Holy Communion stained glassRecently, I wrote about some Anglican dioceses in England invoking the 1547 Sacrament Act as a precaution against the spread of swine flu. 

Before the early Communion service at my parish started on August 2, our vicar announced that he was experimenting with different ways of distributing Communion.  The previous week he said that he had distributed the Sacrament by means of intinction — dipping the Host in the wine — then placing it directly on the communicants’ tongues.   ‘Today, we’re going to try another way, which is for me to dip the bread in the wine and give it to you to place on your tongue.  We haven’t yet decided on how we will approach this going forward, so let me know your thoughts’.  (Please keep that last sentence in mind.) 

There I was sitting in the pew thinking, ‘Will I be able to do this?’  Then, once the Youth Minister started giving the guest sermon, I was quite taken with what he had to say and forgot about it.  He spoke of church leadership and the different roles: priests, bishops and other leaders, such as himself.  It was based on Paul’s Epistle for that day and well-delivered.

Later, once at the Communion rail, I knew this wasn’t right.  It was the first time in my life I’d ever felt awful about receiving Communion.  I’d received it thousands of times.  But, I didn’t remember ever having to place an ‘intincted’ Host on my tongue.  The local Catholic priest won’t use intinction because he says there is too much danger of the consecrated wine dripping where it should not.  So, I prayed that I would be able to take the Host in my fingertips and place it on my tongue without mishap. 

I also prayed that Our Lord would forgive me for what I was about to do.   

So, I took the intinction from the vicar. No, it was not an easy moment. But, to have been forced to handle the Host like that, especially with the consecrated on it, made me feel like a heretic.  I felt ashamed.  I also felt uncomfortable at having been forced to receive Communion in this manner.  So, when I rose from the Communion rail to return to my pew, I prayed again for forgiveness. 

Most of the people at the service were older.  As they are English, it’s hard to tell what they were thinking.  Yet, before we approached the altar, the man behind me said to his wife somewhat audibly, ‘It’s not right to be handling the Host like that.  We shouldn’t be doing it.’  (As I mentioned in the post about the ‘early Church’, Anglicans normally receive the Host in a cupped palm, followed by wine.)

I watched to see how the remaining communicants were coming along with this new ‘approach’.  I couldn’t see if one man was extending his tongue, but the vicar addressed him by name and said, ‘No, no — just take the Host from me.  That’s it, just take it in your fingertips.’ 

By the time we left, I wasn’t feeling any better.  I was one of the first people out, so I said to the vicar, ‘Maybe we should just receive the Host in our palms. We could suspend the wine.’

His eyes narrowed. ‘No, I can’t give you an intinction in the palm of your hand.  That’s the Blood of Our Lord, you realise.’  Good listening skills!

‘I wasn’t asking for an intinction.  Just the Host.  Alone.  No wine.  That way, we can continue to receive it in our hands and don’t have to touch it with our fingers.’ 

This would be in accordance with the Church of England’s Swine Flu guidelines modelled on the 1547 Sacrament Act:

The preferred alternative to the Chalice is to take Holy Communion in one kind only, without wine. Clergy should emphasize that while communion in both kinds is the norm in the Church of England, in faithfulness to Christ’s institution, when it is received only in one kind the fullness of the Sacrament is received none the less.

The vicar said, ‘We see no reason to suspend wine at this time.  We have decided to give both bread and wine.’

I said, ‘It doesn’t seem right to take the Sacrament in the fingertips like that.’  I didn’t want to go hammer and tongs over it.  This isn’t the first time he and I have had a disagreement.  And, like most postmoderns, he has a thin skin and dislikes opposition.

He said, ‘We have decided not to suspend the wine.’ 

(I love that: ‘We have decided …’  Why ask for our opinion, then?) 

By then, a number of people heard me. The Youth Minister was there the whole time. I introduced myself to him, complimented him on his sermon about church leadership and left. So, I don’t know if anyone else said anything.  After that exchange, it’s unlikely. The Youth Minister probably wondered what my problem was.  Well, give him another 25 years and he’ll be thinking differently about receiving Communion, too.

Anyway, I have again researched the Anglican guidelines for receiving Communion in a time of Swine Flu, and, in addition to the above, they are as follows with regard to intinction:

Intinction by communicants is not recommended. It runs the risk that droplets, the means of transmission of Swine ’Flu, on the ends of fingers could come into contact with the wine. Likewise, any practice where a common cup containing bread or wafers is passed between communicants runs the same risk. This practice should not be followed.

Yet, it seems that the Church of England prohibits only the communicant dipping the bread in the wine. It doesn’t say anything about the priest doing it for them, although receiving it in the fingertips cannot be correct. This is why some parishes have been receiving only the Host lately. 

This is also why we sometimes enter into unavoidable and uncomfortable ways of participating in worship and reception of the Sacraments.  We have so little choice in the matter

Sorry, there’s no conclusion on this, just a call to action: Is there anyone from the Church of England out in cyberspace who could provide additional guidance?  I would be most grateful.