Evening Communions and Individual Communion Cups, by Charles Chapman Grafton (1911)

To the Editor of The Living Church: [1]

THERE are two un-Churchly customs, one of which, we believe, started in England. These customs are evening Communion, and the giving of the Sacrament in individual cups.

When the custom of having early celebrations increased in England, the Low Church partisans there introduced what was then unusual, the practice of evening Communions. It was a partisan move for the purpose of counteracting the practice of coming to the Communion early and so fasting. Fasting Communions became common, not on account of any English Church law, but as a matter of devotion and reverence. The fresh, early morning before the day’s work had come in was found to be a fitting time for devotion. The partisan excuse for evening Communion was that it met the wants of the servant class and working people. It was seemingly insincere, and a manufactured subterfuge to cover up a partisan movement; for it was obvious that the Roman Catholic Church, which largely dealt with those classes of persons, found no difficulty in getting them to early Communion. It is a growing sign of Christian consideration of others’ feelings that now evening Communions in England are diminishing. We trust it may be so here, where the restoration of good feeling amongst the different schools is the most important need for union.

The other un-Churchly custom is that of the introduction of individual cups.

We are sorry to think that the real reason for their introduction is a partisan one. It gives great pain to a large class of devout Church people, and introduces another cause of division amongst us. Love and charity towards their brethren should lead to its withdrawal. The excuse for it is the danger of infection. But as no instance of infection had been proved, and medical experts have said the danger was infinitesimal, the reason appears to be more fictitious than real. Moreover we believe that our Lord will protect His own Sacrament, and that His promise must here apply: “If ye drink of any deadly thing, it shall not hurt you.” Those who believe that the element, by consecration, has been changed from its natural use, cannot believe that any physical harm can come from receiving the chalice.

What, however, shall a Catholic-minded communicant do, finding himself where this un-Churchly custom has been introduced? In my judgment, the priest has broken the rubric. The rubric requires him, in consecrating, to take the Cup into his hands, and in giving the Sacrament, to give the Cup. Is it not the Cup which has been consecrated that he is to give into the hands of the people? He is not to give any cup, but the Cup in which the wine was consecrated. Would he not break the rubric by giving any other? If he should prepare all the individual cups previously and consecrate them, all the symbolical significance of drinking of one cup would be lost.

On the other hand, if he fill the individual cups from the chalice or vessel in which he has consecrated, he runs the great risk of spilling the sacred element. For the wine cannot be poured from the consecrated chalice or other vessel in which he has consecrated, in the small quantities of two or three drops, without some being spilt, if there are many cups. Nor can he cleanse all the cups, taking ablution in each, without seeming irreverence and greatly prolonging the service, or else falling into the greater irreverence of not taking the ablutions and so cleansing the cups.

What then is the devout communicant to do where the individual cups are used? The rubric and custom of the Church appear to be broken. Holy Scripture, in joining the partaking of the Cup of Blessing or one consecrated Cup, seems to be violated. Possibly Churchmen might be willing to be governed by our Lord’s action in the Last Supper, who did not have individual cups, but the one Cup which He blessed and of which all the apostles received.

The custom of individual cups seems to me so un-Churchly, unrubrical, so distrustful of Christ’s protection, that I should advise a devout communicant, where individual cups were used, to go to some other church to receive his communion, or to leave the parish.

C. C. Fond du Lac.


[1] The Living Church, August 26, 1911, p. 577.

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Filed under Anglo-Catholicism, Bibliography, Book of Common Prayer, Episcopal Church history, Liturgy

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