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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Germs in the Communion Chalice

Every once in a while, someone will express to me the concern that maybe people can catch colds or other infections from drinking out of the common communion cup at church. And every time I tell them, "sure it's possible, but very unlikely." Since today is Maundy Thursday, the day on which our Lord instituted the Sacrament of the Altar, I figured this was a good time to address the matter. So let's say it again. You are much more likely to get sick touching the pews, the hymnals, or the altar railing where the kids were clamoring just before you. You are much much more likely to catch a cold from shaking my hand after the service when you are number 42 in line. But don't take my word for it. In 1998, the American Journal for Infection Control reported that the consensus of the Center for Disease Control is that the risk exists but is so small that it is undetectable. Furthermore, a study has shown that people who receive the chalice every day are at no greater risk of sickness than people who never go to church.

I'm not exactly opposed to individual glasses, but I do think of them, in most cases, as an unnecessary bother (in terms of distribution and cleanup). Of course, the vessels used to hold the body and blood of Christ are not the point. I guess I just see it as an unnecessary break in tradition that eliminates the symbolism of unity the common cup illustrates.

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