It seems that the Presbyterian Church in America, one of the most conservative Presbyterian denominations, has defeated a change to its Directory for Worship that would have prohibited the practice of intinction. I find this a little surprising, given the PCA’s founding as a denomination dedicated to biblical inerrancy. After all, in instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus took the cup of wine and said, “All of you, drink of it,” not “All of you, dip of it.”
Before I continue, allow me to clarify two things:
1. The denomination in which I am a minister, the Presbyterian Church (USA), does allow intinction, and it is practiced rather widely. I, however, am not personally in favor of the practice, for reasons which will be explained here.
2. Neither the PCA nor the PC(USA) practices actual intinction: instead, what we are talking about is a kind of “self-intinction” where the communicant takes the wafer and dips it in the chalice for himself or herself. True intinction involves the celebrant dipping the wafer in the chalice and placing it on the communicant’s tongue. “Self-intinction” is prohibited in the Roman Catholic Church, as well as in many Anglican dioceses and in Orthodox churches.
I don’t think intinction is a good idea for a number of reasons:
1. It strikes me as being somewhere between eccentric and rebellious. Let me explain: imagine you are a guest at our home for a Passover Seder. Toward the end of the Seder, the children search for the hidden Afikomen (a piece of matzo that was wrapped in a white cloth and hidden away earlier). The child who finds it brings it to me. I unwrap it, take it in my hands, and say the traditional blessing for the bread: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” I then break off approximately olive-sized pieces of this piece of matzo, giving a piece to each person around the table, and I tell everyone to eat it. All the guests take their piece of the Afikomen and eat it, except you. You instead push yours aside. After eating the Afikomen, we say the Barech (grace after meals). Then I pick up the cup of wine, which is the Third Cup or the Cup of Blessing, and I say the traditional blessing for the wine: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.” I then ask everyone to drink the contents of their cups of wine while reclining to the left. Everyone around the table does so, except you. Instead of drinking your wine, you take the piece of the Afikomen that you didn’t eat when everyone else did, and you dip it in your cup and eat the now wine-coated piece of matzo.
Now, did you participate in the Tzafun (the eating of the Afikomen)? No. Did you participate in the drinking of the Third Cup of Wine, the Cup of Blessing? No. You did your own thing. Why? A more charitable reading of your actions would be that you are just a little “out there.” On the other hand, maybe you’re just a rebel and aren’t going to let anyone tell you what to do, even in the context of something like a Seder.
Now, Jesus took the matzo and said “Eat it,” then after the meal he took the Cup of Blessing and said “All of you, drink it.” Christians throughout the centuries, and all around the world, have done just that: they’ve eaten the bread and they’ve drunk the wine. Then someone decided–why?–to dip the bread in the wine, which is not really following either one of the instructions of the Host of this meal. He says to eat it, and we don’t. He says to drink the wine, and instead we take the bread that we didn’t eat when he said to eat it, dip it in the wine, and then eat the wine-coated bread, which is not the same as eating the bread and then drinking the wine. Why? Just to be different?
2. Those who are practicing intinction may be doing so in an effort to provide the symbolism of the common cup while at the same time trying to mollify the more squeamish in their midst who wouldn’t want to drink from a common cup. Mission not accomplished: self-intinction is the most unhygienic means of distributing Communion: more so than drinking from the common cup. I Corinthians 10 puts more emphasis one one loaf than one cup, anyway: “Because there is one loaf, we, many as we are, are one body, for it is one loaf of which we all partake.” Churches that practice self-intinction rarely, if ever, use a single loaf of bread: they use wafers, which are every bit as individualistic as the “wee cuppees” which they deem inferior to the common cup. Furthermore, those wafers are barely recognizable as bread.
3. If the trend of self-intinction comes from a desire for greater catholicity; i.e., if there is an idea out there that “the Episcopalians and Catholics do it this way,” they don’t, as has already been noted. There are some Catholic parishes where communicants do this and the priests don’t stop them, but it is against church law. Some Episcopal bishops allow intinction but for the most part in the Anglican Communion it is either disallowed or at least discouraged.
4. If there is a desire that people come forward for Communion rather than passing the bread and wine among the congregation (as is the practice of most Presbyterian congregations), why not just drink from the common cup? That is a question I have been asking ever since I heard people in the PCA talking about this. Why not just drink from the common cup? If it’s the “ick” factor, as I mentioned above, self-intinction is less hygienic than drinking from the common cup, not more hygienic. If someone has a real problem with the common cup, they can commune in one kind (bread only). Or you can use the individual cups. Back to the Seder: everyone has his or her own cup of wine as a part of the place setting: when we say we all drink of the First Cup, or the Second Cup, etc., that does not mean that we literally must share a single cup. “Join me for a drink” doesn’t mean we have to share a glass. Individual cups do not necessarily have to take away from our oneness in sharing in the wine.
Theologically, practically, symbolically, logistically, hygienically, liturgically: I cannot think of a good reason for PCA churches adopting intinction. And again, it is surprising that a denomination which requires its ministers and elders to confess a belief in biblical inerrancy would embrace a practice which doesn’t seem to me to square with an inerrantist view.