During the COVID19 Pandemic—Effective November 19, 2021
The Rt. Rev. William H. Stokes, in consultation with Dr. Philip G. Lewis, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACOEM, and the Rev. Canon Valerie L. Balling, Co-Chairs of the RRR Taskforce, offer these guidelines to the clergy and communicants in the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey.In March 2020, at the outset of the COVID19 Pandemic, in an effort to safeguard God’s people, extraordinary authority was exercised by bishops across the Church and exceptional steps were taken with respect to worship. At first, church buildings were closed to in-person worship until standards and guidelines could be developed that would allow people to gather safely in-person. The Diocese of New Jersey was blessed to have expert persons as part of a Task Force formed in response to the COVID19 crisis. This Task Force worked quickly and diligently on the problems posed by COVID19. When in-person worship was resumed in church buildings, there was a provision for communion, but with the directive that communion could be offered in one-kind (that is, bread/host only) to all participants except for the celebrant. Though the emergency circumstances called for this, maintaining this practice for any length of time is clearly not desirable, nor in accordance with the customs and practices of The Episcopal Church.
According to the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer: “Opportunity is always to be given to every communicant to receive the consecrated bread and wine separately. The rubric adds, “But the Sacrament may be received in both kinds simultaneously, in a manner approved by the bishop” (Book of Common Prayer—1979, p. 407–408).
When the COVID19 outbreak occurred, there were immediate questions and concerns about how the virus was transmitted. Many had, and still have, particular concerns about the possibility of transmission through use of the common cup whether one receives the wine by sipping from the common cup or by receiving communion using the method known as “intinction” (the edge of the consecrated host being dipped in the consecrated wine).
Dr. Phil Lewis, Co-Chair of The Diocese of New Jersey RRR Task Force has stated, “We need to remember that coronavirus is transmitted by the virus having contact with respiratory epithelium or surfaces which does not happen with oral contact with food, liquid or surfaces that have come in contact with food or liquid.” He adds, “The fact is while there have certainly been many thousands of clusters of orally transmitted diseases investigated by the very best epidemiologists in the world over many years, none of those clusters have been traced back to people who took communion from a common cup or from intinction. Then let’s also remember that modern epidemiology has been around since at least the middle of the 19th century. So…we have at least 170 years of data that suggest there is no risk from common cup communion practices” (email to the RRR Task Force—6/24/2021).
A recent letter written by several public health experts in Great Britain in the midst of the COVID19 pandemic to the Royal Society for Public Health stated: “the common communion cup may theoretically serve as a vehicle of transmitting infection, but the potential risk of transmission is very small. Currently, available data do not provide any support for the suggestion that the practice of sharing a common communion cup can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 because SARS-CoV-2 transmission from a patient with COVID-19 or asymptomatic carrier to other people has not been reported.”
With this in mind, and recognizing that 77% of New Jersey residents have now received at least one dose of the COVID19 vaccine and that more than 67% have received both doses, I believe it is appropriate at this time to revise the guidelines for celebrations of the Holy Eucharist to permit the offering of communion in both kinds to every communicant as called for in the Book of Common Prayer and I direct that this be done as follows:
- It shall be made clear in service leaflets/booklets that all persons may, but no person must receive communion in both kinds to receive the fullness of Christ’s body and blood. The section “Ministration to the Sick” in The Book of Common Prayer, states, “If a person desires to receive the Sacrament, but by reason of extreme sickness or physical disability, is unable to eat or drink the Bread and the Wine, the Celebrant is to assure that person that all the benefits of Communion are received, even though the Sacrament is not received with the mouth.” The exigencies of the COVID19 pandemic have required the Church to expand its understanding of “spiritual communion” in a variety of ways. The legitimate concerns of the people of God about the risks and possibility of infection, especially for those with possible co-morbidities or who are immunocompromised must be taken seriously and the personal decisions made by each of the faithful honored without prejudice or judgment.
- The Clergy shall determine, in consultation with the Wardens and Vestry/Mission Committees of their individual congregations how best to offer communion to communicants in their congregation who wish to receive in both kinds within the parameters dictated by this Church, its canons and the Book of Common Prayer. The use of individual cups is not authorized. The common cup is still normative in The Episcopal Church.
- All persons administering communion (both bread and wine) shall thoroughly sanitize their hands immediately before administering communion to any person.
- The common cup may be offered and received in the traditional way (i.e. for sipping) as is customary for each communicant by a clergy person or lay chalice administrator. The chalice administrator shall carefully wipe both the inside and outside edge of the cup with a purificator where a communicant’s mouth has made contact with the cup, rotating the cup after each person receives.
- A separate cup shall be offered for those who wish to receive communion by intinction.
- The clergy person or lay chalice administrator may dip the edge of the host in the wine and then carefully place it on the tongue of the person receiving communion. If a chalice administrator knows that they have made physical contact with the mouth or tongue of a communicant, they shall immediately re-sanitize their hands.
- Individual communicants may dip the edge of their own hosts in the wine. It is recommended that the chalice/vessel contain a small amount of wine that is replenished as needed to avoid physical contact with the wine. If a chalice administrator knows that the wine has been touched, that wine should be disposed of properly and the vessel cleaned or replaced before resuming distribution.
The above guidelines are written in an effort to comply with the expectations of the Book of Common Prayer that “Opportunity is always to be given every communicant to receive the consecrated Bread and Wine separately” while also recognizing that caution is still called for and that many in today’s continuing COVID19 context may decide not to receive the Wine or not to receive either the Bread or the Wine. It is imperative that all remember that, no matter the individual choices of the faithful, our oneness is always in Christ Jesus.
Sample Bulletin Message
We will be offering communion with both Christ’s Body and Blood. The consensus of public health studies to date show that there is no documentable risk of COVID19 transmission through the common cup. We understand individuals may have different comfort levels as to how they receive communion. Following the teaching of our Episcopal tradition, all persons may, but no person must, receive communion in both kinds to receive the full spiritual benefits of communion. You may choose to receive only the host at this time. Should you choose to receive the wine, one vessel will be offered for those who want to sip the wine from the common cup. Another vessel will be offered for those who wish to intinct (the host dipped in the wine).
Congregations may offer more specific instructions on how/where to receive.