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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Liturgical Form Follows Sanitary Function

By Larry Beane, with a HT to the Rev. David Juhl.

The form of the liturgy has developed based on both spiritual and practical matters. Obviously, at the Last Supper, our Lord used neither individual wafers nor individual communion cups. There is no evidence to suggest that the original disciples knelt at a rail, nor were they dismissed with the sign of the cross. And nobody is suggesting that we recline and pass around a common loaf as did the Twelve.

So, liturgical form does change over the centuries, and in our culture, change can be rapid.

One factor that will likely be an increasing influence on our liturgical practice in the United States is how to make distribution more sanitary and to minimize the role of germs in the Holy Sacrament. Americans are very concerned about health and sanitation.

Purity Solutions recognizes this concern about germs, and in fact, makes some bold claims about the effect the fear of germs has on thousands of people who either stop communing, quit the church, or start attending non-sacramental churches:
An estimated 30 percent of congregations will stop receiving communion during the cold and flu season. The worry of passing germs and the embarrassment of not participating in communion prevents some church goers from attending church, reducing donations to support the work of the church. Recent surveys have shown that charitable donations are also decreasing due to the continuing rise in fuel prices. With church attendance and donations on the decline, churches are looking for new ideas to increase attendance.
The founders of the company explain how they identified the problem for which they founded Purity Solutions, as well their quest to create a form of "self-communion" that "could be received at any time and any place."
With the most recent concern of spreading germs, it has become apparent that a germ free way to receive communion must be developed. As there are many people that do not receive communion because of the chance of getting sick or catching someone else’s germs. People by the thousands were starting to stay away from communion because of the germs. The church community needed a solution and Purity just happened to have the solution.
The flagship of their line of products is a host dispenser into which wafers are loaded into a tube, which serves as a sacramental vessel on the altar during consecration. During the distribution itself, the pastor or lay distribution assistant clicks the trigger on the device to distribute the hosts - which he or she never touches. This is touted as a much more sanitary method of distribution, as well as more efficient in terms of time and money. It is hoped that this will increase church attendance and participation in the Eucharist.

They have also developed several forms of communion wafers:
  • Classic - standard hosts preloaded into dispenser tubes
  • Body + Blood - hosts pre-infused with wine during the baking process
  • Pillow Pak™ - individually sealed "Body + Blood" hosts
Purity Solutions even includes a rubrical modification to the consecration which takes into account the innovative nature of this communion vessel, its contents, and manner of distribution:
Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when he was betrayed, *took bread, blessed, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying," Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

* When the clergy says “took bread” the clergy picks up the dispenser, dispenses a host into his or her hand, sets the dispenser down, breaks the host and raises it up. The clergy can also choose to have a small plate with one of the larger size hosts that he or she can break and raise up.

In the same way he *took the cup, thanked and said,” Drink from it, all of you.
This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink from it, in remembrance of me.”

* If Purity Wine-Infused Hosts are being used the clergy raises the dispenser. The clergy can also choose to have a chalice of wine to raise up.

When the clergy or lay person dispenses the host into the parishioners hand he or she should say, the body and blood of Christ given for you or the body and blood of Christ shed for you.
It's hard to predict whether or not this will catch on, but I think there's a fairly good chance. And if it does, it will influence liturgical practice.

Obviously, the biggest issue is with the "wine infused hosts." There is no wine left over after baking. At best, this is basically a reversion to receiving the sacrament in one kind. Secondly, this method of distribution is intended for manual (in the hand) reception of the Lord's Body. Congregations and parishes used to the practice of receiving the hosts orally would have to modify that practice. Third, there is the issue of the reliquiae - the remaining consecrated hosts. The traditional use of a paten (the plate upon which the hosts are placed) allows the pastor a great deal of control over how many hosts to consecrate. The Purity Solutions dispenser is all pre-loaded, thus potentially resulting in a large number of consecrated hosts. This could lead congregations using the dispenser into a need for a tabernacle.

And there is the issue of aesthetics. Obviously, this is not essential to the validity or efficaciousness of the Sacrament, but reception of the Body and Blood of Christ from a mechanical dispenser that makes a noise like a staple gun is a rather stark change to the simple dignity of the pastor placing the miraculous Lord's Body and Blood directly into the mouth of the communicant.

One benefit of traditional communion is its low-tech nature. Currently, we can celebrate communion in the church or in private pastoral care situations with no worries of mechanical breakdown, dead batteries, or wireless interruptions. The more Holy Communion depends on gadgetry and a multiplicity of distribution methods the more possible impediments there are to its celebration.

Finally, I would like to see their research. I just find it hard to buy their marketing claim that hordes of people shy away from sacramental churches because of the threat of germs. It might be true, but it would behoove Purity Solutions to share these numbers.

Until they do, I think Purity Solutions is a "solution" in search of a problem. And yet, at the same time, I can see CPH selling their products one day, and I can certainly imagine LCMS congregations employing these products. And considering the "law of unintended consequences," I can see yet another thing to create unnecessary divisions and liturgical diversity in our midst.