Re-print with permission from Terry Stadler
As I kneel in the pew, having received the body and blood of Christ, I enter into communion with the others as they approach the table of the Lord. I see the young and the old; the men and the women; the dark skinned and the white skinned; the rich and the poor. In the eucharist, our differences disappear as we become one in Christ's body, just as Paul reminds us that through our baptism, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female." (Gal 3:28)
As a religious educator, I marvel at the depth of the mystery of the bread and the wine. The "Amen" that each person utters as they receive the host affirms the presence of the Risen Christ in their lives. (Bishop Ken Untener, E.M. 9/94, #126) Our "Amen" to the invitation to take and drink the cup can further deepen the mystery of Christ present to us. But not all accept this invitation to take and drink. And a few people who do stop at the cup perform a modified intinction rite by dipping the host that they just received into the cup. I ask myself, "Is this what Jesus had in mind when he said, 'Do this in memory of me'?" (Lk 22:19)
The communion cup for me is not only the fullest sign of the eucharistic banquet, it also contains the same challenge that Jesus asked of James and John when he said, "Can you drink the cup that I drink?" (Mk 10:38) Furthermore, it reminds me that I must participate with the disciples in the very purpose of the eucharist, "the forgiveness of sins." (Mt 26:28)
So, with the help of many gifted writers, I will try to share with you my own reflections of the eucharistic cup.
The Blood of the Covenant--
What is the first question from the waiter in a restaurant? How do we feel when people invite us over for a drink? Henri Nouwen tells us that drinking with others "is a sign of friendship, intimacy, and peace." It signals "hospitality, celebration, friendship, and intimacy." ("Can You Drink the Cup?")
Drinking the blood of Christ directly from the cup reminds us of Jesus' own words to take the cup and drink the "blood of the covenant." We sense the timelessness and the intimacy of the covenant that God made with Moses, the agreement that is ours to share with one another. Just as the blood of sacrificed animals meant that the life of God was being shared with the Hebrews, drinking the eucharistic cup means sharing the life of Christ's blood poured out on the cross for us. As Gene LaVerdiere, SSS, writes, "The covenant refers to a life relationship between God and people. Accepting God's covenant and its conditions [by drinking the cup], the people become a community. For each person, the covenant includes two inseparable relationships: one to God, and one to the community." (E.M. 10/99, #187)
Not everyone walks up to the cup minister with eagerness or this sense of a joyful celebration of life with God and others. For some, it has to do with a fear of catching something from a previous communicant who left a cold or flu germ on the cup. For others, it is a sign of intimacy that they can do without.
For at least 600 years, it was a common Christian practice to share the blood of Christ from a common communion cup at eucharistic celebrations. Gradually, a sense of unworthiness crept into our liturgy and the cup became something in which just the ordained would partake. Today, fear of a communicable disease has replaced this sense of unworthiness and holds many back from this part of the sacred banquet.
But many current Christian writers and doctors speak of the lack of documented cases or little scientific evidence to support these fears. Leann Lesperance, M.D., in her article "The Common Cup: Fears and Realities," writes that the mouth organisms found on the rim or in the cup are not harmful. And when the minister wipes the rim with a purificator, it removes "up to 90% of these organisms." The rest don't survive the acids in one's stomach. (E.M., 8/98, #173) As for cold and flu germs, we catch these bugs more readily by picking up a hymnal and then touching our own mouth or nose! From my observation, most people with a cold or the flu do not receive the blood of Christ from the cup.
Is the mystery of the Lord's Supper sufficiently contained in the body of Christ for most of us that we don't take the cup that Jesus offers as "the blood of the covenant?"(Mt26:28) Clearly the church states that "Christ is sacramentally present under each of the species." And receiving "communion under the species of bread alone makes it possible to receive all the fruit of Eucharistic grace." (CCC #1390) But my experience of the eucharist more closely identifies with the same paragraph of the Catechism as it continues, "The sign of communion is more complete when given under both kinds, since in that form the sign of the Eucharistic meal appears more clearly." (GIRM #240)
We know that traditions and rituals play an important part in
our lives. They remind us of who we are and who we are called to
be. The eucharistic cup calls us to
intimately share in the new covenant of Christ's blood. St. Paul
asks us, "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a
participation in the blood of Christ?" (1 Cor
10:16) The challenge is overcoming our hesitancy and handing on
this tradition just as Paul did with the church in Corinth. (1
No two people are exactly alike. We all have our own lives to live. We all have our own challenges to face. When the brothers, James and John, approached Jesus and asked him to give them places of honor in the kingdom, Jesus asked them if they could drink the same cup that he was going to drink. (Mk 10:35-38)
This challenge is presented to us every time we approach the cup at the Lord's Table. Are we willing to share in the cup of the blood of Christ by our actions and words as Christians?
Jesus had just predicted his passion, death and resurrection for the third time when James and John asked their question. And yet they had no idea what their response to Jesus' challenge would mean. But Jesus knew. One of his friends would betray him. The others would run away. One would even deny him three times! But still, at the Last Supper, Jesus took the cup and invited his friends to take it and drink from it.
There is a natural reluctance to respond too quickly to Jesus' challenge. In the garden, Jesus felt the immense implication of drinking the cup: "If it is possible, let this cup pass from me." (Mt 26:39) We pray, like Jesus, that our cup might pass us by. By facing his detractors, Jesus drinks the cup that God placed in front of him. When we drink the cup, we deny ourselves and let God claim us as God's own. (LaVerdiere in Emmanuel, April, 1994, vol. 100, #3)
What is our response to the Lord's invitation to take the cup and drink from it? Do we pass it by after we receive the host? Or do we stop and shyly dip the host into the sacred cup, instead of taking and drinking? Do we let this action of dipping the host into the wine signify our hesitancy to accept Jesus' challenge? The U.S. Bishops have stated that the communicant should never dip the host in the wine. (National Council of Catholic Bishops, "This Holy and Living Sacrifice," #51-52)
When we take and drink the cup, we signify the depth of our commitment to share in Christ's passion, death and resurrection. Henri Nouwen says taking Jesus' "question seriously would radically change our lives." (Can You Drink the Cup?) If we accept the sorrow of the passion and death into our lives as well as the joy of the resurrection, we live as people who hold the cup and say "yes." "Yes" to the crosses in our lives as Christians. "Yes" to the gifts in our lives that come from God. It is a single cup filled with both joys and sorrows that we share. Christ invites us to share it with him and with others. When we take and lift the cup to our lips, we let others see that we are sharing in the same cup of blessing that makes us one in community with each other. (Nouwen, Can You Drink the Cup?)
This is my blood,
which will be shed on behalf of many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Forgiveness was very important to the disciples. We know that they abandoned Christ at the cross, and Peter denied him. They, like us, needed God's forgiveness.
When the disciples accepted the cup from Jesus, they were participating in the new covenant. "As they joined Jesus in forgiving others, their own sins were forgiven, and the purpose of the Eucharist fulfilled." (LaVerdiere in Emmanuel, May, 1994, vol. 100, #4)
We are sinners. Christ died for us as an act of mercy. Jesus' sacrifice, symbolized by the cup, opens up to us, in fullness, the gift of God's mercy. When we fully participate in the eucharist by taking and drinking the cup, we acknowledge God's mercy at work in our lives.
Jesus invites us to "drink from it, all of you." (Mt 26:27) We approach the Lord's Table with humility and gratitude. It is a gift. We are not worthy to receive him, but Jesus tells us that we are healed. When we share the cup, we receive the forgiveness that Jesus promised us at his Last Supper.
Matthew also tells us how Jesus develops this notion of forgiveness even further, "If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you." (Mt 6:14) Does the cup that we take and drink transform us to share God's forgiveness with others? Do we participate in Jesus' saving mission? If we want our sins forgiven, we must participate with Christ's own action at the Last Supper to forgive others.
Henri Nouwen says it well, "Together when we drink that cup as Jesus drank it, we are transformed into one body of the living Christ, always dying and always rising for the salvation of the world." (Can You Drink the Cup?)
The eucharistic cup is:
How can I ever pass by the cup again?
"It is no surprise that the cup is such a universal symbol. [Whether a golden chalice or a simple glass cup], what it holds has remained the same. It is the life of Christ and our life, blended together into one life. That is the great mystery of the Eucharist." (Nouwen, Can You Drink the Cup?)
To fully live the mystery of the Eucharist, I invite all to reflect on the meaning of the cup in their lives. How do we respond to Jesus' invitation to "take and drink?" Won't you join me and your fellow parishioners in proclaiming the sacred "Amen" to the minister's words "The blood of Christ"?
My thanks to the following authors and references for helping me formulate my own understanding of the eucharistic cup:
- Leonard Foley's article in Catholic Update, "Holy Communion from the Cup";
© January, 2000 by T. J. Stadler