Project Canterbury

The Use of Lights on the Communion Table in the Day Time.

By Arthur Philip Perceval.

London: Francis and John Rivington, 1851.

It may minister somewhat, under God’s blessing, to the Peace of the Church, by throwing light upon a subject in which, through want of accurate information, well-intentioned men have gone astray (and, unwisely persisting in their course, are now entangling themselves in difficulty, and affording a handle of attack to “as many as have evil will at Zion”), to present to the consideration of all whom it may concern, a somewhat personal history of the revival of Candles on the Communion Table, which has been one chief cause of the sad scenes exhibited of late in the Church of St. Barnabas, in Pimlico; and if the narrative shall seem prolix and egotistical, let the reader kindly exercise his patience unto the end, when the motive for the egotistical form and minute detail will be assigned. In the mean time, let him be content to receive for once a tale au naturel, neither spiced nor diluted ad captandum.

My first acquaintance with Candles on the Communion Table was in the Chapel of Oriel College, Oxford, where I went to reside as an under-graduate in October, 1817. I saw them also at the Chapel of Magdalen College in that University, to which the love of Church music took me almost daily. I witnessed them also, about the same time, in the Cathedral at Winchester, where my friendship with (my future brother-in-law) Sir W. Heathcote led me frequently to pass some time in the vacations. In that Cathedral the Candles were not upon the Table, but on two very large wooden Candelabra resting on the ground, like the handsome bronze ones, twelve feet in height, the spoil of one of King Charles’s Chapels Royal, sold during the Rebellion, and which, in 1822, were in the Cathedral of Ghent.

In 1819 (I think), when lionizing some friends at Oxford, in showing them our Chapel at Oriel, I came nearer to the Table than I had done before; and then perceived that the Candles were not only filthily dirty, but broken in several places, and only kept upright by cinctures of paper fastened (I think) with pins. As I had had the privilege to be trained from childhood in a reverence for sacred things, I could not forbear from remonstrating with the Tutors of the College on a state of things so unseemly. They took the remonstrance in good part, and an alteration was made; but whether it was by substituting new Candles for the old ones, or (as I rather think) substituting painted sticks to look like Candles, I cannot say. The present Archbishop of Dublin, the present Provost of Oriel College, the Rector of St. Giles’s, Bloomsbury, the Vicar of Cobham, Surrey, and the Vicar of Hursley, in Hampshire, who were then the resident Fellows, can (I suppose) both remember, and say, if they think fit.

From Oriel College I was elected to a fellowship at All Souls, in the College Chapel of which Foundation there were then no Candles on the Communion Table, which, with Oriel, Magdalen, and Winchester under my mind, I naturally regarded as a defect, which, when I quitted my fellowship, I supplied, by presenting a pair of Candlesticks for the purpose, which are there (I suppose) to this day.

I do not remember any thing more upon the subject, until, in that collection of anonymous contributions which was given to the world under the title of Dr. Hook’s “Ecclesiastical Dictionary” (of which those on Confirmation, Eucharist, Half-Communion, and Holy Table were from my own pen), I read, under “Lights for the Altar,” the passage which Mr. Bennett is reported to have read lately from the pulpit in St. Barnabas, Pimlico. [Since printing the first edition, it has been recalled to my mind, that they were introduced into Trinity Church, Coventry, in 1830.] The impression it conveyed to my mind was simply “puerility;” and I thought to myself, that if no more could be said for the use of Candles on the Altar than that, we should be quite as well without them, and that my money at All Souls had been misapplied. For that, in the middle of the nineteenth century, when the light of the glorious Gospel of God has shone throughout the world, it should be necessary, by two tapers on the Altar, to signify that it ought so to shine, did seem to me almost a climax of childishness. And therefore, when, shortly afterwards, they became a bone of contention, through Dr. Hook and others insisting upon them (as in that article in his Dictionary they are insisted upon), I could only shrug my shoulders, and marvel.

The last that I had to do with this subject was in consequence of an application for information as to the real law and meaning of these lights, made to me by the present Rector of Warburton, near Warrington, with whom I had formed acquaintance while he served a cure in Surrey. He wished for the information in relation to a review in the “English Review” which he was writing, upon one of the pro-Popery publications, from within the bosom of the Church, with which we have been now for many years inundated, and for which we have, in the first place, to thank the Editors of “Froude’s Remains,” and, in the next, the compilers of a publication called “The Ecclesiastical Almanack,” which was first brought under my notice in 1840, and against which I immediately sought to put people on their guard by a paper in the “British Magazine” (Vol. xvii. pp. 629-631), under the signature V. A. L. I was very happy to strengthen Mr. Beaufort’s hands in seeking to arrest the same mischief, and turned to my books to hunt up the matter, and furnished him with much of what follows, which be inserted in his review, and printed also separately for distribution.

It seemed manifest, beyond dispute, that the use of lights, in broad daylight, at the Communion Tables in the Church of England, was directly connected with the doctrine of Transubstantiation. That doctrine was first forced upon the Western Churches by the decree of (what is called) the 4th Lateran Council, i.e. A.D. 1215: prior to which time (as Tonstal, the staunchest and purest of the adherents to the Roman Dogmas in the 16th century, in England, observes) it was free for men to receive that doctrine or not, as they thought best.

It is not till after the enforcement of Transubstantiation on the Western Churches by the Lateran Decree, in 1215, that, as far as my investigation as yet enables me to speak, we find mention in the English Canons of lights, or candlesticks, forming part of Ecclesiastical Furniture. The first I have met with occurs in the Constitution of Walter Cantilupe, Bishop of Worcester, 1244, who, in his last Constitution, speaks of “minores cerei in usus altarium.” The next is in the Constitution of Walter Gray, Archbishop of York, in the year 1250, where we find, 1. “A Candlestick for the Paschal Taper:” 2. “A Lanthorn with a little Bell:” and 3. “Two Candlesticks for the Collets,” i.e. Acolythes, or attendants on the Priest. And that this is the very first Introduction of No. 2 into the English Churches, appears from this, viz., that in the Constitutions of St. Edmund, Archbishop of Canterbury, from 1234 to 1244, his constitutions hearing date in the third year of his Archiepiscopate, i.e. 1236, we find mention only of “a little bell going before the Lord’s Body when the Eucharist is to be carried to the Sick;” in order to make which intelligible to ordinary readers, it is necessary to explain that, originally, in the very earliest times of Christianity, when members of a Congregation were hindered from communicating in Church by reason of sickness, it was the custom (for the more obviously preserving “the Communion of Saints”) to reserve, at the Sacred Feast, a portion of the consecrated elements for their use. The idea is beautiful: and, among other charges which we have to bring against the Mediaeval Church is this, viz. that they not only, by the figment of Purgatory, have deprived us (in prudence) of the comfort of praying for our loved ones who are gone; but, by their figment of Transubstantiation, have deprived us (also in prudence) of the pleasure of reserving for our sick members a portion of the elements consecrated for the Congregation. To avoid the idolatrous adoration of them, as well as other superstitions remaining to this day among our people, and arising from the same source (well known to the Country Clergy), the Church of England was compelled to enjoin the decent, but novel, custom of consuming with reverence, after the Eucharist, the elements consecrated which remained over and above, after all present had communicated.

But to return: a few years later than the Constitutions of Gray, Archbishop of York, in 1250, we have those of John Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury, given at Reading, in 1279. Here we have an explanation of the use to be made of “the Lanthorn with the Little Bell” in the Constitution of York. In the 7th of Peckham’s Constitutions we read: “We decree that this Sacrament be carried with due reverence to the Sick, the Priest having on his Surplice and stole” (i.e. the black silk or serge which we now call Scarf) “with a light in a Lantern before him.” But as yet, beyond “the Candlestick for the Paschal Taper,” in the York Constitutions for 1250 (which, by its very term, seems appropriated to some special ceremony at Easter, indicative probably of resurrection, and not at all concerned with Transubstantiation), we have nothing touching upon the subject of the Two Candlesticks on the Communion- or Altar-Table. In 1292, in the deed of Endowment of the Church of. St. Nicholas, Great Bookham, Surrey, i.e. 77 years after the Lateran Council, for the first time (that I have been able, as yet, to find) we have mention of them. In that deed provision is made, out of the endowment, and enjoined upon the Vicar, for the perpetual maintenance of two waxes (cereos) before the altar of St. Nicholas, in the said Church. But, whether those Cerei were to be lighted in the day time, or only after sunset, does not appear. The injunction for this light, in daylight, occurs first in the Constitutions of Walter Reynolds (Archbishop of Canterbury from 1313 to 1327), where, in the 5th Constitution, we read this Injunction: “And let two Candles, or one at least, be lighted at the time of High Mass” (i.e. twelve at noon”). [That this is their first introduction by authority, appears from hence, that in the Constitutions of Robert Winchilsea, Archbishop of Canterbury, from 1294 to 1313, the immediate predecessor of Reynolds, no mention of Candlesticks for Mass or Altar occurs in the very minute list of Church Furniture, which is contained in the fourth of those Constitutions. Only “a Lanthorn to be carried before the Body of Christ” (the reserved wafer when carried to the Sick); and “a Candle-stick for the Taper at Easter.”] So late in the history of the Church of England, and for so short a period (not quite 230 years), did this custom obtain in the Church of England; and that in immediate and distinct connexion with, and, as it were, illustrative of, the mediaeval figment of Transubstantiation. In tracing the onward history of these two lights, I have, as yet, met nothing worthy of comment, until we come to the reign of Edward VI. This Prince came to the throne January 28, 1547 (N. S.). The very first ecclesiastical movement in his reign was the issuing the injunctions which Mr. Bennett, from Dr. Hook, read in St. Barnabas; while, as yet, not even communion in both kinds had been restored, which was not done until the Communion Office in 1548; before the first Book of Common Prayer, which was not agreed upon till January, 1649 (N. 8.); and before the doctrine of Transubstantiation had been brought under discussion at the Universities, which was late in that same year, 1549. It is in this sense, then, that we are to construe the injunction issued by Edward VI.’s Commissioners, cited as of such weight. by the contributor to Dr. Hook’s Dictionary. The words of the injunction are these: “that all Deans, Archdeacons, Parsons, Vicars, and other ecclesiastical persons” . . . “shall suffer from henceforth no torches nor candles, tapers, or images of wax, to be set up before any image or picture, but only two lights upon the high altar, before the Sacrament, which, for the signification that Christ is the very true Light of the world, they shall suffer to remain still. The question is, what is to be understood by the term “before the Sacrament?” All persons moderately cognizant with ecclesiastical language of this date, know perfectly that, by that term in this place, nothing else, more or less, was signified, than the reserved consecrated wafer in the Pyx, reserved originally (as we have seen) for the use of the sick, who could not receive the sacred feast in the Church; but which, by means of the doctrine of Transubstantiation, had become an object of worship of the very highest kind, even of latreia: that species of worship which, as acknowledged by the construers of the degrees of worship, is due only to the Deity.

But that it may be shown, beyond all gainsaying, that such is the meaning to be attached to the words, it will be well to cite the act of Mary I. (sess. 2), c. 3: where arrest, and imprisonment until Quarter Sessions (and then to be tried and punished), is awarded against any person who shall “contemptuously pull down, deface, spoil, abuse, break, or otherwise irreverently handle or alter the most blessed, comfortable, and holy Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ, commonly called the Sacrament of the Altar, being, or that shall be, in any Church or Chapel, or in any other decent place, or the pyx or canopy wherein the said Sacrament is or shall be.”

The whole meaning and intent of the injunction passed clean away, when the Church of England ceased to reserve any particle of the consecrated elements, and ordered all to be reverently consumed upon the spot: and would have equally passed away, even though, together with the prohibition of reservation, the doctrine of Transubstantiation had been retained. How much more unmeaning, if possible, must that injunction be, when the whole doctrine of Transubstantiation, which first introduced these lights among us, has been utterly and entirely abrogated from the teaching of our Church?

But now let us turn aside to examine a little the weight or authority due to this injunction, even supposing no change had taken place either in the disposal of the consecrated elements, or in the doctrine of the value to be set upon them (apart, I mean, from their administration or reception in Communion). For this injunction is cited in Dr. Hook’s Dictionary as a matter of grave force, and the use of lights is spoken of as enjoined by our laws. Now the only mention of them is in this injunction of Edward VI.; and that, not an order to have them, but a permission to suffer them! But were it otherwise, of what value or authority, I would fain ask, would a mere injunction of Edward VI. be? The time, thank God, has long passed since the fiat of the wearer of the Crown could be regarded as law, or obligation to obey, unless, in ecclesiastical matters, supported by the assemblies of the Church, or by the Great Council of the nation in Parliament in causes civil. If Mr. Bennett can gravely urge an injunction of Edward VI. as having the force of law, he must admit the same to one from Queen Victoria; and, with Lord John Russell at Her Majesty’s elbow, I wish him joy of his conclusion. “Oh,” but it will be said by Mr. Bennett, and his teacher, the anonymous contributor of this article to Dr. Hook’s Dictionary, “What do you make of the Rubric just before Morning Service? Do you not see that we quote that as well as Edward VI.’s injunction?” Yes, indeed, I do, but I know that it is quoted to even less purpose (if that be possible) than the injunction itself. Let us read the Rubric: “Here it is to be noted, that such ornaments of the Church, and of the ministers thereof, at all times of their ministration, shall be retained, and be in use, as were in this Church of England, by authority of Parliament, in the second year of the reign of Edward VI.”

It is sufficient to ask, as an exposure of the absurdity of the whole thing, by what possible means can a royal injunction of the first year of Edward VI. be construed to be the same as authority of Parliament in the second year? The excellent Dr. Nicholls, who lived in the reign of Queen Anne, has commented clearly upon this Rubric; and has shown, that the act of 2 Edward VI. (referred to) contains in itself no directions concerning habits or ornaments, but simply enjoins that “all ministers shall be bound to say mattens and evensong, and the administration of the Sacraments, and all the common and open prayer, ‘in such order and form as is mentioned in the said book’ (first Common Prayer Book of Edward VI.), ‘and not other or otherwise.’ So that by this act (says Dr. Nicholle) we are sent to inquire into the Rubrics of King Edward’s first Common Prayer Book.” In which Book no word will be found concerning these lights.

Thus utterly without law, either enjoining or permitting, and utterly without reason, or rather contrary to all reason, and only connected with and arising from a mediaeval error in doctrine, which we have long since discarded and prohibited, is that custom for which Mr. Bennett thinks himself, in foro conscientiae, bound to contend at the hazard of decency, peace, and even life itself! I mean the custom of having lights upon the Communion Table, at any other time than when artificial light is required for the performance of Divine Service, in the absence of the light of day.

As the writer of the article in Dr. Hook’s Dictionary (which has been the chief apparent cause of all this error), from meeting in the early Canons mention of offerings of oil for lamps, and directions concerning it, has been led to conclude that in these he found traces of customs sanctioning that for which he was contending, it may be desirable, for his sake (if still alive) and that of others, to offer a word of explanation, which, if that writer would only have taken the trouble to read up his subject in Bingham, he would have found to his hand, viz. that the necessity and use of this oil and these lamps in the primitive Church arose from hence, viz. that the public worship of Christians was prohibited by law; and the exercise of it exposed the worshippers to fine, imprisonment, torture, or death. To avoid needlessly incurring these consequences, the Christians were wont to meet for worship by night, or in caves or catacombs, whence the light of day was excluded. It was necessary, therefore, to use artificial light; and the means of maintaining this was one of the recognized acts of worship and ablation on the part of the believers. Further, in order that Vespers, Complines, and Mattens might all be decently celebrated (which occur between sunset and sunrise), provision of light was always made, and enjoined to be made. Hence the hour of Vespers was known in the Eastern Church as Lychnapsia; in the Western, Hora Lucernaris, because candles were then lighted. The oblations of wax for these purposes appear in some places to have been once a year; but our Anglo-Saxon Canons direct the Light Scot to be paid three times a year. Of course candlesticks for these purposes formed as necessary a part of the ordinary furniture of a church as the seats, or stoup, or piscina. But of a fixed light upon the altar before the reserved wafer (or Housel) I can find no trace before the promulgation of Transubstantiation.

But to use artificial light in worship in the day time is one of the follies and superstitions of Heathenism, which Lactantius, who flourished about A.D. 300, in the 6th Book of his work “De vero Cultu,” holds up to severe scorn and reprobation. It began, however, i.e. the burning lights by day at the tombs of the Martyrs, from Heathenism to creep into the Church; was condemned (with a reason which shows the origin to have been for magical incantation, as Ferdinand Mendoza explained it to Clement VIII.) by the Council of Eliberis, in Spain, an. 305, c. 34; was attached, as a manifest graft from Heathenism, by Vigilantius, a Spanish Presbyter, towards the close of that century; and feebly defended by Jerome, as not altogether idolatrous; who alleges a custom in the Oriental Churches of lighting tapers at the reading of the Gospel, of which, in the 8th and 9th centuries, in the works (in the Bibliotheca Patrum, Paris, vol. x.) ascribed to Alcuin and Amalarius of Treves (but not mentioned as theirs by Dupin or Clarke), we find some traces in the West—tapers being lighted at the reading of the Gospel, to signify its superiority over the Prophets, and extinguished when the reading was finished. Instead of which, in England, we mark the same honour by saying before the Gospel, “Glory be to Thee, O Lord,” and after it, according to the beautiful custom still retained in country Parishes, “Thanks be given to God.” I have met with nothing else in the Ecclesiastical writers to throw further light upon this subject.

I have related the matter in this personal style, because, as I have no reason to believe that any step had been taken of late years in reference to the Candles on the Communion Table before the transactions narrated above at Oriel and All Souls, it is not unreasonable to suppose that they set the matter in motion; and that, consequently, I have been myself, however unconsciously and unintentionally, in some sort the cause of the error into which Mr. Bennett has fallen, and of the consequent turmoil; and therefore I have stated the whole of the facts, that they who are disposed to blame may have free opportunity of doing so. I have been minute, even to prolixity, in stating all the circumstances, that all men may see with what perfect simplicity, and unconsciousness of error, a man may be led into error in a matter of such obscurity, which I hope may plead in mitigation of censure, not only in my own case, but in that also of those who more rashly (and with less reading and consideration than any alteration in sacred things demands) have carried out to an extreme of absurdity the use of Candles, for which no legitimate use was assigned. And further still, that the rulers of the Church may take occasion to consider the practical inconvenience likely, at some time or another, to ensue, from retaining in the Church any practice for which sound and intelligible cause cannot be alleged.

P.S. The lights in the Tabernacle and Temple, from which the light of day was excluded, significant of the then existing dispensation of prophecy—the “light shining in a dark place;” and of “the mystery which in” those “ages was not made known unto the sons of men;” can afford no precedent for such things under the Christian dispensation, with which they are wholly incongruous; seeing that “the day has dawned, and the day-star arisen on our hearts;” “the Sun of Righteousness has risen with healing in His wings;” hath exhibited Himself “the true light of the world,” and “hath brought life and immortality to light by His Gospel.” For Christian men in sun-lighted temples, to burn tapers in the worship of God is tantamount to declaring that they prefer the glimmer of prophecy, to the full blaze of Gospel revelation.

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