Sharing the Cup as God’s People
As we prepare for the First Sunday of Advent, we will also resume the practice of sharing the communion cup. This is an important sign of our shared mission as the People of God.
In the early centuries of the Church, all Christians who participated in the Mass received Holy Communion under both species, partaking of the consecrated bread and wine. Over many centuries, however, the practice changed so that ultimately only ordained clergy would receive the Precious Blood from the cup, while the laity would receive only the consecrated bread.
This reflected an ecclesiology where the clergy were seen as the primary ministers conducting the sacred rites, while the laity were passive participants. The Second Vatican Council called for a restoration of the more ancient practice of allowing the laity to once again receive Holy Communion under both forms of bread and wine. This change reflects the Council’s teaching that the Church is not a top-down institution, but a People of God with a common mission.
When the faithful are able to share in the common cup and partake of Christ’s Blood along with his Body, we are affirming our common baptismal priesthood in Jesus Christ. And we are signifying our equal dignity and shared responsibility for carrying forward the saving mission of Christ’s Church. As we prepare to resume this venerable practice in our parish, let us pray earnestly for a deepening spirit of unity (umoja), that we may grow ever more fully into our vocation as a eucharistic and missionary community, faithful to our call as the People of God.
The Cup of Our Common Priesthood
On the First Sunday of Advent, St. Columba will resume the practice of sharing the communion cup containing the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ. This liturgical practice signifies our profound belief as that the entire Church—clergy, religious, and the faithful alike—shares equally in the one priesthood of Christ.
In the early centuries of the Church’s worship, all Christians who took part in the celebration of the Mass received Holy Communion under both species, sharing both the consecrated bread and wine which are the Body and Blood of Jesus. Later centuries saw a drastic change in this practice, so that eventually the cup containing the Blood of Christ was reserved to the clergy alone, while the faithful received just the Body of Christ in the form of bread.
Since the Second Vatican Council, the faithful are once again expressly encouraged receive Holy Communion under both forms. According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:
Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it takes place under both kinds. For in this form the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident and clearer expression is given to the divine will by which the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord, as also the connection between the Eucharistic banquet and the eschatological banquet in the Kingdom of the Father. (281)
When we drink together from the eucharistic cup, we give outward expression to an essential truth of our faith—that both the ministerial priesthood and the baptismal priesthood together offer the same sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood in the liturgy.
As we prepare our hearts to receive this “clearer expression” of participation in Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, let us pray that resuming communion from the cup deepens our sense of shared mission and common purpose (nia) as diverse members united in the one Body of Christ.
Drinking the Cup, Living Our Mission
This Sunday as we continue preparing to share Holy Communion under both forms, we remind ourselves that sharing the communion cup at Mass more fully expresses the Eucharist as the sacrificial meal of Christ’s Body and Blood which binds us together as one.
Historically, restricting reception of the chalice to clergy alone could unfortunately symbolize a separation between the “sacred” role of the ordained minister presiding at the altar, and the “secular” role of the faithful. The liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council broadened our understanding of the role of the baptismal priesthood in our worship. The Council emphasized our shared universal call to holiness and our common mission (ujima) as the People of God in which the clergy and the faithful fully participate, though in diverse roles.
As we prepare to worthily drink anew from the cup of salvation this coming Advent, let us prayerfully reflect on how we are called to offer ourselves together with Christ as a single sacrificial offering for the life of the world. Our shared eucharistic sacrifice leads us to shared mission.
One Cup, One Body in Christ
On the First Sunday of Advent, our parish will resume the practice of sharing the common cup at Holy Communion. This tradition reflects our fundamental unity as diverse members of the one Body of Christ.
Sharing in the communion cup helps us fulfill the mandate of the Second Vatican Council that we participate as fully as possible in the liturgy. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy says:
“The church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations called for by the very nature of the liturgy….
In the reform and promotion of the liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else.” (14)
Drinking together from the eucharistic cup powerfully signifies our collective participation in the one eternal sacrifice of Christ, which we offer together as his holy priesthood, the People of God.
While no one is strictly required to receive the Precious Blood along with the Body of Christ, we do hope and pray that this practice when resumed will serve to deepen the bonds we share as a eucharistic community centered on Christ’s sacrifice and ignited to continue his mission in the world. As we gather around the Table of the Lord this Advent, let us give thanks for the astonishing grace of our common baptism into Christ’s Body (Imani).