XII: The Common Cup and Disease?

Q: Can I get sick from using the common cup?

A: No! The use of the common cup was traditional in all Christian churches until the 20th century and was eliminated in some churches because of irrational fears about sanitary matters concerning the transmission of disease. The question about disease transmission has been answered by the scientific community. A thorough study on the use of the common cup was done by professors Burroughs and Hemmers in 1965 and was reported in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. This conclusion was:

Experiments on the transmission of test organisms from one person to another by common use of the chalice showed that 0.001% of the organisms are transferred even under the most favorable conditions and when conditions approximated those of actual use, no transmission could be detected.

Studies conducted in the 1980s over concerns about the transmission of AIDS confirm this study. Dr. David Ho in the New England Journal of Medicine (December 1985) provided documentation that verified that there was no spread of the AIDS virus in saliva through common eating or drinking utensils. In effect, AIDS is spread only through sexual contact or the exchange of blood. No case of AIDS victims studied to date has shown any possibility of communicating the disease through saliva. Concerns about the chalice and AIDS are motivated more by fear than by scientific research, since no scientific evidence exists to connect the two.

Since the COVID-19 illness arrived in 2019, there has been a renewed concern over communion practice. Nevertheless, the risk of transmission through the common cup remains infinitesimal. A recent article from August 2020 is linked here for your reference. To summarize the findings:

  • Pastors who drink after everyone else (even the hospitalized) show no signs of increased illness
  • The CDC has reported that there has never been an outbreak of infection related to the communion cup
  • Although there is a theoretical risk of transmitting infectious disease from the common cup, it is so small as to be undetectable
  • There is no indication that sharing the common cup will transmit COVID-19

Lutherans should remember that Martin Luther restored the cup when Roman Catholics had all but eliminated it from the people's Communion. He did it because his loyalty was to the command of Christ in the Bible. The use of the common cup was normative until the late nineteenth century and has generally been eliminated only in those churches which reject that the true Body and Blood of Christ are present in the sacrament.

Other methods of distribution (i.e. individual cups) have been permitted by those believing that the method of distribution does not matter. However, the use of the common chalice retains that which Our Lord indicated was His desire. And its effect where used is to transmit not only salvation but also the oneness that comes from sharing the Blood of Christ from the Chalice in common with one's brothers and sisters. In faith, we follow Christ's institution: he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you,’ (Matthew 26:27 ESV).

Only because it has been the historic practice of Hope Lutheran Church to offer the individual cups, this practice will continue until such time as it is no longer required. That said, there will always be accommodations made for those who require it. For example, non-alcoholic wine will be made available. Please contact the pastor to discuss any specific concerns that you may have.

Christ desires that you come to His table and receive His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins!

Adapted from About Being Lutheran © Lutheran Liturgical Renewal 1991. Used by permission.