The Case Against Intinction2
I want to share a few thoughts about why I so strongly dislike intinction and why I believe it is detrimental to the message communicated in the Eucharist and to the fullness of what I believe the believer should experience in partaking of the elements.
For those of you not familiar with the word “intinction,” it refers to a particular way in which the elements of the Lord’s Supper are served and ingested. With intinction, the believer dips the bread into the cup and ingests it in one act. There is no eating of the bread as a separate act or drinking of the cup as a separate act. Here is a more formal dictionary definition: “the act of steeping the bread or wafer in the wine in order to enable the communicant to receive the elements conjointly.”
Here at Bridgeway we observed the Eucharist by intinction for several years, much to my displeasure. We have recently enacted what I call the “extinction of intinction”! Here is why.
First, with intinction there is something quite profound that is lost in terms of what both the bread and the wine signify. When I partake of the bread, I want to meditate on the reality of Christ’s body, broken for me. His human frailty and the reality of his body being nailed to a tree for me are so important that I want the opportunity to meditate and pray and worship over that profound reality. The action of physically ingesting the bread is such a beautiful picture of my spiritually ingesting what that bodily sacrifice achieved for me.
It is much the same with the cup. There is something unique and worthy of special focus in the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sins. Yes, the body and blood are together the grounds for our hope. It was the holistic offering of Christ on the cross that saves. But when Jesus instituted the Eucharist he spoke distinctly of the breaking of the body and the pouring out of the blood and ordained that each should be received for what it signifies.
What I’m saying is that when I ingest a soggy piece of bread (sorry for putting it so crudely; I don’t want to be irreverent), I lose sight of the body that is broken that I am to eat and I lose sight of the blood that is poured out that I am to drink. Maybe it’s just my weakness, but there is something special about pausing and reflecting on each element as they are individually ingested. I think this is why Jesus instituted them separately and explained them separately and distributed them to the disciples separately. When I don’t have the opportunity to drink the cup, but only ingest the wine as part of the bread, there is something missing, something lost in what I think our Lord wanted us to know and to celebrate and to trust and to thank him for.
Second, I don’t want this to sound legalistic or overly rigid, but Jesus didn’t institute the Eucharist by way of intinction. The very clear example he established in the gospels that appears to be reflected in 1 Corinthians 11 is two separate elements, each of which is to be individually explained and individually distributed and individually blessed and individually received by the believer. I’m not comfortable with deviating from the clear biblical precedent unless we have very good reasons to do so, reasons that are unavoidable and clearly override whatever inconvenience or extra work is required of us to serve the two separately.
As you may know, in Catholicism there was a long tradition of withholding the cup from the laity when the Eucharist was served. This was due to two primary factors. First, they feared the spilling of the literal blood of Christ in the serving of it individually to each person. Obviously, this was based on the false concept of transubstantiation. Second, it was also done to elevate the priest to a level of spirituality unattainable by the average believer. Only the priest was privileged enough to drink the cup as well as eat the bread. The Catholic Church argued that if a believer ingested the bread it was “as if” he/she had ingested the cup as well. The whole sacrament was contained in each part.
I think they were greatly mistaken in this. Those true believers who received only the bread were deprived of the joy of concentrating and fixing their hearts and minds on the cup which represented the blood that secured their redemption.
I’m not suggesting there is a perfect parallel between what the Catholic church did and the practice of intinction. However, there is the danger that intinction will, over time, undermine or diminish the capacity of the believer to fully embrace and understand and enjoy the reality of the bread that is broken and the blood that is poured out.
Please understand that I’m not saying that if you continue to utilize intinction you are in sin or that the celebration of the Eucharist in this manner is sub-spiritual. I realize that in some churches and other settings there are logistical demands that call for the use of intinction. In churches of considerable size it may be impractical to provide individual cups for each participant. I’m simply saying that it is less than ideal and that you stand to lose much in terms of your appreciation for what the Eucharist is designed to signify and accomplish.
If you attend a church or happen to visit one this week where intinction is practiced, continue to celebrate the Eucharist with joy and thanksgiving (while praying that a more biblical manner of serving the elements will soon be implemented).