Can the coronavirus be transmitted by the Communion Chalice?

Hilbert Morales | EL OBSERVADOR
Photo Credit: Unsplash

This past Sunday, a parishioner asked during the forum following the Sunday 10 AM church service: Can the coronavirus be transmitted to cummunicants by the Blessed Wince Chalice? The simple direct answer is Not very likely if the wine chalice’s surface is made of gold or silver. Both gold and silver have microbial killing actions.

This past March 1, 2020 Sunday’s discussion of our practices around reception of the Eucharist. I want to be both clear and thorough around this topic, and so I am breaking it down into manageable pieces (I hope!).

This is simply to re-state what Fr. Terry Gleeson said during Sunday’s Forum. If you desire to receive Holy Communion as wine, the healthiest option by far is to drink directly from the common cup (i.e., the Chalice).

Fr David Sibley, a scientist before ordination, has written that peer reviewed studies and Centers for Disease Control guidance since the 1980s have consistently shown that “no documented transmission of any infectious disease has ever been traced to the use of a common communion cup” and “the risk for infectious disease transmission by a common communion cup is very low, and appropriate safeguards–that is, wiping the interior and exterior rim between communicants, use of care to rotate the cloth during use, and use of a clean cloth for each service – would further diminish this risk.” American Journal of Infection Control (Vol. 26, No. 5, 1998). 

As we noted on Sunday, the higher-than-usual alcohol content of sacramental wine and the antibacterial action of the chalice silver or gold surface, combined with the above precautions, render this a reliably safe method of communicating.

The same cannot be said, however, for “self-intinction” – that is, individuals dipping the consecrated host into the chalice’s wine themselves. Although this is what we all have done automatically when we have a cold. The host resting on one hand – particularly after the exchange of peace – and then being dipped into the chalice, heightens the risk that some contamination of the cup will occur.

What appears to be the most hygienic method can, in fact, be the least, and as Fr David notes, “any experienced Eucharistic Minister or clergy person will tell you, it is a common occurrence, when people intinct the host, or their fingers to touch either the consecrated wine or the side of the chalice. This is an addition to, in fact, less sanitary than drinking in the first place. We can make sure our Eucharistic Ministers and clergy wash their hands, but we can’t do the same for the congregation.”

As noted yesterday, long standing Anglican practice and good theology, as well as our own Book of Common Prayer, impel us to offer the common cup to all those who wish to receive from it. They do not demand that anyone receive from the cup, nor do they speak of intinction.

I offer the above for your continued reflection and discernment.

Historic experience has continued to be non-infectious. This is important these days when mainstream media is emphasizing these coronavirus deaths. The reality is that the common flu virus is responsible for about 12,000 deaths per year worldwide, a fact which elicits no mainstream media focused commentary.

If one does what is necessary to sustain good health, practice coughing and sneezing into the crook of your elbow; and avoids overcrowded room contact with others, etc., the likelihood of contacting this coronavirus is negligible during this flu & cold winter season.

Just isolate yourself if you acquire an infectious flu disease and use discretion and common sense to minimize its spread to others. That means getting enough sleep (at least 7 hours for adults; more for kids) and a balanced diet.

Remember that your personal immune system is always doing its best to keep you healthy and hearty.