To All Diocesan Clergy Regarding Holy Communion
Dear brothers and sisters,
Greetings in our ascended Lord Jesus.
One thing I have said continually is that we are in a season of adaptive change. Therefore, I ask that you extend grace to me because the following is a result of my adapting to input and concerns I am hearing from many of you.
I am writing this to give each congregation permission to decide when it is best to begin distributing communion in two kinds. This is in response to the thoughtful and creative ways that many of you have proposed for distributing communion in two kinds. I appreciate your desire to give bread and wine in ways that are both reverent and safe. Several of you, while you have accepted our current policy of communion by bread only, are hoping to distribute communion in both kinds as soon as is feasible. This is understandable given our Reformation history. I do want to reiterate that communion with bread only is still a valid and recommended practice given the pandemic, and you may certainly continue to operate that way for as long as it seems best to you.
Clergy, I am writing you only. This is because many of you already have good plans to regather with Morning Prayer or with the distribution of bread only, especially those in a hotspot for the virus, or with other health or safety concerns. This letter is permissive and by no means a mandate for you to change your planned phases. I originally intended not to put this on the website because I do not want people pressuring you by saying that I told you to immediately start having communion in both kinds. I later realized that you as clergy might need a place to access it easily. I will leave it up to you as the ordained leaders of worship in your congregations to decide when to proceed to communion in both kinds. Of course, you may consult with your own leaders in the process. You may share this letter with them. There is no need for hurry here.
This letter is not about many of the issues the diocesan staff and I have addressed before. The need to protect older and vulnerable laypersons and you our clergy is still preeminent. Sheltering at home is still recommended for many in the diocese. The danger of congregational, choral or worship team singing still exists. Restrictions caused by social distancing and sanitation are still in effect. This letter is only about how to restore the distribution of both bread and wine when that time finally comes for your congregation.
Having said all that, whenever you decide to begin distributing both bread and wine, I expect you to use the following method:
1. As usual, the bread is distributed by the priest. To enable this in a safe manner, during the distribution the priest* should hold the chalice, not the paten. A person who would normally chalice instead holds a paten (or ciborium) containing the wafers and stands next to the priest (See #8 below for an alternative).
2. The priest takes a wafer from the paten and dips just a tiny part of the edge of the wafer in the wine.
3. The priest then places the wafer in the communicant’s hands, without touching them.
Other necessary directions for this method- please read carefully:
1. Priests and chalicers must sanitize their hands both before and after distribution. (If they touch someone’s hands by accident, they immediately sanitize again.)
2. The celebrant must either cover the elements throughout the eucharistic prayer or wear a mask while celebrating.
3. The priest and chalicer must wear masks when distributing until further notice. Priests or chalicers who have been recently exposed or could be contagious should not distribute.
4. Those receiving should remove masks just before they receive and put the masks back on immediately after consuming.
5. The words of distribution must be brief to limit exposure. I recommend either of these abbreviated forms: “The Body and Blood of Christ” (adapted from the Renewed Ancient Text) or “The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve your body and soul to everlasting life” (from Communion of the Sick).
6. Chalices should contain a bare minimum of wine because less wine be used overall. A minimum of wine in the cup prevents a wafer from absorbing too much.
7. People should generally receive while standing because continually wiping down the communion rail in most cases is potentially unsanitary and cumbersome. People should be face to face with the priest for as short a time as possible and standing encourages them to keep moving.
8. An acceptable alternative is that the priest may hold the paten and the chalicer hold the chalice. (The only negative to this approach is that the chalicer must hold the chalice quite still so that the priest can easily just touch the wafer to the wine.)
9. It should be made very clear that people may continue to receive only the bread if they so desire. This has always been the case.
10. Some laity may be concerned that their hands are touching the sacramental Blood of Christ. Remind them that they are already likewise privileged to touch the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven. Recall that the blood of the Old Covenant sacrifices was sometimes sprinkled on the people (Hebrews 9:19-20).
11. Whenever you have communion in this season, I ask that you include the prayer for Spiritual Communion after distribution, both for those who are uncomfortable with receiving and for those who view the service online. (2019 BCP p.677)
Rationale for Using This Method
I have consulted several bishops, the regional deans, the Cathedral dean and several others as I considered this approach. Why I am promoting this method? I promote this for several reasons:
> It is a method used elsewhere in the Anglican Church during epidemics. It was used in Uganda during an Ebola outbreak.
> Intinction itself is normal within our tradition.
> It is clearly connected to the image of sharing a common cup. Also, many within the ACNA believe that bread and wine should be served only from consecrated vessels. Using individual or household communion cups misses these criteria.
> Only those distributing will touch the paten or chalice. And the interaction with those distributing is very brief. There is very little chance of contagion.
> Altar Guilds can easily accommodate this approach and can wash vessels before and after the Eucharist as usual.
> It will allow us to have a natural transition to our former practices when the threat of the virus is finally behind us.
I sincerely hope this will be helpful as we move forward. Please let me know if you have any questions, concerns or problems with these directions. Text me any time.
May the Lord uphold you as you serve him and shepherd his people.
In the love of Jesus,
The Rt. Rev. Neil G. Lebhar
*or deacon, or lay eucharistic minister