This commentary has its beginning about 70 years ago. I was in the Navy, assigned to the USS LSM 314, an amphibious landing ship then in the Philippines. Our role included taking troops and equipment, heading onto the beach full speed, and discharging soldiers invading the area, attempting to take the territory from the Japanese. The task force was due to leave within a few hours. I found a Lutheran chaplain at the Army installation where we were loading, who agreed to hold a service of Holy Communion for members of our crew, and troops, who would like to participate. There was no wine aboard ship, and we substituted grapefruit juice. It was a meaning-full service; all of us, crewmembers and soldiers, were apprehensive of what the day would bring.
A few years later, back at Sewanee, I told of the incident as some of us students recalled our war experiences. A pretheological student, a real “Father Spike”, committed to propriety to the detriment of meaning, sniffed, “Of course, you realize that the service wasn’t valid. The Eucharist has to include wine.” I almost came unglued. It seemed to me that the Christ who changed water into wine for the wedding feast would have no problem with our grapefruit juice——- if He thought it was all that important.
This logically (?) brings us to customs and tradition in our Church. The history of which we are a part includes practices and customs that enrich our tradition, obviously to a greater degree among those who participate. A disappearing custom, surely, is the “chapel cap”, a wisp of cloth donned by female congregants who participated in the custom that they should wear a head covering when within the church. A custom, which I find very impressive, is genuflecting, and its more common variant, bowing ones head when walking in front of the altar cross. And the very vital, meaningful making the sign of the cross at appropriate moments during the service.
Such a custom, or tradition, is the practice of intinction, dipping the wafer into the wine in the chalice. To some extent, the practice (a) has been present for centuries, or (2) is recent, perhaps going back to 1870. The Biblical account of the Last Supper clearly describes a two-fold administration of the sacrament, each element with its own meaning. (The Eastern Orthodox breaks the bread into pieces, and the priest retrieves them with a spoon and administers the elements.) Historically, of course, a common cup was used, and the elements were given separately.
The commonly proposed justification for intinction is the possibility of transmission of infection with the use of the common chalice. Interestingly and importantly, several studies over many years have found no evidence of this. Metallic silver has a bactericidal quality. Wiping with a purificator, and contact with the metallic silver is very effective. And, surprisingly, careful studies find more challenging the dirt on fingers and under fingernails—which inevitably get dipped with the wine.
The Anglican tradition strongly favors the common cup, but the Church is sensitive to the needs and wants of us, who “profess and call ourselves Christians. “ Of supreme importance is our relationship to God, even with grapefruit juice.