Sharing the Common Cup: some interesting facts about hygiene


It would be very rare for a healthy person to get sick just from drinking out of the common cup. Actually, just entering the worship space is "more risky".  Furthermore: there is (basically) no risk whatsoever of getting HIV or AIDS from the common cup.

We do quite a few things at Communion to take this low risk of infection and reduce it even further:

1. We do not allow people to dip the wafer into the wine (“intinction”).  This is because our hands are actually much more germ-infested than our lips and mouths.  When a person dips the bread into the wine, two things often happen: they touch the rim of the cup with their hands, transferring germs that were on their hands onto the rim; and they accidentally dip their hands into the wine along with the bread.  Since this is a great way to spread disease, intinction is strongly discouraged in the Anglican Church of Canada.

2. The Priest uses hand sanitizer before touching any of the Communion wafers. Furthermore, at St. George’s, the Priest does not put the wafer into anyone’s mouth (except in unusual circumstances), to further reduce the risk of infection.

3. Now that we've reduced the likelihood of contamination from our hands, the next most likely way to spread germs is via the rim of the cup.  That's why, after each person drinks, we wipe the rim of the cup with a cloth (“purificator” - as in, “the thing that purifies”), and turn the cup so the next person puts their mouth on a different part of the rim.  By wiping and turning, we reduce the risk of infection by up to 90%, because we reduce how many germs are hanging out there waiting for the next mouth to come along.  And even though that part of the rim will eventually be used by another person, the turning still makes a difference: body heat is necessary for many germs to survive.

4. Finally, we use silver cups, and wine with a higher alcohol content (18%).  Silver itself has antiseptic properties which are enhanced by the antiseptic qualities of alcohol.  The combination of silver and alcohol in effect “sterilizes” the wine, significantly reducing the chances of getting sick from the wine that we share in the cup.


For more information, check out this article on the science of Communion hygiene over at the Anglican Church of Canada website.