29 July 2009

Swine Flu and the Chalice

Wise words from Pastor Esget (as usual).


Bryce P Wandrey said...

I think if the Archbishops of Canterbury and York were pressed they would agree that chances of catching swine flu from the chalice are not great. They probably know the same Harvard Journal of Medicine report that all of us do, and that being the combination of wine and noble metal eliminate 99% of germs in the wine. Maybe some are concerned about that 1% (the superman germ) that remains. Possibly they are simply making the recommandation so that, in these times of fear (since the UK is the country currently hardest hit by swine flu), people can go to communion without these kinds of worries (as unwarranted as they may or may not actually be). All in all, these are recommendations from the Archbishops. Most, if not all, parishes will follow these recommendations. We do trust that this sickness and fear will pass. We also trust that in the time being, whether we commune by intinction or by one kind, that God will still impart his grace to us in the Sacrament.

Jeremy Loesch said...

That was a good article from Pastor Esget. Thanks for sharing it Will. It's very hard to account for the fears of some people. I have my own fears about things that cause me to react in strange ways. Trying to get people to put away their fear of germs is very tricky and I just keep patiently explaining things.

Enjoyed your recent 'poll' on elevation and genuflecting. How about one on consuming the reliquae? I do.



Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Pr. Esget states that using individual cups is saying: "I am afraid of my brothers and sisters in Christ – or they should be afraid of me", and that such people approach the Lord's Altar with a "fearful attitude of bodily sickness."

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

What does this mean?--Answer.

We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.

As for my own practice, my family of nine virtually always sits in the front pew, and we are therefore the first to receive communion. I am either the very first, or among the very first, to receive communion. I still receive via an individual cup. Why? Not out of fear of contracting a disease. Rather, since I know that transmission of disease via a common drinking vessel is possible even before you realize you are sick, out of love for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ I do not want to expose them to any pathogens I might be unknowingly carrying. I do not try to talk common cup users in my parish into not using the common cup. They obviously are not fearful of contracting a disease and I do not believe my use of the individual cup risks causing them to think I am saying they should fear me or my germs. I do not approach the Lord's Altar with a fearful attitude of bodily sickness.

I am a dentist who is well educated with regard to the transmission of pathogens via the mouth. I do believe, on scientific grounds, that the use of a common drinking vessel is a vector for disease transmission. It is false to think that the alcohol in the wine or the silver in the chalice act as efficient disinfectants. Silver has no efficient disinfectant effect, and it takes a concentration of 70% ethanol ten minutes to adequately disinfect a surface. Even fortified wine does not begin to approach that concentration. Only 151 Rum and Lysol do, and remember it takes ten minutes. Wiping the chalice lip does reduce the bioburden, but it does not eliminate it either.

I do not wish to argue the science on your blog, but only mention these facts to point out that the motives of some, including myself, are not irrational phobias or unfounded "fears". Pr. Esget himself did not deny that it is possible to get sick from the common cup.

Christ took a common loaf and broke it. That fact is also included in the words of institution. The important symbolism of "one loaf" is also noted by Paul. The Sacrament is even referred to in Scripture as the "breaking of bread". Yet, for centuries we have used individual wafers that have never even been part of a loaf. Why? The reasons I have heard proffered could be characterized as "fears". However, I believe that would be an unkind characterization.

The fact that the Apostles drank from one cup should be of no more or less concern than the fact that they shared one loaf that Christ broke for them, yet I do not see an equal concern on the part of the clergy to re-institute the practice of breaking bread from a common loaf, shared by all.

The demand on the part of the Calvinists in the Prussian Union that the Lutherans had to break the bread in order to be faithful to Christ's institution caused the Lutherans to refuse to break the bread. Perhaps those who say that we must drink from a common chalice in order to be faithful to Christ's institution should be careful not to provide yet another reason for refusing to use a common cup.

In any case, it is best to explain everything in the kindest way. I have tried to do this here, but please forgive me if I have failed.

Dixie said...

If you don't mind a non-Lutheran weighing in...

While I didn't get a degree in Microbiology, I almost did--I ultimately switched to Chemisty. My employment for the last 20+ years involves the manufacture of sterile injectables...so I can confirm Dr. Heidenreich is fully correct about the "contact time" necessary to disinfect and the limitations of alcohol as a disinfectant. The gold-plated chalice, the alcohol...they are not proper disinfectants.

But if we are talking about the Blood of Christ...I don't think an H1N1 virus particle has a chance of survival as the Lord's Blood would be the ultimate disinfectant in both contact time and broad spectrum. That would be my take on it.

Not that the Body and Blood of Christ, the Holy Eucharist, can do no harm, for surely It can, but in a different way. It is a coal that burns the unworthy. So we pray:

O Lord my God, I know that I am not worthy or sufficient that Thou shouldest come under the roof of the house of my soul, for all is desolate and fallen, and Thou hast not with me a place fit to lay Thy head. But as from the highest heaven Thou didst humble Thyself for our sake, so now conform Thyself to my humility. And as Thou didst consent to lie in a cave and in a manger of dumb beasts, so also consent to lie in the manger of my unspiritual soul and to enter my defiled body. And as Thou didst not disdain to enter and dine with sinners in the house of Simon the Leper, so consent also to enter the house of my humble soul which is leprous and sinful. And as Thou didst not reject the woman, who was a harlot and a sinner like me, when she approached and touched Thee, so also be compassionate with me, a sinner, as I approach and touch Thee, and let the live coal of Thy most holy Body and precious Blood be for the sanctification and enlightenment and strengthening of my humble soul and body, for a relief from the burden of my many sins, for a protection from all diabolical practices, for a restraint and a check on my evil and wicked way of life, for the mortification of passions, for the keeping of Thy commandments, for an increase of Thy divine grace, and for the advancement of Thy Kingdom...

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Dixie.


Anonymous said...

Erich, you accuse Pr. Esget of bearing false witness and yet you point out that the motivation of your own practice is, "I still receive via an individual cup. Why? Not out of fear of contracting a disease. Rather, since I know that transmission of disease via a common drinking vessel is possible even before you realize you are sick, out of love for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ I do not want to expose them to any pathogens I might be unknowingly carrying." Your practice is still driven by a fear of germs or sickness, even if it is not a fear of you receiving them. If that is our main focus as we approach the Lord's Altar then we do not come in faith, but rather we come with fear or come acting upon the wisdom and learning of the world rather that in faith in our Lord's Words. He says take and drink this is My Blood for the forgiveness of your sins. He does not say take and drink this is (way overhyped) swine flu that is going to make all of you sick. "Do not fear, only believe" Mark 5:36

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Rev. Sorenson,

Certainly you understand the difference between fear and love.

Let me make this more clear for you in this instance.

I honestly do not fear germs, or sickness, or even death. However, the fact that I do not fear these does not mean I have no responsibility to preserve my own health and life and the health and life of my neighbor.

Were it just up to my own "feelings", I am the type of person who would take no personal precautions to protect myself. I am not a fearful person or a worry wart. For instance, before I was married, I never wore a seat belt. But as I took on the responsibility of being a husband and parent, wearing a seat belt suddenly became a part of my vocation. Not only do I wish to preserve my own health and life so that I may continue to provide and care for my wife and seven children; I also wish to set a good example to them so that their life and health is preserved, so as to be of service to others. This is simply a matter of vocation and love working themselves out with regard to the Fifth Commandment. There really is no fear on my part, I assure you.

If I mistakenly drink out of another person's glass at a party, I do not fear that I am going to get sick. Perhaps I will, but what is done is done, and it was not on purpose. If I get sick, or the person whose drink I drank out of gets anything I'm carrying, it certainly wasn't on purpose, and I am sure God will turn any such illness to good purpose. I try to be careful not to do such things, but not out of fear. Rather, I do so out of love and concern for others.

I hope that helps you to understand.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

I've been watching the back/forth conversation on this on several blogs and have appreciated the opportunity to reflect on these issues.

The conversation apparently began when a pious Christian laywoman inquired about how the church is responding to the threat of a flue pandemic, noting that her husband had contracted the H1N1 flu virus.

She was, nearly literally, pounced by an over-zealous pastor who basically excoriated any and all who would dare even to raise such a consideration.

Pr. Esget takes a more thoughtful approach.

Dr. Heidenreich states the reality of the fact that the chalice is not some kind of magic formula. The old mythology of noble metals and germs is well shattered by his factual evidence.

I note however he is excoriated for being fearful, in some way, and people are sent packing if they hesitate to commune from a common cup with others.

I believe that in the conversation we may be forgetting that it is not the chalice that is the earthly element in the Supper, but the wine which is in the chalice.

While I love, appreciate and make use of the chalice at every opportunity, I think that berating people, no matter how gently, for not wishing to use it when individual cups are an option is an error and gives a very wrong impression.

I do not believe it is unreasonable for people to be concerned about drinking from a common cup when their is a very real and present danger of a deadly contagion. And I think it is wrong to send them packing for a guilt trip if they do.

Anonymous said...

That is precisely my concern. Not chalice vs individual cups (I don't think we will ever get rid of individual cups, so be it), but what it is that we are receiving in the Lord's Supper. The discussion of whether we will get sick or not from the chalice, or individual cups for that matter, is distracting us from what is actually happening. Namely, we are receiving the very Body and Blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins. That is what He promises and in faith we thus commune. There has been a lot of fear mongering in the media about swine flu/h1n1/whatever scary name they give it next and it is now starting to find its way into the church. I think people have enough common sense to stay home if they are too sick to be out, we all know that. But when we are approaching the Lord's altar and receiving His gifts it is more important as Pastor Esget states that, "our real concern should be a good preparation and pious meditation on what the Lord’s gifts in His Supper are." I did not intend to fuel the chalice vs individual cup, but that our focus and concern should be upon the Words of our Lord and what He gives in the Lord's Supper, not what the odds or possibilities are that our neighbor could get us sick as we partake of the Lord's good and gracious gifts.

Boaz said...

I don't quite get the argument here. Nobody else here seems to be fearful, but I do fear getting swine flu, especially for my children's sake. But by using the individual cup, I'm not thinking at all about disease when I approach the altar. If I was using the common cup, my distracted and sinful brain is thinking a lot more about all the mouths that were on it before me. My motivation is both to avoid disease and to avoid distracting myself with fears of disease. Does that motivation make my communing a sin?

There are two separate issues: 1) do we have a scientific basis to fear infection from the common cup; 2) if so, is it sin to avoid the common cup because of that fear?

I think 1 is obviously yes, but that's been discussed.

The real issue is number 2. I'm having a hard time seeing how using individual cups to avoid disease could be sinful. If Jesus commanded that the blood be taken and drank from one cup, then we all would do that regardless of risk; and using individual cups would make the institution ineffective. Nobody thinks that, do they?

Or is there some middle category, so that using individual cups is fully effective, and using them to avoid disease is not a sin, but somehow less good? If so, I don't understand the category, as I've always thought if something is not sin, it is part of Christian freedom to decide free of guilt.

Anonymous said...

Using individual glasses (I hope they are glass, at least.) is not sinful, but it may be deluding yourself as to cleanliness.

Unless the person putting them in the trays and filling them is using gloves (and I have yet to see that in the sacristy) those little things have more fingerprints than the chalice. (We do use gloves with the chalice to keep fingerprints off the metal!)
[A sneeze or two would only complicate things; let's not go there.]
The Pastor is at least wiping the chalice between serving. (I'll give you that some are more skilful at that than others.)
All in all, I'll trust the chalice.


mlorfeld said...

Very good point... and as one who has administered the individual cups, I can assure you that many are touched/brushed by a number of hands as they are plucked out of the tray... hands that quite possibly shook every hand (if not directly by extension) in the congregation, thus accumulating a host of germs.

Not to be crass either, but when it comes to the chalice, it is not as if one slobbers all over the thing, thus the germ factor is minimal compared to what is on one's hands.