Common Cup vs. Individual Cups
In the Words of Institution, we hear, “In the same way also [Jesus] took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying: ‘Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:27-28; Mark 14:23-24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25). The text seems to indicate that all of the disciples drank from a common cup, and historically, churches generally distributed the wine for the Lord’s Supper using a single chalice. Larger congregations would sometimes use multiple chalices to accommodate more people. The use of a common cup certainly carries the symbolism of the unity and community we share at Communion.
Due to concerns regarding the spread of disease, some American churches began using individual cups in the 1890’s. Since Scripture does not explicitly command the use of a common cup, using individual cups is a perfectly acceptable practice. Like many congregations, Faith Lutheran Church offers both options. The individual cups are offered first so that the Elder with the common cup knows to offer it to anybody not holding an individual cup (so if you have an individual cup, be sure to keep it visible). When taking the common cup, holding the base of the chalice helps guide and tilt the chalice appropriately.
Several factors help minimize the spread of disease. At Faith, we use a silver chalice, which churches have used for centuries due to its antimicrobial properties. Due to its antibacterial qualities, silver is also used in the medical field. The alcohol in the wine also helps eliminate bacteria. Basic practices while administering the common cup also help, such as rotating the chalice and wiping both the inside and the outside of the rim of the chalice with a clean surface of the purificator (the white cloth). Since none of these factors are 100% effective, somebody who is knowingly sick is encouraged to use an individual cup. However, studies have never identified the use of the common cup as a significant contributor to the spread of disease.
Regardless of the various Communion practices--Jesus gives His very blood in, with, and under the wine; as Paul emphasizes in 1 Corinthians 10:16, “Is not the cup of blessing that we bless a participation in the blood of Christ?” Through the blood of Christ, we have forgiveness, life, and salvation.