The second readings for the Easter season this year are taken from the letter of St. Peter. It is believed that he wrote it to the newly baptized about their new Christian lives. This week, we hear Peter tell them to “… conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct … with the precious blood of Christ.” We too are reminded of our ransoming when we attend Mass, especially when we receive Communion from the cup.
The use of the common cup was restored after Vatican II so that our Communion would be a clearer sign of the heavenly banquet to which Christ calls us. For when we dine together in life, we drink as well as eat. Drinking from a common cup is an ancient gesture found in many cultures used to solidify the close bond among those who shared it.
“Take this, all of you, and drink from it; this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.”
So as we drink from the cup we imitate the disciples and obey Christ’s command.
The cup is handed to us — given as a free gift to which we are not entitled, purchased by the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross. We are reminded of Christ’s question: “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” As we accept the cup we signify, “Yes, I accept the cup of life you have given me at this time in my life.” At times it is a cup filled with joy; at others it is a cup of sorrow.
Some people refrain from receiving the precious blood because they fear they will become sick. The CDC has reported that no outbreak of disease has been traced to people who shared Communion from the cup. The alcohol and substances called polyphenols contained in the wine kill the germs. The wiping and turning of the cup between communicants also lessens the chance that people of normal health will get sick.
Our rituals teach us about the love of Christ who poured out his precious blood for us and who commanded us to “take and drink” in his memory. As we share the cup, we prepare to live in our world, to share ourselves with others, even strangers, and to dine with those whom we may not call friends. It is how we are to be the body of Christ — by a life of sacrifice and self-giving, poured out for others.
Johnston is the former director of worship at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Manitowoc.