To intinct, or not to intinct?

Mike Crowl’s comment on the previous post led me to Richard Giles’ somewhat controversial book Creating Uncommon Worship: Transforming the Liturgy of the Eucharist wherein Giles had this to say:

In every method of sharing communion there lurks a gremlin that needs to be named, and the name of the gremlin is intinction. This is an antisocial habit, which smacks of fear, arrogance and lack of faith, symptomatic of our not thinking what we are doing. It is a problem that needs to be addressed by the community, led by the pastor and his/her leadership team.

Although of ancient provenance (first springing out of the woodwork in the seventh century) it has been repeatedly condemned and outlawed by the Church. Fear of spilling the Precious Blood of Christ, or of catching the plague, may have made sense in the Middle Ages, but surely not today. It is a particularly grave misdemeanour for Anglicans and Lutherans, whose spiritual ancestors fought so hard in the Reformation period for the restoration to the people of communion in both kinds. How ironic if today we were to turn up our noses at the chalice!

Intinction poses two problems, theological and practical:

1.     The common cup has always been a potent symbol of the bond between disciple and Lord. The passing of the cup is a dramatic feature of the gospel accounts of the Last Supper, and those who would be close to him are challenged, as were James and John, with the question, ‘Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?’ (Mark 10.38)

2.     It leaves such a mess for those who come after, especially so in the era of real bread, when those who instinct reduce the contents of the chalice to a soup.

The remedy lies in a renewed education of congregations about the history of the sacrament, the privilege of the common cup, and its safety on health grounds. We also need a few more pastors who will slap wrists. (pp. 200–1)

An undercooked theology? An over-reaction? Or both?


  1. The Mark 10 point is interesting and something that perhaps could be brought out more in our communion liturgies.

    However, from a Reformed perspective, I think the author is missing the very point of the ordinariness of the elements. By insisting upon a common cup as the only valid means of receiving the sacrament (may be an overstatement of the author’s point), the author is assuming two things: First that a piece of bread/wafer and cup of wine is somehow _the_ authentic means of sharing the Eucharist (no mention of the table fellowship that the sacrament was embedded in by Jesus); second that the contents of the cup is fortified wine of some description (perhaps the source of Giles’ somewhat apocryphal aside about health concerns). With a Calvinist rather than a Lutheran understanding of the sacrament, then the elements themselves are instrumental. The grace that inheres to them through the mystery of the presence of Christ could transform any ordinary food. Thus a coke and chips communion is equally acceptable as a chalice and wafer one. Perhaps Giles’ concern here requires the context of a Lutheran/Anglican sacramental theology to carry weight.

    In addition to this, there seems to be an assumption that the norm of the congregation in mind is to share the cup, and only a few individuals are choosing to intinct, thus excluding themselves from the fellowship of the cup. I’d thoroughly agree that this makes a mockery of the sacrament, and is an insult to the host of the table – to Christ. A statement that “I will only receive your hospitality and grace on my own terms”. However, I don’t see that intinction as a _communal_ form of serving is problematic in its own right.


  2. Firstly, that’s one creepy book cover.
    Second, “The grace that inheres to [the elements] through the mystery of the presence of Christ could transform any ordinary food. Thus a coke and chips communion is equally acceptable as a chalice and wafer one.” I’m happy to affirm the first sentence, but the “thus” of the second seems to me to trade upon idealist assumptions.


  3. Perhaps “can be” would be more appropriate than “is” in this sentence:

    “Thus a coke and chips communion is equally acceptable as a chalice and wafer one.”


  4. The author is fascinatingly inconsistent in his invocation of church tradition. In some places in the work, he jettisons church practice of millenia because he says so, and in places like this one he asserts that intinction “has been repeatedly condemned and outlawed by the Church.” IMHO, this is undercooked theology delivered via a fair dose of hyperbole. A practice dating back to the 7th century has got legs, and the burden of persuasion properly lies with the party seeking to discard such a long-lived practice.


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