Swine Flu and the Communion Cup – Why Not Use Individual Communion Cups?

As always, current events lend themselves as catechetical opportunities. The current Swine Flu crisis is no exception. With fears about transmitting the virus, many questions have arisen about the safety of sharing the Precious Blood of Jesus from the cup at Mass. One question that you may encounter during this present crisis can present a catechetical moment: why don’t we just use individual disposable communion cups?

On the surface, this seems like a logical solution. When I was a parish DRE, I once had a parent of a First Communicant suggest that we use such cups “like some of the other parishes do.” I explained to her first that if there were other Catholic parishes engaging in this practice, they would soon be hearing from their bishop! 🙂 I told her that these other “parishes” she was referring to were more than likely Protestant churches. I then went on to explain why this practice is not acceptable in Catholic liturgy.

  1. All sacraments are both formative and expressive: they shape and form us and at the same time, they engage us in an expression of our faith. In other words, in the sacraments, God is expressing something to us and we are expressing something to God and to one another.
  2. Formative: Through our reception of the Body of Christ, we
About Joe Paprocki 2759 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.

12 Comments on Swine Flu and the Communion Cup – Why Not Use Individual Communion Cups?

  1. Joe
    What a clear and friendly explanation! Parishes should copy it for their bulletins (cum permissu). Except, maybe, the part about the bishop … and the smiley. But, hey, why not?


  2. Give credit to Joe? If I can’t explain something any further it’s more like “well this Joe Paprocki guy said it”…..but alas, I do give you credit in the end 😉

    Just kidding of course. I do hear that “dixie cup” comment sometimes (within my own family…ugh). Thanks Joe, as always for giving me a way to expain it. Our parish was going to have a retreat today for our 7th grade class but it was cancelled. Some schools in our district were closed Friday with possible Swine Flu cases and our DRE didn’t want to take any chances. Anyway, I had to call all of my parents Friday night to let them know and I ended up having nice conversations (only a few minutes) with a few parents about their kids and our class this year.

    I felt like I struck gold having this opportunity to talk to some parents like this! And all because of this swine flu….how ironic.

    Have a great week.

    • Greg, I’m glad you had this chance to talk to the parents. Nothing like taking advantage of the opportunity!

  3. How could we possibly use disposible cups for holy communion and throw away perhaps even a drop of the precious blood of Christ. That is unthinkable.

    • Of course, Hazel. I agree. I hope you read my whole post in which I explain why Catholics would never do this.

  4. Great post! There are LOTS of reasons not to do “shots for Jesus” (as a Lutheran pastor friend disdainfully calls it). My first answer to the question was like Hazel’s: Each cup would be left with drops of the Precious Blood. They would all need to be purified which is hardly practical. And the whole idea of putting the Eucharist in a “trashy” or ordinary vessel is improper and even loathsome. The sacred vessels are to be made of a precious material to suit their precious contents.

    But why not make the effort to purify a bunch of tiny golden cups in the name of preventing swine flu? Your answer is perfect.

    Also, this question is a great opportunity to explain that the Eucharist under either species or “appearance” nevertheless contains the entire Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. The sacrament is not dependent on the “accidents” or appearance of what is consumed (though proper matter must be used for the sacrament to be valid, no rice hosts or grape juice or whatnot). Even the tiniest fragment of a host or smallest drop from the Cup contains the whole Christ. I talked about this more in my post Top Three Questions About the Eucharist You Never Asked.

    I’m subscribing now! This looks like a great blog.

  5. I was interested to find this because the issue has just come up in the Church of England. I suggested using individual cups, but others have told me that this is not permitted. Perhaps this is for the same reasons that you outline above.

    I would find these arguments quite convincing (although based on rather different theological perspective from mine) if they did not apply equally to the use of a common loaf of bread for the Eucharist. Do you use separate wafers? If so, how do you justify doing this rather than breaking a single loaf?

    • Yes, Peter, we use separate wafers however there is a major difference here. In the liturgy, the bread (Body of Christ) that we eat is broken. This symbolizes how Jesus’ body was broken for us. So the priest holds up the large host and then breaks it, representing the symbolic breaking of all of the consecrated hosts we are about to receive. Occasionally, one “loaf” is used and the fraction rite consists of breaking it into enough pieces for everyone present. This can take a very long time and is not practical for the large crowds that often are receiving the Eucharist. Ideally, all of the hosts, included the celebrant’s host are to be on one paten until the fraction rite, and then separated into different vessels for distribution at multiple stations. When done properly, this expresses the idea of one bread, one body, broken for the many.

  6. What about a pouring chalice, as used in many non-Catholic liturgical churches? The chalice remains common, but the recipient has her/his own small cup (glass–washed in accordance with sacristy standards that apply to chalice, paten, etc.). This seems to maintain the expressive and formative unity, and avoids the very problematic issue of anything “disposable” related to the Eucharist.

    • Brian, thanks for your thoughts. According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the wine is to be poured into the chalice and other communion cups during the preparation of the gifts (or before Mass and then kept on the credence table until the presentation of gifts. After the wine has been consecrated, the Precious Blood is NOT to be poured from one vessel to another.

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