13 September 2008

Shot Glass Jesus

"Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf."  
1 Corinthians 10: 16-17 (NLT)

I remember the old game of 'cooties'.  

To be honest, I am not sure it was so much a game as it was an excuse to run around and scream, but be that as it may.  The object was to avoid the fictional 'cooties' germ that, in my case, girls carried.  (Girls, of course, maintained that us boys had the germ.  So be it.)  By the time everyone got around the age of eight or ten, cooties became a tease.  I recall being at the house of a friend one muggy afternoon and being offered a sip from his glass of water.  Ick!  Why would I want to do that?  It was disgusting, right?  Yea, well... ten minutes later it wasn't so disgusting (or, perhaps, the muggy air was more disgusting).  Most of us, faced with a similar situation, would take a drink from someone elses' cup or can... so why is it that we find it so abhorrent to drink from the one cup of the Lord?

Now, to be sure, I am not talking about on the occassion when the bird flu is running rampant, or when half the parish has strep throat... but I am talking about the regular fear that many Christians have of drinking from the cup at the celebration of Communion.  

The common cup is a sign of the unity of the Church, the Body of Christ.  (I could get into a discussion here about the use of individual wafers, but I'll leave that for another time.)  In this day and age, our faith is becoming so personal that we almost loose a connection with the sense of community that is present in the Sacrament.  In the Eucharist, we are united with Jesus Christ in a deep, intimate way.  We share his true Body and Blood and are nourished with, as Ignatius put it, the 'medicine of immortality'.  All of us share the common illness (sin), and stand in need of the common cure (Christ's redemption).  

While I am loathe to get too deep into discussing the symbology of the Eucharist (for fear that you, dear reader, may think that I am trying to dismiss the Divine aspects of the Eucharist in favor of a mere symbolic view of it... I am not!), I feel that, in this particular entry, it must be done.  For far too long, our discomfort with drinking from the common cup has resulted in the curious phenemonon that I refer to as 'shot glass Jesus'... the use of either pre-filled or filled-in-service single-servings of the wine or juice in Communion.  While this may be a Protestant phenemenon, I have been to a few Catholic churches that have at least made an attempt of it... usually with either comical or sorrowful results.

Shot glass Jesus is, first and foremost, destructive of the sign value of the Eucharist.  For that matter, so is using have a bazillion chalices at mega-Masses in sports stadiums.  The powerful visual of one cup being shared among the people is difficult to replace, and that symbol serves to drive home a far more important reality: we are a unified people.  One bread, one cup... one Lord.  Why are we so afraid of drinking after one another at the table of the Lord?  Is it because we don't really care all that much about the concept of the unity of the body?  Is it because our society has taught us that religion is so personal that we don't want to run the risk of ingesting a drip of spittle from a brother or sister in Christ (what I call the cootie factor)?  

Let's look at this in a different way.  If you brother and you were sitting at a table and you had a new and unique flavor of soda in your glass, would you not let him have a sip to try it?  Yes, I went there... the family angle.  The Church is supposed to be a family - brothers and sisters in Christ.  If we would let our worldly family share backwash, why not do the same with our spiritual family?  In part, it's because we don't actually know our spiritual family all that well, and, I fear, we often don't want to get to know them well enough to set aside our fears... either socially or eucharistically.

So, instead, we remain content on Sunday after Sunday, when we are all in perfectly good health, to pass on the chalice, or dip the Body into the Blood, or even to use single-serving (and at times pre-filled and vacuum sealed!) Jesus kits in order to avoid becoming one with the Body of Christ... all because we just can't get over that stupid game of cooties that we still remember all to well from when we were five.

Speaking for myself, I want my spiritual maturity to get a little bit more in depth than a five year old, so I'll keep on drinking from the cup.  You, of course, are invited to join me... but please leave your cooties at the door.   


FrGregACCA September 14, 2008 at 12:13 PM  

The shot glass phenomenon is directly traceable to Dr. Welch's pasteurized grape juice, developed expressly for the purpose of use in the "Lord's Supper" in congregations which, as a matter of morality, eschew all consumption of alcohol. (Ironically, however, most congregations rejected it until the rise of generic evangelicalism in the 20th century, and Welch's Grape Juice succeeded only because it was marketed as a little kids' drink.)

A bit of alcohol in the common cup goes a long way in dealing with the cootie factor.

All of this reminds of the proverbial Little Old Baptist Lady who said, "Ah, yes, I know Jesus used real wine at the Last Supper, but I don't think the better of him for it."

Of course, the other solution is Holy Communion by intinction.

Father Robert Lyons September 14, 2008 at 12:55 PM  


True about intinction - I practice it myself in the hospital because of cross-contamination issues; but there I am dealing with people who could have all kinds of virulent respiratory diseases, etc. I've had TB patients show up at Liturgy before.

I don't think I'd use intinction in a parish setting, though, save for with an individual who was sick, as in some ways it, it can serve to undermine the sign value of the Sacrament as well.

One thing that I definately think needs to be ended, however, is self-intinction. I have been to several parishes where they let people intinct themselves, and I can tell you that is far more worrisome to me than drinking after someone else.


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