Resuming Use of the Common Cup: A Letter from Bishop Sean

Dear People of God in Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York:

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet over, I give thanks that, according to Centers for Disease Control data, our region is now experiencing low case counts. As a result, I believe that we can resume use of the common cup at the Eucharist beginning Palm Sunday, April 10.

I know this move toward resuming our pre-pandemic practices in time for Holy Week and Easter will be welcomed with great joy by many of us, while others will still feel understandably cautious. I want to make abundantly clear that anyone who continues to receive only the consecrated communion bread is participating fully in the sacrament. In addition, I ask every priest who presides at any Eucharist to remind the congregation of this enduring teaching, so that worshippers can make their own well-informed choices.

At the same time, I want to assure you that I would not permit us to receive from the common cup again if I did not think it were safe to do so. I found this paper, written by the Rev. Michael Garner of the Anglican Church of Canada and commissioned by the Rt. Rev. Bruce Myers of Quebec, a member of a colleague group in which I participate to be particularly helpful. The Rev. Garner, an infectious disease specialist, cites a paper in the journal Public Health, which concludes that “the common communion cup may theoretically serve as a vehicle of transmitting infection, but the potential risk of transmission is very small.” There have been no reports of such transmission, the Rev. Garner notes, and “the main route of transmission of COVID is respiratory rather than gastrointestinal.”

As we resume use of the common cup, however, I want us to proceed with the utmost caution. For that reason, I ask that intinction—dipping the bread into the wine—be performed only by the priest or Eucharistic minister, but not by individual worshippers.

Receiving communion in both kinds is a significant source of spiritual sustenance to many worshippers in our partnership. It is also an important step toward pre-pandemic liturgical practices central to our identity as Episcopalians. I wish I could assure you that our progress in this direction will be unbroken, and that our return to the common cup will be permanent, but I cannot. We do not yet know what this pandemic has in store. Therefore, I encourage clergy, vestries and bishop’s committees to continue monitoring local COVID rates and making appropriate decisions to protect the people of our congregations, particularly those who are most vulnerable to the virus and our youngest children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

If the staff of our diocesan partnership and I can offer guidance or support as you return to use of the common cup, please let us know. You can reach Canon Cathy Dempsey-Sims via email with questions or concerns.

Thank you for your faithful ministry during these ever-changing times.