whom we cannot see now because of distance, and yet, are part of who we are.
This connection to the rest of the Body of Christ, around the globe, is a much needed antidote to the isolation people are feeling because of the pandemic, as well as counter-cultural in our postmodern, individualist society. “Church at its best provides an alternative narrative to the privatizing, divisive trends of our time.” 7 The Common Cup (and shared bread), then symbolizes our interconnectedness with the rest of humanity.
How do you understand the meaning of the word “anamnesis”? How would you describe it to another person? Do you think it is a helpful word when thinking about the symbols of the Holy Eucharist? Why or why not?
Does the Common Cup bring to mind Jesus’ Last Supper? Does it help you to feel connected to the Heavenly Banquet? Does it inspire your imagination to picture Christians around the world partaking in Holy Communion as the Body of Christ? Why or why not?
5 The Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers, interview on January 20, 2022.
7 Fischbeck, Lisa G., Behold What You Are: Becoming the Body of Christ. (Church Publishing Incorporated, 2021), 10-11.
6 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
The Common Cup: Part Four
The Common Cup: Part Four
The Common Cup as a Symbol of Caring for All
Gracious and loving God, you have called us to love our neighbor as ourselves. For the ways in which we have lived out this love, we thank you. For the ways in which we have fallen short of this kind of love, we repent. Guide us this Lent, and always, in your love, that we might 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 when we talked about anamnesis as well as the Common Cup as a symbol of unity with Christian from around the world? Have any questions arisen for you since last week?
Today’s topic is that the Common Cup is a symbol of caring for all people through the act of sharing. When does sharing something bring you joy? Why does it bring you joy?
The Ethics of the Common Cup
The earliest Christian communities were made up of people from different religious backgrounds (Jewish and Gentile), different cultures, and varied socio-economic statuses. In the context of a highly regulated Roman society, where different subgroups of people did not intermix, the earliest Christian communities were counter-cultural, and arguably revolutionary in their commitment to make all people welcome. This inclusivity was part of what made people want to join them, and learn more about their Lord, Jesus Christ.
As people – from different walks of life – officially joined the community through baptism, they would then begin sharing the holy meal with their new community. This holy meal, from which we inherited the Holy Eucharist, then became a symbol of inclusivity, the kind of inclusivity we hope to find in God’s kingdom. The Rev. Dr. Juan Oliver, Custodian of the Book of Common Prayer notes, “From the beginning of our history, we understood our shared meal to be a sign – evidence, if you will – of the Reign of God arriving already here, among us, in our fledgling community…Christians began to have their shared potlucks, where the poor and hungry would eat side by side with the more comfortable and the very, very few wealthy.” 8 Therefore, the symbols of this holy meal, the bread and the cup, became symbols of the kind of inclusivity that would reflect the ways of God and transform the world.
We have examples of this same kind of radical inclusivity being made known in the sharing of the Common Cup in our time, as well. In the American South, as segregation was being challenged in every arena, imagine the powerful message that was sent by the parishes in which everyone – everyone – shared the Common Cup. In the cities where the population was hit the hardest by the AIDS epidemic, just after they knew that HIV could not be passed by sharing a drink, imagine the compassion and witness that was given by the parishes in which everyone – everyone – shared the Common Cup. Today, in our country which is torn up by political divide, imagine the multitude of ways in which God’s love is made known when Democrats and Republicans share the Common Cup.
When we follow in the example of the Early Church, and understand the Common Cup as a symbol of the radical inclusion of the Kingdom of God, we have the tool we need to bring people together in a way that changes the world.
When was a time when you felt included? How did you know that you were included? What did it feel like to be included? Can you think of a time when you felt particularly included in your church community? How did you know that you were included? What did it feel like to be included in your church community? Can you imagine, or relate to, the powerful feeling of inclusion that would have made the Early Church a compelling community to want to join?
How does it make you feel to think about the Common Cup as being a symbol of sharing and caring for others? How does it make you feel to think about the Common Cup as being a symbol of inclusion? Can you think of any other examples of how the Common Cup might be a symbol of caring and sharing or inclusion?
8 Oliver, Juan. A House of Meanings: Christian Worship in Plain Language. (Church Publishing Incorporated, 2019), 107.
The Common Cup: Part Five
The Common Cup: Part Five
The Common Cup as a Symbol of Our Community
Gracious and loving God, you walk with us always, even in this time of Covid, our very own valley of the shadow of death. For the ways in which you have been our comfort and our strength, we thank you. For the ways in which this time has been used to tear down one another, we repent. Guide us this Lent, and always, in your wisdom, bring us together, and draw us closer to you. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Today we are concluding our conversation on the “Common Cup” at the Holy Eucharist. What do you remember from last week? Have any questions arisen for you since last week? Is there anything that we haven’t covered that you are curious about, or anything that we have discussed that you would like to learn more about?
We will be talking about the Common Cup in the time of Covid-19. How have you been feeling about taking communion “in one kind” (bread only) since the pandemic began?
The Common Cup in the time of COVID-19
Throughout this pandemic, Episcopal communities have been trying to be as safe as possible. They have listened to city, county, and state authorities, as well as their bishops. They have pivoted and hosted online worship opportunities, and then got used to hybrid worship. Services have been held outside, from parish lawns to backyards. We have risen to the challenge of our times, and through it all, God has been praised.
The one constant throughout it all is that when we have participated in the Holy Eucharist, we have received the sacrament of communion “in one kind,” meaning solely the bread. In Episcopal theology, receiving communion in one kind (bread only) is believed to be full participation in the sacrament. And yet, many have expressed a longing for the wine, as well.
Throughout this weeks-long conversation about the Common Cup, we have discussed how the Common Cup is a key symbol of our faith; it represents many things to us, including the Last Supper, the Heavenly Banquet, and our inclusion of others. In all of these examples, the Common Cup is a symbol of our interconnectedness. And during this pandemic, while our interconnectedness has felt stymied, our longing for the Common Cup has become a metaphor for our longing for one another. We miss being able to hug at the Peace and go to brunch together after church, just as we miss being able to share the Common Cup. As such, the Common Cup, sitting unmoved throughout the distribution of communion, has become a symbol of the distance we must keep from one another, in order to keep one another safe; which is to say, it is a symbol of both our interrelatedness through the Body of Christ, even in the midst of our separation due to the pandemic. The Common Cup has become a symbol of our community, and our hope to be with one another, once again.
How do you feel connected to the community these days? How does your inability to participate and share the Common Cup impact your feeling connected to your community? What other ways have you been able to connect with your faith community? Can you imagine the Common Cup as being a symbol of the community still being present (as the Common Cup is present on the altar), even while it is separated from us (as the Common Cup remains untouched on the altar)? How will you feel when we are able to share the Common Cup once again?
Is there anything about the Common Cup, from this week or any of the previous sessions, that you have questions about or would like to discuss?