Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Why Drink from the Cup?

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Why Drink from the Cup?

Article excerpt

This question continues to be asked, reflecting an uneasiness for some laypeople about resuming a practice unknown in the Roman Catholic Church for more than 600 years. In the church's first thousand years, Communion under a single species occurred only as a pastoral exception for infants, the sick, and the dying. The gradual reserving of the cup to ordained clergy early in the second millennium was to safeguard against spills and counteract the erroneous view that the laity needed both species to receive the whole Christ.

Today's restored opportunity to receive the sacramental Blood as well as Body of Christ lets us equally honor two invitations: "Eat my Body. Drink my Blood." Receiving from the cup is a heightened liturgical experience of sacrifice, covenant, unity, and sacred banquet.

In the gospels, drinking from the cup is a sign of courageous discipleship. "Can you drink the cup that I will drink?" Jesus challenges. In the Garden of Gethsemane the same image expresses the ordeal awaiting Jesus. Not surprisingly, then, Communion from the cup implied for the early Christians an openness to martyrdom, a willingness to lay down one's life.

If the Eucharist is the renewal of our covenant relationship, it is the cup that explicitly conveys this. In biblical accounts of the first Eucharist, and in our recollection at every Mass, each invitation to the chalice includes a reference to covenant. Our sacramental participation in the new covenant is most clearly expressed by sharing in the cup because--as Hebrews 9 reminds us--blood is a central sign of covenant.

In the earliest generations of the church, the "breaking of the bread" suggested oneness because communicants shared a single loaf. Although separate wafers have clearly weakened that image, the shared cup resonates today with comparable implications. In our world, drinking from the same vessel is a dramatic expression of intimacy and connection--a rare practice even at a family table, a powerful statement in liturgy. …

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