To Sip or Dip


Dear Friends,

I have been asked by the Worship Action Group to look into the different modes of receiving the wine at Holy Communion. I have done some extensive research (thank you Google!)

The normative ‘approved’ method of receiving communion in the Church of England is to sip from a common cup. I understand that there are many reasons for people dipping the bread rather than sipping from the cup – ranging from desire not to share lipstick to a desire not to share or catch an infection.

On the question of infection the combination of the alcohol in the wine, the silver of the chalice and the wiping of the chalice has been shown to remove 90% of all bacteria when sipping from the cup. The level of risk is very low. 



However the practice of dipping has been shown to raise the chance of infection:
“Fingers, generally, carry a higher level of contamination than lips, so bread handled by an infected person and then dipped into a common cup will carry a risk of contaminating the wine. Similarly, fingers may dip into the wine.” (Administration of Holy Communion in a Flu Pandemic 23 June 2009)
It is worth noting that it is the handling of the bread that can be a source of infection rather than the accidental dipping of fingers.

The same report makes recommendations for those who are concerned about catching or passing on an infection. These recommendations go back to the time of the Plague!
“We recommend those presiding at Holy Communion suspend the administration of the chalice during this wave of pandemic flu.”
Following the swine flu pandemic, a number of churches such as York Minster banned the practice of dipping, in part because of health concerns and in part because it excludes Coeliacs from the wine. This is an autoimmune disorder that occurs in 1/100 people where the ingestion of even a small amount of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.

I would rather offer the advice that if you have a serious infection please do not dip the bread in the wine as this increases the chances of sharing that infection with others. Equally, if you have a low immune system or are concerned about flu, there is no significant difference in risk between dipping and sipping. The Church of England considers receiving just the bread as the fullness of the sacrament, and I recommend that you follow these national guidelines for yours and others wellbeing.

Theologically however the ideal is to share as much as possible from one bread and to drink from one cup. Occasionally I have begun to use larger wafers as they are easier to break and share than other flatbreads or leavened breads (as used by the Easter Orthodox Churches). On some special occasions such as harvest, we have used bread baked by members of the congregation. As always the ministry team and worship group would be pleased to hear your thoughts.

Much love,

Fr. Eddie

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