On Individual Cups


The use of individual cups for the Distribution of our Lord's Sacred Blood during the Holy Supper is a late nineteenth century innovation introduced by those within the Reformed branch of Christendom for hygienic concerns. When this practice was first seriously considered by the LCMS in the mid-twentieth century, many of our pastors and theologians spoke out against it, citing many legitmate reasons why we should avoid adopting this practice. Unfortunately, over time, their voices were drowned out by popular demand and this practice has slowly become widely accepted in our synod.

This is unfortunate, because the chalice (common cup) is the traditional vessel used to distribute the Lord's Blood, for it more closely follows His mandate and best symbolizes the communion (common unity, or one-ness) we share at His altar. This is not about the validity of the Sacrament, for it is the Word of our Lord Jesus Christ that makes the Sacrament the Sacrament. He says, "This is My Body," and it is. He says, "This is My Blood," and it is. Thus, His Blood is Present, Distributed, and Received, regardless of the vessel(s) used. But, it does not follow from this that how we distribute the Sacrament, including which vessel(s) we use, is unimportant. We could consecrate trays of individual cups and then have them passed around the pews so that congregants could remain comfortably seated while receiving the Sacrament, but that doesn't mean we should do so. When discussing practices like this, what we're talking about is what is best, and when it comes to Distributing our Lord's Sacred Blood, the best (not the only) practice for those who believe, teach, and confess that what we receive in the Holy Sacrament is the very Blood of our Lord is the use of the chalice (common cup). Even our current Altar Guild Manual - LSB Edition agrees with this, noting that the preferred (best) practice is the use of the chalice. It goes on to state that, if individual cups must be used, they should be glass and not plastic, throw-away cups, recognizing that the vessel(s) we use should be reverent and dignified, given that we're dealing here with the very Blood of our Lord Jesus.  

Here at Peace, the use of individual cups was introduced in the mid-1980s when there were still many unknowns concerning the AIDS virus, which was at its height. Indeed, Peace was among a great many LCMS congregations that introduced the use of individual cups at that time. While the practice of using individual cups was already found in congregations scattered throughout the LCMS, it was at this time that the practice really became widespread. One can certainly understand the concerns many had back then, but those concerns proved to be unfounded, as it was learned that you cannot contract the AIDS virus simply by drinking after someone (it is not transmitted via saliva). Still, the practice of using individual cups stuck in many places, including here at Peace. Once a practice like this is introduced, even after the reason for introducing it proves unwarranted, it often becomes entrenched. Soon, other reasons, which have nothing to do with the original reason for the practice's introduction, are created to justify the continuation of the practice. Such is life in the Church Militant. But, this does not mean that reforming such practices is impossible. It can be done. It may take lots of time and tons of patience and years of catechesis (teaching), but it can be done.

At Peace, we began reforming our Communion practice back in 2006. This was done gradually and was accompanied by deliberate catechesis and a plethora of open discussion. The only thing we changed initially was the way in which our altar guild handled the used, plastic individual cups after the Divine Service. Rather than throwing them away as they had been doing, they were taught and trained to cleanse them in a reverent manner before discarding them, since they contained remnants of our Lord's Blood in them. Then, we spent over a year and a half discussing how we could reform our practice further to improve upon the reverence our Lord's Sacred Blood most surely deserves. Eventually, in the fall of 2007, we arrived upon a practice that had us using a pouring chalice and making the switch from plastic individual cups to individual glasses. The individual glasses were filled from the pouring chalice after the Consecration, so that all who received from the individual glasses were technically receiving from the same chalice from which the majority drank. The individual glasses were placed right back into the tray by those who received from them (previous to our reform, those who partook from the plastic individual cups would take them away from the altar and place them in a basket that was located in the front pew). After all had received, whatever remained was consumed by the pastor at the altar and the vessels, including the individual glasses that had been used, were reverently cleansed at the same time. Thus, we retained the use of individual glasses, but greatly improved upon our practice in using them.

The practice described above remained in effect for five years. Over time, those who received from the individual glasses began making the switch to the chalice on their own until, in the fall of 2012, there were none who remained using them. It was then that we became a chalice-only congregation again, finally returning to the practice that existed in our congregation for its first twenty-five years of existence, and that had existed in the whole church catholic until the late nineteenth century. An added blessing to this was our ability to gift another congregation with the pouring chalice we had used in our reform, so that they could improve upon their practice, as we had done. We were also able to gift still another congregation with our individual glasses, so that they could make the switch from using plastic to glass as an initial reform to their Communion practice. Finally, we were able to purchase a beautiful new chalice from which all the saints at Peace are blessed to receive our Lord's Sacred Blood for the forgiveness of their sins and strengthening of their faith. The Lord is good! He does all things well.    

For more information on this topic, the following papers are provided for your perusal and study:

The Common Cup or Individual Cups:  Does it Matter? - Rev. Thomas C. Messer

The Chalice Reconsidered - Rev. Marcus T. Zill