Reservation of the Blessed Sac=
rament for the Sick
A Paper read before the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament on its Festival, June 4th, 1896. By the Rev. E. A Larrabee. Fond du Lac, Wisconsin: Office of the Secretary General, 1896.
In dealing with the question of Reserving the Blessed Sacrament for the Sick, we are able to approach the subject far less apologetically than would have been necessary even a year ago. To have treated the subject then would have involved the necessity of devoting considerable time to the meeting of objections raised against the practice purely on the ground of inconsistency with Anglican formularies.
Many who willingly concede that the reverent Reservation of the Holy Eucharist is primitive enough to date at least from the time of S. Justin Martyr before the middle of the second century, and so Catholic as to find recognition in every part of the Catholic Church except our own, have still opposed its use among ourselves as inconsistent with:
a. The Rubric at the close of the Communion office.
b. The order of the Communion of the Sick.
c. The twenty-eighth article of religion.
It would be easy to show, as has been shown again and again, that such conflict is apparent rather than real. That the history of these formularies taken together with the practice of the times in which they were framed disposes completely of such objections.
Hut happily such a defense of the practice is no longer necessary in the American Church, since the House of Bishops in their Pastoral of 1895 have given the weight of their authority to an interpretation of these formularies which leaves the Bishops free to say that, "The Ordinary may in cases of extreme, necessity, authorize the Reserved Sacrament to be carried to the Sick."
1. It is worthy of notice that, no narrower definition is coupled with the limiting words "in cases of extreme necessity." No such restriction is suggested e. g. as "in times of an epidemic," or "in cases of contagious disease," but the Ordinary is free to decide for himself what would properly constitute a case of extreme necessity. There is nothing to forbid, and everything to recommend his recognizing as such the hundreds and thousands of cases in which through the disuse of the primitive and Catholic custom of Reserving the Eucharist for the Sick, Communicants of the Church who have never been amenable to ecclesiastical discipline are deprived in the hour of death of that which the Council of Nicaea decreed should never be withheld even from those under the heaviest censures, "the last indispensible Viaticum."
2. The criticism has been made that our Reverend Fathers, after saying that "the practice of reserving the Sacrament is not sanctioned by the law of this Church," convict themselves not only of contradiction in terms but of over-stepping the limits of their Episcopal authority in thus adding that "the Ordinary may in cases of extreme necessity, authorize the Reserved Sacrament to be carried to the sick." But is there any such contradiction in the words as they stand? The Bishops do not say that reservation for the sick as it has been practiced without their authorizing it is illegal, or that it has anywhere in rubric or canon been prohibited. They say, and say truly, that the practice is not sanctioned by the law of this Church. Surely there is a wide difference between things prohibited by law and therefore illegal, and matters which without being prohibited are on the other hand not distinctly sanctioned by law.
3. Nor have the Bishops, as some would insinuate, been guilty of setting aside a rubric of the Prayer Hook. They have, in the absence of any mare judicial interpretation of that rubric, set their approval upon a construction of it which is abundantly supported by the history of the rubric itself, and which has been maintained with a far better show of learning than anything which has appeared on the other side. Their implied interpretation of it is. that whatever the rubric may or may not have been intended to prevent, it was never intended to interfere with the practice of reserving for the purpose of communicating the sick, in this at least they are on ground from which we think any controversalist will find it extremely difficult to dislodge them.
4. Popularly it is supposed that the Bishops now condemn reservation for the sick unless a faculty for that purpose has been applied for and granted formally. The Pastoral does not say so. Undoubtedly the Bishop is the centre of authority in his own Diocese. His jurisdiction over his clergy is such that in the exercise of their proper functions they act by his delegation. This, however, does not necessarily involve a system of specific faculties for every Priestly act. The only provision for giving of Sacerdotal Faculties in the Book of Common Prayer, is in the Office of Institution. But in the letter of Institution the Bishop grants everything that is necessary all at once. "We do by these Presents give and grant unto you, in whose learning, diligence, sound doctrine and prudence we do fully confide, our License and authority to perform the office of a Priest in the Parish (or Church) of E., and also hereby do institute you into said Parish (or Church) possessed of all power to perform every act of Sacerdotal Function among the people of the same." Giving Communion with the Reserved Sacrament is either a Sacerdotal Function or it is not. If it is a Sacerdotal Function, authority for it is included in the letter of Institution. If it is not a Sacerdotal Function no faculty is necessary. With us however, even formal institution into a Parish is not of obligation. A faculty therefore, for whatever belongs to the Priestly office may be assumed, until by the proper canonical authority and with the constituted method of procedure the powers inherent in the office are distinctly limited or restrained in their exercise, Reservation for the sick has been practiced for years by some of the most devout and learned of our clergy. The Pastoral has not a word of censure for their conduct.
5. Strictly speaking, where a regular system of faculties obtains, the faculty for celebrating the Holy Mysteries carries with it that of giving Communion, and that to the sick as well as to those who can come to the Church; so that reserving for the sick is covered by the faculty for celebrating the Holy Eucharist. As regards the practice in the Roman Church, O'Kane says, (XI. V. 597) "The Blessed Sacrament not only may be kept, but ought to be kept in every parochial Church." The Bishop is even directed to provide for the necessary expense if the Parish cannot defray it, by having alms collected for the purpose.
This is entirely consonant with Ligouri. (Homo Apos, Tract XV. C. II.) "In strictness of speaking to administer the Communion is (the prerogative) of the pastor alone, who is therefore held to provide that the Eucharist shall with proper reverence be perpetually reserved in his Churches, namely in a decent tabernacle and with a light burning day and night."
Where he speaks of a "faculty" it is the faculty of giving Communion, and this he says from the common custom which obtains to-day may be presumed to have been given to any Priest celebrating.
This would appear to cover Reservation, implied in the duty of the Parish Priest to give Communion to the sick as well as to the whole.
It would seem, therefore that, in the absence at least of any objection from his Ordinary, a Parish Priest might content himself with the fact that the whole House of Bishops has recognized reservation for the sick as permissible under the laws of this
Church, and this all the more since as practiced prior to such Episcopal recognition, reservation for that purpose was in no way censured by the recent Pastoral.
II. THE TABERNACLE.
Now that our Rt. Rev. Fathers have given to the practice of Reserving the Blessed Sacrament for the Sick this measure of recognition it becomes a matter of practical concern that where the Holy Sacrament is so reserved and curried about all things should be done with the reverence and the care which befits the dignity of "these Holy Mysteries."
It is gratifying to note how frequently one now meets in every part of the land Altars properly constructed, with a Tabernacle, or receptacle for the Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament.
The time is coining when it will not be necessary (if indeed it be necessary now) to explain that by the Tabernacle is meant a repository for the Blessed Sacrament, placed in the midst of the Altar, behind the mensa, and that it is merely a small recess fitted with a door which may be readily opened by the Priest us he stands before the Holy Table. The Tabernacle ought to be structural, and of the same material, wood or stone, as the Altar. Its size will be governed by the dimensions of the Altar, but the recess should be sufficiently large to receive a good sized chalice, with two or three inches to spare all around. The recess should be lined throughout with white silk or satin. On a rod of brass running across the opening near the top a white veil of muslin or of lace should be hung, divided in the center so that the Priest may easily put his hand through to take the vessel containing the Blessed Sacrament from the Tabernacle. Should the Tabernacle be of marble or stone it is desirable to have a box of red cedar fitted nicely into the recess. This will be a safeguard against dampness, which is most carefully to be guarded against where the Blessed Sacrament is kept. The cedar box should then be lined as described above, the lining turned over the edges so as to conceal all the wood, and it should be so fitted to the recess that the Tabernacle door will close evenly against its edges. The door of the Tabernacle should be strong and close fitting, and provided with a secure and reliable lock. The key will be kept by the Priest. If the door is of wood its inner surface should be lined in the same way as the Tabernacle itself. The outer face of the door should have some adornment, for which purpose no design is more appropriate than an Agnus Dei, or the Chalice and the Host with rays above it. Within the Tabernacle, in addition to the permanent lining, a linen corporal is always spread before the Blessed Sacrament is placed there.
2. There seems to be evidence that from primitive times when the Blessed Sacrament was carried to the sick it was usual to give Communion under the species of bread only. This was an exception made only in the case of giving Communion to persons in their own homes, the whole Church in the west as well as in the east insisting strenuously for twelve hundred years upon Communion in both kinds whenever it could be given without danger of irreverence. There has never, however, in the Catholic Church, been any doubt that "the Divine Gift is wholly conveyed through every portion of either element." In his treatise on "Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament," the Rev. J. W. Kempe devotes a chapter to the consideration of this question in its theological, historical and practical bearings, and concludes that "Whereas Communion under both kinds is undoubtedly more conformable to the Divine Institution of the Eucharistic Mystery, and more agreeable to the general tradition of the Church, as the normal usage to be observed in her public Liturgy, and as far as practicable in all private ministrations, nevertheless that concurrently with this uniform tradition, there is abundant precedent for Communion under either kind in the exceptional cases of the sick and the dying, since under either species all saving grace is conveyed to the soul, and that such cases of necessity are recognized by the Ecclesiastical law of England."
The proper vessel for reserving the species of bread is what is known as the ciborium, which is simply a chalice of silver or gold with a tight fitting cover of the same metal, which is easily removed without disjoining the thumb and first finger, by means of a little upright cross which rises from its centre. Where a more costly ciborium cannot be afforded, it is sufficient that the bowl itself be of silver and gilded inside. According to Roman directions neither the ciborium nor the Tabernacle: require to be consecrated by the Bishop, but it is sufficient that they be blessed by the Priest. The ciborium should be provided with a veil of white silk, or of blue muslin or lace, which for convenience should have a small hole in the exact centre, large enough to pass it over the little cross on the cover; this will hold it in place and also enable the Priest to remove veil and cover with one motion.
It is to be noted that nothing whatever save the ciborium containing the All Holiest is to be kept in the Tabernacle. This rule admits of no exception. Ab omni alia re vacuum. Our Lord's sacred body reposed in the new tomb in which never man had been laid. So the Tabernacle is for Him and for Him alone.
3. The presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle is indicated by the light burning before the Altar. This light should burn continuously while the Blessed Sacrament is present, and should be extinguished should the Sacrament be removed. Special reverence for the Blessed Sacrament and immemorial usage have insisted upon olive oil or at least some vegetable oil for the purpose. Deep vases of glass are now made and are easily obtained, which are provided with a long wick (a great improvement upon the old fashioned floats) so that a light may be kept steadily burning for several days without renewal. Every instinct of reverence commands scrupulous care as to the light which should not only burn continuously but should be so placed that the eye cannot fail to discern it. The faithful have a right to know when they come into the Sacramental Presence of their King; and in those hours, as during the night, when there are none to kneel before Him, the light stands as a witness to the faith which adores His abiding presence.
III. MANNER OF GIVING COMMUNION.
In the hope and belief that the American Church is now witnessing a gradual but certain restoration of this practice, a few suggestions are offered on the manner of communicating the sick with the Reserved Sacrament.
One great advantage of communicating the sick in this way is that the actual visit for giving Communion may be as brief as can possibly be desired, that the preparations necessary at the sick bed are of the simplest character, and that the sick person need not be wearied, even in the least when the Priest visits him for actual Communion. Much of this advantage, however, depends upon previous visits, at least one. which, whenever it is possible, should prepare for the visit with the Blessed Sacrament. The examination of the sick and the hearing of their Confessions should always, where it is possible, be done at a previous visit. This not only saves time and spares the strength of the sick person for the Communion itself, but it leaves him an opportunity, should he desire it, of adding to his Confession when the Priest returns what may have been forgotten, or of receiving help on any lingering doubt before the Blessed Sacrament is received.
1. At such a preparatory visit the Priest gives directions how to prepare the room for the Blessed Sacrament. The poorest can usually do something to express, by the cleanliness and tidiness of the apartment, that they wish to be ready when Jesus comes into the house. The Priest will indicate, perhaps, exactly where the little table is to be placed for the Sacrament. It will be where the eyes of the sick person can rest upon it with least effort. When the room is not too cramped, a little distance beyond the foot of the bed. and somewhat at the side is most convenient, and it should be so placed that when the Priest stands before it his side and not his back will be toward the sick person. On the table they will place before he comes, a clean white napkin, a Crucifix and two lighted Candles. These the Priest can bring with him, if necessary, but they ought to be in readiness in the house of every rightly instructed Catholic, as well as a vessel containing Holy Water. On the table there should be in readiness before the Priest comes, a glass half filled with fresh water, a teaspoon at its side, a small bowl with a folded napkin near it for the Priest to use in washing his hands.
These preparations will complete all that will he needed when the Priest arrives.
2. When the Priest knows before celebrating in the morning that he has to give Communion to the sick that day, he will take, before leaving the Altar, one of the consecrated particles, and slightly moistening its edge from the chalice, will place it n a small pyx about the size and shape of a watch-case, which he will close and place in the Tabernacle, in readiness for his visit. It is a matter of very considerable convenience to have this done while already vested at the Altar. In any case where the Priest is to touch the ]Messed Sacrament itself, he must be vested, or at least put on surplice and stole, and his fingers must be washed over the ablution cup afterwards. It saves time, therefore, to prepare the small pyx immediately before the ablutions at Mass. Where it is possible it is desirable that everything which the Priest will need at the house he is to visit, not only what has been mentioned as necessary on the small table, but the Priest's surplice, a white and a violet stole, Prayer Book, and. unless he wears it from the Church, his cassock, should be in readiness at the house before his arrival. Otherwise the Priest will have these things prepared in a hand-bag, which he will carry with him when he leaves the Church. These preparations having been made, he places over his breast by means of cords, which pass around the neck, a small burse, about four inches in depth and width in which he is to carry the pyx. This burse is lined with white silk and has two inner pockets, after the manner of a purse. In one of these he is to place the pyx. In the other are folded a small corporal and two other small pieces of linen, one to be used as a purificator and the other to be placed under the chin of the sick person before giving Communion. The Priest then goes in his cassock, or in his ordinary dress, to the Altar, kneels for a brief act of adoration on the lowest step, rises, ascends to the foot pace, genuflects, opens the Tabernacle door, takes the small pyx and places it in the burse and secures it under his cassock or coat, which he carefully buttons over it. He then leaves the Altar without any genuflection and goes to the house he is to visit.
3. We believe there are in England Parishes where the proper procession of the Blessed Sacrament might now be safely made from the Church to the sick man's house. Most fitting and beautiful it is where it can be sure of the respect and reverence which are due the Sacred Mysteries. The Church bell summons those whose opportunity and devotion make them glad to accompany Our Lord on His visit of love lo the sick. With lights carried before, and with the sound of a small bell to give warning of the approach of the All Holiest, the little procession emerges from the Church, the Priest attended by devout men who bear the Canopy under which he walks, as he carries the Priceless Gift to the sick.
With us, alas! the best the Priest can do is to remember Whom he presses to his breast, as with downcast eves he threads his way through narrow lanes or crowded streets, saluting no man by the way, but inwardly praying and reciting Psalms as he hastens on his sacred Mission with Jesus.
4. On entering the house, or the sick room, the Priest will pronounce the words, "Peace be to this house and to all who dwell in it.'' If there, have been no preparatory visit, as in a sudden call to the dying, he will, without waiting to vest, go straight to the sick man to examine his spiritual condition. He should be left alone for this purpose and those present should retire quietly without waiting to be requested. If possible he will get the sick person to make his Confession, and will say nothing to him or to those in the house of his having brought the Blessed Sacrament until assured of the person's disposition to receive. Even when there has been a previous visit, and though the sick person has made his preparation, it is safer to see him for a moment and to give him opportunity of speaking, should he desire it before receiving Communion. Should the sick man wish to make his Confession, the Priest will put on surplice and violet stole and receive it.
5. The sick man having been prepared for Communion, the attendants may now be called into the room, and the Candles upon the table will be lighted. If Holy Water is used the Priest, still wearing the violet stole, will stand at the foot of the bed and will sprinkle the sick person first directly in front of himself, then on his (own) left, then on his (own) right, thus forming the Cross with the water upon the sick person. He then sprinkles some about the room and upon the attendants.
Exchanging the violet stole for the white, the Priest next goes to the small table, and taking from the burse (which he need not remove from his breast) the three pieces of linen, he spreads the, Corporal in front of the Crucifix, and places the other linens folded beside it. He then takes the pyx from the burse and places it reverently upon the Corporal, he and those present immediately genuflecting upon both knees. Rising, he takes the small linen used as a Communion cloth and adjusts it under the chin of the sick person. .returning to the table he genuflects, rises and remains standing while the General Confession as in the Communion office is said by the sick person himself, or by some one present in his name, or if need be, by the Priest himself. Then turning toward the sick person, but so as not to turn his back upon the Blessed Sacrament, he pronounces the absolution and recites the Comfortable Words. Kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament he says the prayer of Humble Access. Rising he washes his fingers in the bowl prepared and dries them with the napkin. Genuflecting and rising again, he takes the pyx into his hands, opening it carefully over the Corporal, and with his left hand still holding it there, ho takes the particle between the thumb and first finger of his right hand without lifting it out of the pyx. Slightly elevating the pyx and turning toward the sick person, he says. "Behold the Lamb of God, Behold Him which taketh away the Sins of the world." Approaching the sick person, ho may first say thrice in his name, "Lord, I am not worthy that shouldst come under my roof, but speak the word only and Thy Servant shall be healed." Then, holding both pyx and the Blessed Sacrament over the Communion Cloth, he administers the Blessed Sacrament with the formula, "The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ." placing the Sacred Body upon the tongue of the sick person. Returning to the table he places the pyx upon the Corporal without genuflecting and holding the thumb and first fingers, which have touched the Sacred Body, over the open pyx, he pours with the spoon a little water over them, being careful that the drops are all collected in the pyx, and takes the water, which need not exceed a spoonful, to the sick person to consume. The Priest then dries his fingers and the pyx with the purificator, and, standing at the table, as at the beginning, says the thanksgiving, and, turning to the sick person, gives the blessing as at the end of Mass.
In what has been said the Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament has been viewed simply as regards the necessities of the sick and dying.
Surely no Catholic will need to be reminded that inseparable from this use, is the duty of a special devotion cowards our Blessed Lord who thus condescends to wait upon our Altars. Where the perpetual light has its real significance, and burns because the Blessed Sacrament is to be honoured, what a reproach to the coldness and ingratitude of tin; people, if through the hours of the day it remains as the only witness of the abiding presence of the Great King. The reserved Sacrament and the open door of the Church should make it almost impossible that there should ever be a moment in the day when some one at least is not found kneeling in prayer and adoration. Long years of the deserted Altar and of a Church closed except for one day in the week, have had the inevitable result of making Anglicans forget that the House of God is anything to them at all unless some service is going on. We are only slowly getting back to the idea that it is our home. From going to Church only to hear a sermon people had first to be taught that the service itself was worth going for. We think it much when they have learned this. But what they have yet to learn is that there is a blessing to be found in kneeling quietly in the silent Church simply because in the Blessed Sacrament their Lord is present to receive their worship and to bless them in return. There is little reason to think that the open Church, while it invites entrance simply to a desolate Altar will ever be much heeded. But let people once believe in the Real Presence, and the door which leads to an Altar where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, will again be sought by the faithful as the Church used to be sought, when the Presence by which "the Lord is in His Holy Temple" was understood by all to be something as different from Omnipresence as His Presence in the Manger at Bethlehem was different from anything which the Magi knew until they found Him there and worshipped Him.