'Can you drink the cup that
I must drink...'
baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?'
At a crucial moment in his ministry, Jesus teaches his
followers about the sign that will mark his disciples. In choosing
his path they will share a common destiny of a sacrificial
servant-ministry for others.
The Eucharistic cup is the continuing sign in worshiping
communities of people who have been baptized with his baptism pass
from death to life, and who drink together of one cup on the
servant-journey of Christ. Together with Eucharistic bread, the
community glimpses "the heavenly banquet," the reign of God, the
meaning and purpose and goal of all creation. In this one act, the
unity in Christ is re-enacted as an illustration of our common
Issues about the common cup
Since the beginning of the AIDS pandemic, "concerns" have
periodically surfaced regarding the possible spread of HIV/AIDS
through the practice of sharing the cup at the administration of
the Eucharist. Unfortunately, this concern is sometimes manifested
as blatant discrimination. In several instances, HIV-positive
Episcopalians have been asked not to drink from the cup out of
misguided fear they might infect their fellow parishioners.
Furthermore, individuals have refused to drink from the cup
after someone whom they thought was, or could be, HIV-positive.
Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, there is still a
prevalent fear that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the
virus which causes AIDS, may be spread through the use of the
The common cup in faith and
The common cup is not only a principal symbol of our Christian
life; it is also a formative element in our identity as
Episcopalians. At the time of the Reformation, a major principal
of Anglicanism was the restoration of the common cup to all the
faithful. It is a basic mark of our tradition.
When the Church gathers around the Lord's Table for worship, as
loaf and cup are shared, the Church is reminded of what it means
to gather as God's people, and to welcome all persons as members
of God's household. Splintering the corporate image of the
Eucharistic assembly into individual acts of devotion destroys the
element of corporate wholeness at the center of the Church's
Scientific and public experience
Since the first reported cases of AIDS in 1981, the United
States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has
carefully documented and tracked the means by which HIV is
transmitted. Because HIV is carried in the blood and the semen or
vaginal secretions of an infected individual, the virus is
primarily transmitted through sexual contact and among intravenous
drug users who share needles. CDC has reported that ". . . no
person-to-person transmission has been identified other than
through intimate contact or blood transfusion." Also, "there
continues to be no evidence of nonspecific transmission through
casual contact; insect bites; or foodborne, waterborne, or
environmental spread among AIDS cases."
The CDC reports that while it is not possible to prove that HIV
cannot be transmitted via a shared communion cup, there is
abundant scientific evidence that such transmission would be
extraordinarily unlikely. None of the nearly 600,000 cases
of AIDS in the United States recorded since the early 1980's has
been attributed to a common cup or any other shared drinking
Because the mode of transmission is not always immediately
known, the CDC, in collaboration with state and local health
departments, has conducted more than 60,000 investigations to
determine how HIV-positive individuals became infected.
According to these reports, none of the individuals "were ever
found to have been infected with HIV through sharing a communion
cup or any other drinking vessel...." Moreover, the frequency in
which HIV is detected in the saliva of infected individuals is
"extremely low." Thus, "we [the CDC] would predict that the
potential for transmission of HIV/AIDS via the communion cup or
any other shared drinking vessel is remote, if any risk
exists at all."
"No reasons for fear"
Time and again the CDC reports that there are no reasons to
fear that HIV/AIDS may be transmitted through the practice of
sharing a common communion cup. The Book of Common Prayer
tells us what is required of us when we come to the Eucharist: "we
should examine our lives, repent of our sins, and be in love and
charity with all people." The fact remains that many of us still
respond to this pandemic with fear. Many remain fearful of
infection or the risk of it, and still others hold their fear of
association--the fear of being with, or close to, a person living
with an infectious disease. These fears are unfortunate but they
are nonetheless real.
Yet, as Christians, we believe that "perfect love casts out all
fear." While our love for one another may often be imperfect,
God's love is not. We are challenged to love God and our
neighbors with the same unconditional love God bestows on us. Our
baptism and the common cup symbolize our choice to share a common
destiny. Our congregations can be sanctuaries of love and healing
for all those rejected by the world, as well as the place for
celebrating our wholeness and common destiny in Christ.
The issue of the common cup and its safety arises every time a
disease threatens to become an epidemic. However, a worse epidemic
would be the spread of unwarranted fears about imagined risks. The
common cup reminds us that we share a common life in Christian
community, and that the benefits of that common life far outweigh
Standing Liturgical Commission
"Because of the theological and scientific claims upon us," the
Standing Liturgical Commission of the Episcopal Church "counsels
against any practice which diminishes the sign value of the common
cup by providing other vessels, or withdrawing the chalice
Our hope and prayer
Our hope is that the fear and discrimination that accompanies
this unfortunate pandemic may be curtailed through appropriate
HIV/AIDS education and awareness as we "seek to serve Christ in
all persons." Our prayer is that through such education and
awareness we, as a Church, may no longer fear the transmission of
HIV/AIDS and the association with those infected through sharing
the common Communion cup. May we drink from the chalice together
as one Body, one Church, as we work and pray for the cessation of
this awful global plague of AIDS.
"AIDS and the Common Cup" Statement from the Standing
Liturgical Commission of the Episcopal Church, September 1986.
The Reverend Clayton Morris, "The Common Cup--Issue of health
or theology?" The Episcopal News Service, April 15, 1993.
CDC. Prevention of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS):
report of inter-agency recommendations. MMWR 1983;32:101-103.
CDC. Update: acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)--United
States. MMWR 1983;32:465-467.
CDC. Update: acquired immunodeficiency syndrome--United States.
CDC. HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report. U.S. HIV and AIDS cases
reported through December 1996. Year-end edition; 8(2):26.
Friedland GH, Saltzman BR, Rogers MF, Kahl PA, Lesser ML,
Mayers MM, and Klein RS. Lack of transmission of HTLV-III/LAV
infection to household contacts of patients with AIDS or
AIDS-related complex with oral condidiasis. N Engl J Med
Friedland GH, Kahl PA, Saltzman BR, Rogers MF, Feiner C, Mayers
MM, Schable C, and Klein RS. Additional evidence for lack of
transmission of HIV infection by close interpersonal (casual)
contact. AIDS 1990;4(7):639-644.
The National Episcopal AIDS Coalition
1925 K Street NW
Washington, DC 20006
The National Episcopal AIDS Coalition works collaboratively
for effective HIV/AIDS ministry on and by all levels of the
Episcopal Church. The ministry is rooted in our faith and hope in
the risen Christ as expressed in the Covenant established at our