Project Canterbury

On the Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament: A Paper Read at the Annual Commemoration of the Scottish Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament.

Aberdeen: A Brown & Co., 1881.

IN this Paper I shall endeavour, while glancing1 at the historical evidence of the practice of the early Church, to address myself mainly to the great importance, on Doctrinal and Devotional grounds, of the ancient and Catholic use of reserving the Blessed Sacrament, as at all times and in all places, so more especially in our own time and within our own Communion.

1st. The historical fact is established by a catena of very early authorities. Justin Martyr in the early part of the second century in his well-known description of the Celebration of the Holy Communion, tells us "those who are called by us Deacons give to each of those present to partake of the Bread and Wine mixed with water, over which thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion." Tertullian, later on in the same century, bears witness to the custom of the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in private houses for the purpose of daily Communion. Writing to a wife says, "will not your husband know what you secretly taste before taking any food? And if he knows it to be bread does he not believe it to be That which It is said to be?" In his Treatise on Prayer, when writing of the "Stations," which were days of fasting and of Church assemblies, he says "Will not your Station be more solemn if you have withal stood at God's Altar, when the Lord's Body has been received and reserved? each point is secured, both the participation of the sacrifice and the discharge of duty." In these words he meets the difficulty of those who objected to receiving Holy Communion on Station Days, lest, thereby, they should be thought to have broken their fast. He suggests they should attend the Holy Sacrifice in the Church, i.e., "discharge their duty," reserve the Holy Gift, and when the hour of the fast expired, which was 3 p.m., receive It. In the next century, S. Cyprian relates the story of a woman who "when she had attempted to open her casket in which the Holy Body of the Lord was, with unholy hands, was deterred by a fire rising out of it.

In the same century, we read of Thascius, a Roman Accolyte, who was martyred, because that his murderers found him "carrying about him the Sacraments of the Lord's Body." We also read of Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria (A.D. 214) allowing the Blessed [3/4] Sacrament to be sent to a sick man by his servant, the Priest being ill and the case urgent. S. Basil (A.D. 328), says, that the Monks and Hermits when settled at a distance from a Church and Priest, "keep their Communion at home and receive it at their, own hands." Palladius, a Solitary of Nitria, afterwards a Bishop, bears witness, that the ancient Ascetics were wont, before other food, to take the Holy Communion, kept in their cells. S. Jerome bears witness to the same practice when he says "There is nothing richer than he who carries the Lord's Body in a wicker basket, His Blood in a vessel of glass."

If reservation of the Blessed Sacrament was so common in private houses, we may safely assume It would be always kept reserved in the Churches. It was to the Church the sick were accustomed to send for It, and sometimes in the night. There was no Office, of Private Celebration known in the Ancient Church. We read in one of the letters of S. Chrysostom, that in a tumult in Constantinople four hundred of the soldiers entered "where the Holy Things were stored up, and the Most Holy Blood of Christ was spilled on the garments of the soldiers." The permission allowed to the faithful, to take the Blessed Sacrament from the Church to their homes for the purpose of,' daily Communion, and the custom which arose from that permission, was obviously liable to abuse. In consequence, the liberty was afterwards rescinded; first by an Armenian Canon of the 4th century, which, however, made an exception in favour of the sick, and still more strongly by a Council at Saragossa, A.D. 380, and another at Toledo, A.D. 400. The first of these Councils decrees that if ones is proved not to have taken the Grace of the Eucharist in Churchy after receiving It, “let him be anathema for ever." At Toledo one who had received the Eucharist from the Priest, and did not consume It, was to be held guilty of sacrilege. But It was always reserved in the Church for the sick. A Council at Tours, at a later date, is cited as ordering that the "Sacred Oblation be laid up for the Viaticum of persons departing this life."

Other purposes of Preservation were, that the Blessed Sacrament might, be sent by the Bishops to each other as an act of inter-communion. When thus used it obtained with the Greeks the name of Eulogia, and among the Latins Fermentum. Another custom, which obtained chiefly in the titular Churches in Rome, was for the Pope to send from his Mass a portion of the reserved Eucharist or "Sancta," to be placed in the Chalice immediately after the Canon of the Mass. This was done by the Archdeacon, saying at the time the words "The Peace of the Lord be with you." This practice was probably the origin of the "commixture" and of the Pax in the present Roman and other western Missals. The theory on which, this practice was founded would seem to be this: the Bishop was supposed to be the Celebrant in each of the Churches under his rule, and all the faithful to receive from him the Sacred Gifts, which united them together as members of the Body, of which he was the local and visible centre. It was called "Fermentum," Scudamore says, because "leaven is dough reserved from one baking to be mixed with that prepared for another, and may be said to make the bread of both one." This Eucharistic leaven connected successive Celebrations with each ether, and, at the same time, was a token of union between Congregations locally separated from each other.

Another use of the reserved Gifts, which also sprang from Rome, but which spread more widely and generally than the last-named, was this:—At the Consecration of a Bishop it was the custom to give the newly ordained Bishop a whole "oblate," or consecrated portion, of which he took a small fragment at the time, but reserved the rest for his Communion for forty days (in a few places seven) afterwards.

A less commendable use of (the reserved Sacrament was the deposition of the consecrated Host, together with three grains of incense, within a cavity of the Altar, at the Dedication of a Church.

There were other uses, more or less practised, in the early Church, which were afterwards entirely condemned and forbidden, as burying It with the dead; while S. Augustine mentions the case of a blind person healed by a poultice made from the Consecrated Elements. Such cases, however, do not come within the range of this Paper.

The late learned Canon Walcott has given the following reasons for the practice of the Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in the early Church—

1st, to quicken the love of the faithful
2nd, to be ready for Communion.
3rd, to be taken to the sick without delay.

These are the main and abiding purposes of Reservation. I will take these in order. The first two purposes cover the case as stated in the beginning of this Paper, namely doctrinal and devotional. The leading object of our Confraternity is "to do honour to the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament." The Person of our Divine Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, of course, means as the whole Catholic Church has believed and taught, His Personal Presence, as God and man, or "totus Christus." For the furtherance of this great object, we, as a Confraternity, exist; it is our raison d’être. I venture to say with emphasis, that one most effectual way of furthering this object would be the Reservation, in our Churches, of the Blessed Sacrament, and the outward recognition of that Presence by acts of bodily adoration. I think we may believe, on grounds of fact as well as charity, that generally our Priests and people have an implicit faith in the Presence. Few among ourselves, at least in Scotland, would refuse to confess a belief in the Real Presence. But, if their professions of belief were to assume an explicit or dogmatic form, I much fear they would come far short of complete or fully orthodox statements. Many good people have the will to believe, but they have not the knowledge of the truth. Theories on the Eucharistic Presence, inaccurate, deceptive, and inadequate, have for so long, and so widely prevailed amongst us, that there is great need of something more than verbal teaching, to restore to us the full possession of this most blessed Truth.

Take, what I will call the inaccurate theory, viz., that there is a [5/6] Presence in the use, but not "extra usum" of the Blessed Sacrament. This error did appear quite early, but only to be promptly condemned. Now, what more emphatic denial of this theory can we have than the constant reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, accompanied with the honour and veneration due to It. As a deceptive theory I would specify that of Johnson and the later nonjurors, who held the theory of a Presence which has obtained the name of "impanation." This theory rests on the fiction that there are two Bodies of our Lord, namely the natural Body, conceived by the Holy Ghost of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a Sacramental Body, formed of the elements of the Eucharist by the same Divine Power. I venture to characterise this theory as far more irrational than the doctrine of Transubstantiation, which, I believe, it was concocted to oppose. The Body supposed to be thus formed, and to exist distinct and separate from the One Body of the Lord, could not, of course, be regarded as united to the Person of the Eternal Word, and, therefore, could not lawfully receive Divine worship or adoration; although, from its supposed relation to our Lord's Body, it acquired a sanctity and venerability which demanded reverence, but not worship. I think this is now an exploded theory. Anyhow, the Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in our Churches, combined with the adoration due, would be a sure safeguard against its return. A third theory, which I designate as inadequate, is, I fear, even now, a widely prevailing view of the Blessed Sacrament, within our Communion. I refer to "what is known as the "equivalent theory." This is the outcome of the nonjuring notion of impanation. The theory of impanation, as I have said, was an attempt to escape from the doctrine of transubstantiation, but as it was really more irrational than this doctrine, it did not long hold its place in men's minds, and was watered down into the "equivalent theory;" which I would define thus:—by Consecration the elements become authoritative and effectual instruments, by which those who worthily receive them, are made partakers of Christ's Body and Blood. The elements are not, according to this theory, in themselves, that which our Lord pronounced them to be; but by Consecration they become capable of conveying that blessed Gift to the worthy receiver. This is not simply the Calvinistic doctrine, which affirms that those who receive in faith are made partakers, in some spiritual, transcendental, yet unreal, way, of Christ's Body and Blood; as such reception does not require any Consecration, for the same participation may be realised at any time and in any place, if the factor of faith is present in the soul. The equivalent theory, on the other hand, demands, as I have said, Consecration as necessary to qualify the sacred elements for so high a use.

All these theories are peculiar to certain Anglicans excepting the first, which, I think, is common among the Lutherans. I need scarcely say that neither one nor another has any foundation to rest on except the ingenious devices of the heads which invented them. They are all alike unknown to antiquity, to Catholic consent, and are simply contradictory to the words of our Lord and His Apostles. What we really have to contend for in our teaching and practice, is that our Lord's Presence is the Presence of a whole, and not a divided Christ; and that Presence is identical with those Elements which He declared to be His Body and His Blood. I believe one of the most effectual modes of asserting this great and necessary truth would be the practice of reservation. There,—in the reserved Sacrament, is Jesus Christ, God and Man, present and abiding under the form of His chosen elements. Therefore He is present in the Sacrament, not merely in the use of the Sacrament; He is really present in or under the consecrated Species so long as they remain. This is the Presence of no transitory Body, formed by Consecration out of the substances of bread and wine, but of the one incarnate and ever-living Christ, the Virgin-born, the Crucified, the Risen and Ascended Lord. It is no Presence dependent on any act of the receiver, but given according to His Word and promise, and abiding evermore; "with you always day by day to the end of the world."

As to the amount of external veneration paid to the Reserved Sacrament in the early Church, I cannot speak with certainty. In the present Greek or Eastern Church, I am told there is less of outward reverence given to the Reserved Sacrament than in the Western Church. This is not the case, as I can testify from my own observation, in the Celebration of the Mass or Liturgy. There is no doubt that increased external honours has in the West been paid to the Blessed Sacrament since the invasion of the Berengarian heresy.
Processions of the Blessed Sacrament date from that period. The popular Service known as the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, which came in at a still later date, was introduced as an assertion of the honour and worship due to our Lord as against that heresy. At the same date arose the practice of the elevation and exhibition of the Blessed Sacrament at the Canon of the Mass, for purposes of adoration. I am not concerned with these practices, as they are not necessarily connected with Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and the veneration due to It. I simply note the historical fact of their recent introduction in the Churches of the West, and, I may add, their non-existence in the Churches of the East. But I would strongly plead that if the Western Church was justified in adding these extraneous honours, if I may so term them, as being in addition to the practices of the earlier Church, we are much more required to restore such honour, and worship, and reverence, to the Person of our Blessed Lord, present in His Sacrament, as the Churches both of the East and West have ever paid Him. We have inherited the desolations of the sixteenth century, when churches were desecrated and rifled, Altars and Tabernacles demolished, the Blessed Sacrament Itself subjected to terrible outrages; the Daily Sacrifice was taken away, the abbreviated Matins Office, compiled by the hands of men, substituted, for the Divine Office of our Lord Himself. These traditions of men have been stereotyped by the practice of nearly three centuries. God is calling us with no indistinct or [7/8] feeble voice to arise and build again the Altar that has been thrown down, and the Tabernacle, the shrine in which He is pleased to abide; to give back to our Lord in His Eucharistic Presence the worship and adoration of the body as well as the soul, which is His most justly due. We have to restore first the tradition and practice of the earliest centuries, which is an assertion of the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist, viz. the Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in our Churches, that It may be carried thence to the sick at their call. The utterly Anglican, and otherwise unknown, practice of celebrating the Blessed Sacrament in the sick room amid surroundings altogether unbecoming the sacred Rite, we must seek entirely to remove. The irreverence often is terrible to say nothing of the Priest being called on, after a full meal, or at any hour, to go and celebrate and receive. Doubtless, prudence and a certain amount of economy must be mingled with our zeal in this great work of restoration; we cannot overturn the customs of three centuries in a year or a life-time.

The manner of Reservation, whether in one or both Kinds; the place, whether the open church, or a chapel annexed to it, in which the Blessed Sacrament should be reserved, should be matters of grave and careful consideration. In seeking to restore lost and forgotten practices, we must not ignore the fact that we have to deal with a generation of men to whom these things are entire novelties, and who have for the most part inherited strong prejudices which are hostile to such restorations. I have avoided in this Paper all appearance of antiquarian research, seeing it is open to my Brethren, as much as to myself, to pursue such enquiries. But I would say as a result of such enquiry as I have been able to make, that I am satisfied that the Blessed Sacrament was reserved in the early Church in both manners, i.e. in one and in both species. To my mind the evidence is equally balanced as to the reservation in one Kind or in both Kinds, and that either mode was adopted according to the convenience -or necessity of the occasion which called for the administration of the Sacrament. Reservation in one Kind, I, however, incline to believe, was only made when the other was impossible or extremely inconvenient. The place or chapel in which the Blessed Sacrament should be kept is a question of immense importance, and can be solved only by such as possess a knowledge of the church in which it is proposed to place It, and of the worshippers who assemble within its walls. I suppose there are very few churches in which, until our people are more educated than they are now in the belief and conception of our Lord's Eucharistic Presence, It could be reserved openly without serious risks of irreverent neglect or positive dishonours committed against It.

I would suggest an arrangement which I know has been adopted in at least two Religious Houses by which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a side or off-chapel, but not in the chapel or church itself.

This arrangement, I think, would shield the august Sacrament from any such irreverence, however unintentional, which I have [8/9] apprehended might be committed against It, if reserved in the open church, while abundant opportunities would be afforded to the faithful believers in the Divine Presence for adoration, intercession, and meditation in Its presence.

I should be inclined to express a strong opinion in favour of the Reservation in both Kinds among ourselves. The Tabernacle or House in which the Blessed Sacrament used to be reserved is a study by itself, and has a history of great interest. I cannot go into this now, suffice it to say, that I have seen with much admiration in many parts of Germany, and also in two Churches in Belgium, and, I think, in Cologne, very beautiful and indeed magnificent "Sacrament Houses" (so called by the Germans) of great height and of spiral form, placed usually against the north wall of the Chancel near the Altar. At Solesme, in the Church of the Benedictine Monastery, I have seen what I believe is one of the earliest kind of receptacles of the Blessed Sacrament, namely a Dove suspended from the Baldachino and hovering over the Altar. We are all familiar, I suppose, with the aumbry or side cupboard, which obtained in many mediaeval Scottish Churches, such as may be seen in Kinkell Church near Inverurie, where above and on each side of the aumbry are representations in sculptured stone, first of a priest offering the Holy Sacrifice in the sacerdotal vestments, second the Crucifixion, third the Offering of the Lamb in the Heavenly Temple—thus presenting the three aspects of the Divine Oblation. The learned archaeologist and theologian, the late venerable and lamented Bishop Forbes of Brechin, thought good to reproduce this kind of receptacle for the Reserved Sacrament in the Chapel of the Sisterhood which he founded, and, I believe, in each of the Churches in Dundee which were built during his Episcopate.

The practice of reserving for the sick has been retained in the Scottish Church in unbroken tradition,, from our non-juring forefathers, to whom we owe so much. It was ordered to be so reserved in some of the earliest Liturgies compiled by them. Though it is not expressly directed in any Rubric of that copy of the Scottish Communion Office which may claim most authority, as being the nearest approach to a “Sealed Copy," viz.: that which is contained in Bishop John Skinner's "Collation of Liturgies;" yet the practice of reserving has generally been retained wherever the Scottish Liturgy is used, and is mentioned in a note appended to a widely used edition which received the express approval of the late learned Bishop Forbes of Brechin. But the use of Reservation has not been limited to such Churches as are privileged to retain the Scottish Rite. The late venerable and highly esteemed Mr. Cheyne always reserved for the sick, although he only used the English Office in his Church. An old and venerable Clergyman of the Diocese of Moray, known as Archdeacon M'Kenzie, observed the same practice, though he also used only the English Rite. These instances represent, I believe, a general use; and there is not in any Edition of the Scottish Liturgy [9/10] the English Rubric requiring that the Blessed Sacrament shall "not be carried out of the Church;" nor any other which, in the least degree or manner, contravenes this ancient custom. In a Prayer Book which was put forth many, years ago, with the sanction of the venerable Bishop Torry, this practice was expressly recognised. In a Rubric appended to the Liturgy, it is ordered that "the Priest shall reserve as much of the Consecrated Gifts as may be required for the Communion of the sick, and others who could not be present at Celebration in Church."

We have then, in various Editions of the Scottish Liturgy, the recognition and sanction; and in practice, an unbroken tradition, supporting this ancient and venerable practice.

It is much to be desired that this practice could be more widely observed, and that more careful and fitting provision may be made for the reverent custody of the Blessed Sacrament, that It may be ready to be taken to the sick at any call; and the unseemliness of cottage or bed-room Celebrations be altogether disused. At all events, it may be hoped that all Priest Associates of our Confraternity may carefully retain or restore this Catholic usage, and provide for its reverent observance.

Project Canterbury