The Cup and the Dead

November is a special time to pray for the dead. As we commend them to God’s mercy, we ourselves look forward to the coming of God’s kingdom of peace and joy where those who have died in Christ share also in his resurrection.

At Mass we frequently look forward to our home in heaven, which is often described in terms of a banquet. This is the Lamb of God, the priest says as we prepare for communion, Happy are those who are called to his supper. This is the ‘supper of the Lamb of God’, the banquet of heaven where the Lamb of God (Christ in glory) sits on the great throne. In other words, our communion at Mass is a call, an invitation, to share the banquet of heaven; it is a pledge of our future glory with Christ.

November is therefore a good time to think about our communion practice, especially the way in which it opens up for us the dimensions of our life after death. In particular, we could reflect on our practice of communion from the cup, because, in the words of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (281)
“Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it is distributed under both kinds. For in this form the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident and clear expression is given to the divine will by which the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord, as also the relationship between the Eucharistic and the eschatological banquet in the Father's Kingdom.”

Notice especially the last phrase. Communion from the cup makes the connection with our future destiny at the banquet of heaven and our unity with all the saints in glory.

During the early centuries, everybody received communion under both kinds: this was the way Christ instituted the Eucharist. For various unfortunate reasons, the practice grew during the middle ages of lay people not receiving the cup. Eventually it became law in the west that only the priest should receive the cup.

Among the reasons for restricting communion from the cup was what could be called ‘sacramental minimalism’; the bread alone was sufficient because in the bread we receive the living Christ. Although the Church teaches that Christ is truly present in either the consecrated bread or the wine, we now realise that “the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident” when we take both.

When we take the cup, we take up the cross: “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” Jesus asked James and John. It is also the cup of thanksgiving: “The cup of salvation I will raise as I call on God’s name”.

Drinking from a common cup signifies our life together in Christ and our commitment both to God and to one another, our commitment to being a community of justice, peace and love. This commitment is ratified in blood; not by our being sprinkled on the outside like the Hebrews were at Sinai, but on the inside as we drink from the cup of Christ’s blood.
How then can we pass by the cup of the covenant? How can we ever take the cup lightly?

Elizabeth Harrington