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“All of you, drink it.”

January 18th, 2013 · 12 Comments

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.

Tags: Bible · Liturgy · Theology

12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Laurel Massé MonsterID Icon Laurel Massé // Jan 19, 2013 at 9:23

    In complete agreement with everything you are saying, especially about the aspect of obedience, which I had not thought about in this context. Eat this, drink that – it’s such a simple command.

    To add to what you said – Self-intinction is unhygienic because you (the self) have been holding the bread in your hand. Whatever is on your hands – did you sneeze earlier? did you cough? How about all the people with whom you exchanged a handshake during the Peace, had they coughed? Did you touch the altar rail, the church door, the hymnal? – is on the bread you are now dunking the bread in common cup. And most folks manage to get their fingers into the wine.

    Lest anyone reading this think I am cavalier about germs, let me assure you that very few folks worry more about picking up respiratory infections than this singer whose ability to pay rent and buy food rests on her ability to sing, because, alas, nobody pays her to not sing.

    And thanks for saying out loud that those wafers are “barely recognizable as bread”.

    Love your blogs!

    Blessings, Laurel

  • 2 Ed Eubanks MonsterID Icon Ed Eubanks // Jan 19, 2013 at 13:51

    Good thoughts here, John Allen — and some helpful fodder for the discussion.

    I dislike “intinction” (of any sort, self- or otherwise) for some of the reasons you’ve listed, but mostly because it leaves the participant with soggy bread that tastes yucky. In my opinion.

    A couple of points of distinction that I think are needed in response to your assertions. First, and of less importance, I actually know of several churches using intinction (or technically self-intinction) with actual bread, not the stryrofoam-ish wafers that you mentioned. Indeed, all of the churches that I KNOW are practicing any sort of intinction use actual bread.

    More substantially: you said in your closing paragraph that the failure of this amendment to pass amounts to the PCA “embracing” the practice of intinction/self-intinction. This is incorrect. A position of non-prohibition does not amount to embrace. I take the direction of this vote for what it seems to be, based on the many conversations I’ve heard about it: a refusal to single out one particular part of the sacrament’s celebration and specify particular practices, while leaving all of the others ambiguous. (What about gathering at table? Offering two separate prayers of thanks? Requiring a single common loaf? Using actual wine instead of grape juice? All are matters of mode, our variations of which are likely just as “unbiblical” as intinction, yet still valid.) To say the PCA has now “embraced” intinction of any kind is an equivocation.

    And I might add, some of your points actually support the intinction side, at least in this debate. The loudest argument I’ve heard offered FOR the amendment, apart from the both-sides-of-our-mouth regulative principle arguments, is “now we’re making our sacrament into a mass”. Yet you’ve demonstrated that intinction, as practiced in those few PCA churches that do it, is done in a way that would be forbidden in Roman Catholic circles.

    Thanks for the thoughts! Great to hear from you — I wish you were blogging more.

  • 3 RevJATB MonsterID Icon RevJATB // Jan 19, 2013 at 16:09

    I should have worded the end of that better. When I talked about embracing intinction, I should have said that there are congregations within that denomination that have embraced intinction. Given that every minister, in every PCA congregation, takes the same vow regarding inerrancy, it strikes me as odd that ANY churches within an inerrantist denomination would embrace intinction.

    As far as the argument being made against self-intinction because it is “too Catholic,” SMH. Just further evidence not only of the liturgical cluelessness, but of people being satisfied with being clueless.

    So, they won’t make a judgment about ONE Communion practice because they won’t also at the same time make a judgment about EVERY Communion practice? I don’t follow that. Better to light one small candle …

    I wish I were blogging more often. I’ve been thinking about what to do with this blog: it may soon split in two, with one being a “pastor’s blog” and the other just being whatever I feel like writing.

  • 4 RevJATB MonsterID Icon RevJATB // Jan 19, 2013 at 16:13

    I’m glad to see I still have at least two readers! I need to write more often: that’s for sure. I am trying to balance the desire to express unity in the Eucharist with legitimate health concerns, especially during flu season! I really, really like using a common loaf of bread, but a lot of people have concerns, when the bread is passed along and everyone tears off a piece, about germs. This next Eucharist, I will still have one loaf of Eucharistic bread that I break (and by “loaf” I mean one that is 6″ in diameter to fit on our paten) and other pieces of bread that are already cut into squares in the trays. Everyone tearing off a piece of bread is my personal preference, but if it interferes with others participating, I would rather provide already-cut bread than have people refrain from partaking.

  • 5 RevJATB MonsterID Icon RevJATB // Jan 19, 2013 at 16:15

    Ed, “support” the intinction side? Just because I’ve destroyed the specious “intinction is too Catholic argument”? I don’t think so. I still cannot come up with one good reason why a PCA church would adopt this practice, and I have STILL yet to hear anyone offer a reason why self-intinction would be a good thing.

  • 6 Paul Elliott MonsterID Icon Paul Elliott // Jan 20, 2013 at 23:17

    This is a little peripheral to the current discussion, but it is my understanding that the reason Protestants served the wine in individual cups, as opposed to the “common cup,” came about as a result of the longstanding Roman Catholic practice of withholding the cup from those it deemed “unworthy” or who had not been to confession–none of the church’s business.

    Protestants rankled under that, as well as other practices, of the Roman Catholics which they considered unscriptural.

    The individual cup left Communion up to the individual, as it should be, rather than the church.

    Thank you for your careful thought. Indeed, the poor hygiene of many common practices of Communion is appalling!

  • 7 HanB MonsterID Icon HanB // Jan 21, 2013 at 12:38

    How about we focus on those things that Jesus weeps over like human trafficking. Why do the leaders in the church choose these expendable arguments of pen and paper religion to waste their time on. The time of the return will come… Will intinction matter then? Or will the love of Christ presented through love and rescue from the hands of evil be of more relevance.

  • 8 RevJATB MonsterID Icon RevJATB // Jan 21, 2013 at 19:26

    HanB, I wasn’t aware that it was an either/or scenario. Rescuing those who are in trouble is important. Evangelism is important. So are worship and catechesis. The Sacraments are among the ordinary means of grace: that is, the outward and ordinary means God uses to communicate to us the benefits of the redemption purchased by Christ. So they are important, and since Jesus said “Do this,” then doing them according to his institution and command are important too. That does not negate the importance of all the other aspects of Christian living, including works of mercy.

  • 9 RevJATB MonsterID Icon RevJATB // Jan 21, 2013 at 19:29

    In the Great Commission, we read that when the disciples saw Jesus, they worshiped him. Then Jesus commissioned them to 1) make disciples, 2) enfold those disciples into the church (baptism), and teach them to observe all that Christ has commanded (catechesis). Presumably the Lord’s Supper is among those “all things I have commanded you.” Yes, so is “love one another as I have loved you.”

  • 10 Jann MonsterID Icon Jann // Jan 21, 2013 at 21:07

    I understand the importance of taking the sacraments. I’m, personally, tired of the relentless arguments between church leaders about those things that shouldn’t matter so much, like how we put the bread and wine into our mouths. As a young person, I know it is unattractive for my humanitarian-minded generation to see these pompous narrow-minded arguments taking so much of Christian leaders time and efforts instead of things that matter. Does it REALLY matter? That’s my issue.

  • 11 Ben Bowden MonsterID Icon Ben Bowden // Jan 22, 2013 at 12:20

    Mr. Eubanks, so Roe v. Wade does not embrace abortion? Of course it does.

  • 12 RevJATB MonsterID Icon RevJATB // Feb 22, 2013 at 21:07

    If the sacrament is to be done “according to Christ’s institution and command,” then it does matter “how we put bread in our mouths.” It does matter if we use bread and wine rather than potato chips and Coke. As a Minister of Word and Sacrament, I have a responsibility, not just to my congregation but to my God, to administer those Sacraments rightly. Is that pompous or narrow minded? I hope not.

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