Author(s)Kara Hartley
Date 3 April 2017

The Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the Lay-people; for both the parts of the Lord’s Sacrament, by Christ’s ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike.

Article 30 is the third article relating to the Lord’s Supper. Article 28 denies the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation (where the elements of bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus), insisting that the elements are signs pointing back to Christ, not Christ himself. Article 29 argues that those without faith who partake in the Lord’s Supper are not partaking in Christ, and in fact are bringing condemnation on themselves.

Article 30 gives instructions of how the Lord’s Supper is to be given or administered to the congregation. It declares that both elements, and in particular the cup, are to be served to all Christian members of the congregation. To our minds this may seem a strange instruction, as it might never have occurred to us that when we come to the Lord’s Supper we might only be offered the bread and not the cup. That’s certainly true for me.

So why did the Reformers feel the need to insist on this? After all when Jesus established what we’ve come to call the Lord’s Supper on the night before he died, he clearly invited the disciples to eat the bread and drink the cup in remembrance of him (Matthew 26:26-30; Luke 22:19-22). In the early church the practice of serving both the bread and wine continued. For example in 1 Corinthians 11 as Paul instructs the church about the correct manner in which they were to come to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, it’s clear the expectation was that people would be eating the bread and drinking from the cup, linking the practice of the Corinthians to the night before Jesus’ death (1 Corinthians 11:23-27).

Yet by the time of the medieval church, the situation had changed. No longer was the cup offered to members of the congregation, instead it was reserved for the presiding priest. There are several theories about how this practice emerged, though it is not entirely clear. One possibility is that due to issues around hygiene it was not right to drink from a common cup. Another is that the elements were to be so revered that they were to be kept from human contamination. Bread was placed straight on the tongue of the recipient and the wine was withheld from the ‘common man’.

The theology which was developed to justify giving communion in only one kind was this: because bodies have blood in them, giving only the body of Jesus meant that in reality people were in fact being given both body and blood! They did not need the cup, and as the priest was the representative of the people before God he would take the cup for them. This simply reinforced the notion of the priest as somewhat separate or special from the rest of the congregation and as a mediator between God and the people.

There were some rumblings against this practice in the fifteenth century when the Hussites of Bohemia broke with the tradition of Rome and began to administer the communion in ‘both kinds’ in their congregations. Their practice was condemned at the Council of Constance in 1415. Their leader, Jan Huss, was burned at the stake for what the council considered heresy.

The final session of the Council of Trent, the counter-reformation council, held in the 1560’s confirmed the Decree of the Constance Council and determined that:

“…Wherefore, holy Mother Church, knowing this her authority in the administration of the sacraments, although the use of both species has, from the beginning of the Christian religion, not been unfrequent, yet, in progress of time, that custom having been already very widely changed, she, induced by weighty and just reasons, has approved of this custom of communicating under one species, and decreed that it was to be held as a law; which it is not lawful to reprobate, or to change at pleasure, without the authority of the Church itself” (Session 21, Chapter 2, 1562).

The historical account of the practice in some ways only adds to the strangeness of this article. In one sense it seems like a fairly minor if not pedantic issue. Yet, theologically, for the reformers it was important. At the heart of this article are two important doctrines.

Firstly, the Roman practice implied there was another mediator between God and humanity, alongside Christ. This notion was repugnant to the Reformers (see Hebrews 9:11-15). By withholding the cup from the congregation and taking the wine himself, the priest was in fact standing in their place.

Which leads to the second important theological truth: The Reformers conviction about the priesthood of all believers (cf. 1 Peter 2:5). This view holds that the church is a company of priests who bring to God ‘a sacrifice of praise’ (Hebrews 13:15), and therefore there isn’t one person who stands in place of the congregation representing them to God. We all have access to God equally.

Today the practice of receiving the communion in both kinds has become more commonplace in the Roman Catholic Church, though it is not universal. It is important to protect the practice of giving the communion in both kinds for two significant reasons. Biblically, as the article suggests, it continues the tradition in the way Christ ordained and commanded, and in line with the early church as per 1 Corinthians 11:28. Secondly, it maintains the theological truth of the priesthood of all believers. As such it removes any notion of some mediatorial role for the priest or minister between God and the laity. This is a sacrament for the whole church and the whole sacrament ought to be given to the each member of the congregation.