The suspension of the Chalice during the pandemic was a deeply saddening necessity. A necessity because of the potential risk of infection, but also saddening because in Anglican theology whilst the fullness of the Sacramental grace is contained in either of the Eucharistic elements (and this has rightly been emphasised), yet the fullness of the symbolism, in recreation of the Last Supper, does imply something important about sharing both Bread and Wine, whenever possible. The Lord tells us ‘Drink from it, all of you’ (Matthew 26.27) Because of this, the suspension of the Chalice, must only be an emergency measure and its restoration a matter of great urgency as soon as conditions allow.
Throughout the pandemic, St Michael’s has been careful to follow all laws and guidelines. Where there has been need for interpretation we have followed the spirit of the rules with common sense, carefully considering the science, and always being mindful of those who are most vulnerable in our community. At the same time, as restrictions have lifted, we have also changed what we do in worship, on the basis that it is not our role as a church to impose greater restrictions than in wider society. In all this I have emphasised the importance of courtesy, mutual respect and understanding of different views in the midst of an unprecedented and stressful situation. We will not always agree, but we can disagree with generosity.
The sharing of the Chalice has been permitted in the Church of England for several months now, and some parishes chose to restore it immediately and I am encouraged by the fact that, as far as I’m aware, there have been no significant problems as a result. This is perhaps a good reminder that Covid is an airborne illness and very difficult to spread by contact, even in its most direct form. We appear to be moving towards an endemic situation, in which Covid is like a common cold in the vast majority of people, or possibly flu for a tiny percentage.
This is not to trivialise such conditions, or the vulnerability of some, but it is true to say that we have always lived with such illnesses (flu, cold and ohers) and there is no correlation between them and receiving from the Chalice – Christians are not known to be more unwell than other people!
Bearing all this mind, it feels to me that this is the right time to offer the Blood of Christ once more on an entirely optional basis. Having spoken to a variety of people it is clear that some people are entirely comfortable with this and others are not, and this diversity is to be expected. It is by giving people choice that we are respecting these differing views. For the 10am Sung Mass we will continue to receive the Sacrament in the Nave for the time being, so that it is easier for people to go to a Chalice – or not – as the case may be. I know that many people miss receiving at the High Altar but, at the moment, that presents logistical issues in a situation where many will, understandably, not receive from the Chalice. We will assess the situation in a few weeks’ time (perhaps at the start of Lent) and if the situation continues to improve, we may be able to return to receiving at the High Altar at that time. Appropriate arrangements of a similar nature will be made at other services.
In light of this I would like to encourage one thing and discourage another. As Christians we believe that Christ is mystically present in the consecrated elements (however we might individually describe this). Therefore, if you choose not to receive the Blood of Christ at this time, may I encourage you to make some brief act of reverence as you pass the Precious Blood? This might take the form of a bow or genuflection, or the Sign of the Cross. In this way, you will be acknowledging Christ’s presence in both elements. What I wish to discourage is ‘intinction’ (dipping the Body of Christ into the Chalice). This has always been discouraged in the Church of England for reasons of both reverence (e.g. accidental dripping) and hygiene (Bread from hands going into the Wine etc.). I realise that some of you will have encountered this elsewhere, but bad practice in other churches or in the past should not inform what we do at St Michael’s! I realise not everyone will agree with these thoughts, but they are carefully considered.
The restoration of the Chalice, even if not all partake at this time, should be a thing of joy and a sign of an improving situation which – God willing – will continue. As I write these words I am mindful of the words of St Paul’s to the Corinthians about differences over eating and drinking when he says: ‘whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything to the glory God. Give no offence to Jews or to Greeks or to the Church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved’. (1 Cor. 10.31-33). Brothers and sisters, I leave you with these reflections, as we continue to celebrate Christ’s presence with us in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Father Stephen Stavrou
Vicar, St Michael & All Angels, Barnes
Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul 2022