Take This Cup...

November 19, 2008


ChaliceAfter the Second Vatican Council paved the way for liturgical renewal, over time Eucharistic sharing from a common Cup has become more and more common. In many parishes the Cup is being offered on all Sundays and at daily Mass with well over half of the assembly members receiving from the common Cup. But, alas, in many parishes the Cup is seldom if ever offered and when it is offered, few participants take from it.

Truly, receiving the Host alone is receiving the whole Christ; this has been the Church’s position for many centuries. However, receiving only the Host bypasses the significant symbolism drinking from the Cup conveys. Let us look at some of that symbolism to come to a deeper appreciation of both the gift and challenge of receiving from the Cup.

Richer Symbolism

As the General Instruction of the Roman Missal states so clearly, “Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it is distributed under both kinds” (GIRM 2002 no. 281). This document goes on to mention two specific ways the sign is fuller: (1) “the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord” and (2) “the relationship between the Eucharistic banquet and the eschatological banquet in the Father’s Kingdom” is more apparent.

Communion from the cupNew Covenant in the Blood. In Old Testament times covenants were common and, indeed, God entered into a number of covenants with humanity—for example, with Adam (Gen 1:26-30), Noah (Gen 9:8-17), Abraham (Gen 15:4-6; 17:2-10). Most telling, however, is the one with Moses when the sign of the ratification of the covenant was the sprinkling of blood upon the people (Exod 24:8): “This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words of his.” This sprinkling of blood is a sign of shared life; the covenant is sealed with life. In Hebrew thought blood was the seat of life and, since God is the source of life, sprinkling with blood indicated a unique, covenantal relationship consisting of communion with God.

Both Matthew (Matt 26:28) and Mark (Mark 14:24) mention the Cup at the Last Supper in relation to covenant. But it is Luke (Luke 22:20) and Paul (1 Cor 11:25) who specifically mention a new covenant. Now it is no longer the blood of a sacrificed animal which seals the covenant, but the Blood of the divine Son. Through the Blood of Christ we now share uniquely in divine life itself, are raised to a new covenantal relationship with God as daughters and sons, and are already given a share in Christ’s risen life.

Communion from the Cup is an ongoing, tangible way we witness to immersing ourselves in the ratification of the new covenant in Christ’s Blood. It is a celebration of the gift of a unique and unprecedented relationship with God and our sharing in the very mission of Christ himself. Drinking from the Cup is an outward sign of our willingness to surrender ourselves—our very lives—as Jesus did for us.

CupsEschatological Banquet. In many cultures wine has long been associated with feasting, even in countries where wine is daily table fare. Its alcoholic content warms the body, brings joy to the heart, loosens the tongue for more intimate conversation and community. Drinking from the Cup is a way to remind us that Eucharist is a joyous Feast during which we are called to share at the Lord’s table, to “come, without paying and without cost, [to] drink wine . . . ” (Isa 55:1). Drinking from the Cup is a reminder that this is a messianic banquet, a Feast during which we already share in the eschatological abundance of heaven. Drinking from the cup reminds us that God offers us the fullness of life already and at the same time it is a pledge of the fullness of everlasting life to come. Drinking from the Cup helps us connect the abundance of this Eucharistic banquet with the God-gift abundance of the eschatological banquet (and they really are one banquet). It is already heaven on earth.

At the same time, we know there truly is a cost to drinking from the Cup and a most demanding challenge. So we really don’t drink “without cost.” In that act of receiving we unite ourselves with the Lord’s sacrifice in a most profound way and pledge to give ourselves over for others in the same total way that Jesus gave himself for us. The joy of feasting strengthens us for the demands of discipleship and promises us that God will nourish us to complete the mission entrusted to us by Christ. The cost of drinking from the Cup isn’t money, but our own life poured out for others, as Jesus’ life was poured out for us.

Take This Cup . . .

Priest presenting cupCommuning from the Cup is both a gift and a challenge. It is a gift because it is a most profound gesture of the new life and covenant that has been offered us in Christ. It is a challenge because drinking from the Cup is drinking from the well of Jesus’ self-giving, which urges us to give our own self for others. Perhaps this is why too many are reluctant to drink from the Cup—somehow they know its cost. Drinking from the Cup is a reminder of our new relationship with God, of the saving mission entrusted to us, of the life already shared now, and the promise of its fullness yet to come. But even more importantly, drinking from the Cup is a shared bond of life, a bond sealed in a new covenant of Blood poured out and expressed in love and fidelity.

With so much at stake, how can we pass the Cup by?

Joyce Ann Zimmerman, C.PP.S. is a Precious Blood sister from Dayton, Ohio, USA, and is the director of the Institute for Liturgical Ministry at Dayton.  She is a frequent facilitator of programs on liturgy and publishes extensively.  Her books include: The Ministry of Liturgical Environment (Collegeville Ministry Series) Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2004); Morning and Evening: A Parish Celebration (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1996); and Liturgy and Hermeneutics (American Essays in Liturgy) (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1998).

Photos by Mike Jensen, Minneapolis, MN


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