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Guidance on communion during swine flu pandemic

Thursday 23rd July 2009

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have written to Bishops in the Church of England recommending the suspension of the sharing of the chalice at communion.

The Archbishops' letter follows advice from the Department of Health not to share "common vessels" for food or drink.

For those who wish still to offer both bread and wine, the Archbishops have recommended use of "personal intinction by the presiding minister" allowing the priest to dip communion wafers in the chalice before handing them out to communicants.

The full text of the letter follows:

The Feast of St Mary Magdalene

22nd July 2009

Dear Colleague,

It now seems right to offer guidance at a national level about how the Church of England's worship might best take into account the interests of public health during the current phase of the swine flu pandemic. 

The Department of Health have recently advised us that "in a pandemic it makes good sense to take precautions to limit the spread of disease by not sharing common vessels for food and drink".  In the light of this advice, we recommend those presiding at Holy Communion suspend the administration of the chalice during this wave of pandemic flu. [1] For those who still wish to offer in both kinds, we recommend the practice whereby the presiding minister, whose hands should have been washed with the appropriate alcohol based rub before handling the elements and the vessels, personally intincts all wafers before placing them in the hands of communicants. This is a practice widely observed in Anglican churches throughout Africa. Communicants receiving in this way need to be confident that the clergy and all assistant ministers follow the relevant guidance on hygiene. 

The Bishop of Ripon & Leeds circulated substantial guidance, including a summary of the government's advice[2], with his letter of 23 June[3].  Many of you have already issued local guidance based upon its content.  We regard it as important that those presiding at Holy Communion are aware of this advice[4] and of that contained in this letter.  They should offer guidance to the congregation about appropriate precautions in receiving communion and exchanging the peace.  

We shall keep this advice under review and will ensure that the detailed guidance provided on the Church of England website[5] is kept up-to-date.  In the meantime, we wish to express our gratitude to you and those who share your ministry for the pastoral care and service offered at this time of national concern.

+Rowan Cantuar:                                +Sentamu Ebor:

[1] The administration of Holy Communion in the Church of England is principally governed by section 8 of the Sacrament Act 1547, which provides that

'... the... most blessed Sacrament be hereafter commonly delivered and ministered unto the people... under both the kinds, that is to say of bread and wine, except necessity otherwise require...'





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