The Eucharistic Fast and the Constitution “Christus Dominus:” An Anglican Study
By Geoffrey Arundell Chatfield Whatton.
London: The Faith Press, 1953.
ON the feast of the Epiphany last, January 6th, 1953, the Holy Father Pope Pius XII issued an “Apostolic Constitution,” known, as is usual, from its opening words as “Christus Dominus,” concerned with the fast before Mass and Communion and the hours at which they may be permitted. This was accompanied by an “Instruction” embodying and amplifying these new rules. Our concern is with these documents and their relevance to us of the Anglican Communion. I begin with a statement of their contents with comments thereon. The first point is quoted from the Constitution, and the rest from the Instruction as being fuller. They are as follows:—
A Rule of Universal Application
The law of absolute fast from the previous midnight is to remain in all its vigour for all who do not come under the special conditions set forth in the instruction. But it shall be a general principal henceforth for all, priests and faithful alike, that the taking of “natural water” does not break the fast.
Remarks. The Instruction makes it clear that “natural water” is “water to which no other element has been added,” and Fr. Martindale, in The Universe for February 20th, gives it as his opinion that the water may be hot if desired. This rule is the only actual change in the Law universally applicable to all without the need of dispensation: so that, as the March number of The Clergy Review points out (page 161), “The faithful who meritoriously refrain from drinking even a few drops of water are not observing the Law more perfectly; they are performing an act of self-appointed mortification.”
For the infirm whether priests or laity
(1) Sick laymen, even those who are not bedridden, can take something to drink—provided it is non-alcoholic—if, owing to their illness, they cannot keep the Eucharistic fast before receiving Holy Communion without grave inconvenience. They may also take as medicine either liquid (excluding alcohol) or solid food—provided that it is genuine medicinal treatment—which has been either prescribed by a doctor or which is commonly recognized in all cases as medicine. But it must be pointed out that any solid food taken as nourishment cannot be regarded as medicine.
(2) The conditions under which any one can obtain dispensation from the Eucharistic fast, for which there is no prescribed time limit before receiving Holy Communion, must be prudently considered by his confessor. Without his advice nobody can make use of the concession. The confessor will be able to give his advice either in the internal sacramental forum, or extra-sacramentally in the internal forum. The permission will be once-and-for-always, as long as the conditions of the illness itself lasts.
(3) Sick priests, even those who are not bedridden, can avail themselves of the dispensation in like manner, either for celebrating Mass or for receiving Holy Communion.
Remarks. This paragraph is an extension of the dispensations granted by Pius X, and embodied in the revised Codex issued by Benedict XV. The principal differences are that the infirm person need no longer be bedridden, the dispensation can be given at once without regard to the likelihood of speedy recovery—in the former dispensation the sick person had to have been ill for a month without hope of quick recovery, the number of communions is now unlimited, and a priest may use the dispensation to say Mass as well as to receive the Holy Eucharist.
For priests who find themselves in special circumstances
(4) Priests, who are not sick may break their fast by taking something to drink (alcoholic drinks excepted) before celebrating Mass in the following circumstances: (a) if they celebrate at a late hour (i.e., after 9 a.m.); (b) or after heavy work in the priestly ministry (e.g., from early morning or for a considerable time); (c) or after a long journey (i.e., at least two kilometres—1.25 miles—on foot, or proportionately farther by other kinds of transport, allowing for the difficulties of the journey or the special circumstances of the person making it).
(5) The three above cases cover all the circumstances for which the legislator intends to concede the above faculties, thereby avoiding all interpretations which might widen them.
(6) Priests who in these circumstances may take something to drink, one or more times, must keep a fast of one hour before the celebration of Mass.
(7) Moreover all priests who celebrate Mass twice or three times (this requires permission) in the day can, in the earlier Masses, take the two ablutions prescribed by the rubrics, but using water only, which according to the new principles does not break the fast.
Those however who, on Christmass day or the Commemoration of All Souls, celebrate three Masses without intermission are held to the rubrics of the Missal (i.e., must defer the ablutions to the last Mass).
(8) If through inadvertence a priest who has to celebrate twice or three times takes wine in the ablutions he is not thereby debarred from saying the second or third Mass.
Remarks. These rules, like those for the infirm, derive from the dispensations of Pius X embodied in the Codex of 1918. It used to be required, in addition to the lateness of the hour of Mass or the distance to be travelled, that the priest was under the necessity of duplicating. This is not now required and a definition is given of a late hour and of a long distance. Further it used to be necessary to apply to the Bishop. It is now not even necessary to apply to the confessor. The priest is his own judge of the necessity. In this it seems to differ from the dispensation for an infirm priest: for in that case seemingly no distinction is drawn between the laity, who certainly need to have recourse to their confessor, and the priest. Canon Mahoney, however, in the Clergy Review (page 161), already cited, suggests that this is an oversight; and gives it as his opinion-pending some more authoritative decision—that in the case of a sick priest too he is intended to be the judge of his own need. This, interpretation would make the two dispensations for priests uniform in the matter as the two for the laity are also uniform with each other. But of course it is not authoritative.
For the faithful in special circumstances
(9) The faithful too who are unable to fast—not through illness but through any grave inconvenience—are allowed to receive Holy Communion after having taken something to drink up to one hour beforehand, provided they do not touch alcohol.
(10) Cases in which grave inconvenience exists fall into three categories without further amplification:
(a) Heavy labour. This covers cases of workers in factories, transport, shipping or other public service who have to perform their duties in day and night shifts; those who from duty or charity are up all night, for example, nurses and nightwatchmen; also pregnant women and mothers of families who before they go to church must spend a long time on domestic duties, etc.
(b) The late hour at which they receive Holy Communion. There are many members of the faithful who can only go late to church for Mass; there are many children who might find it too much to go to church, receive Communion, and then return home for breakfast before going to school, etc.
(c) A long journey. This must be two kilometres on foot or a proportionately longer distance according to the kind of vehicle and the circumstances of the person travelling or the nature of the route.
(11) The grave reasons of inconvenience must be weighed by the confessor in or out of the sacrament of penance. Without his advice the faithful cannot make use of this dispensation; and the advice can be given once-for-always so long as the cause of the grave inconvenience lasts.
Remarks. This dispensation is an extension to the laity of that for priests contained in paragraphs 4-7, and like it is based upon that of Pius X which was incorporated into the Codex of 1918. It would seem, from The Clergy Review for April (pages 231-2), where the matter is discussed, that “a grave inconvenience” may normally be presumed by the confessor whenever any one of the above conditions is verified.
Faculties are granted to Ordinaries to permit the celebration of Evening Masses in those dioceses in which this may be deemed necessary because of the circumstances. For the common good sometimes demands the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries after noon, for example, for workers in certain industries in which there is shift-work on Sundays and Days of Obligation; for certain classes of workers who are engaged in the morning, for example, dock-workers; and on occasion of religious or social reunions to which a multitude of the faithful taking part come from a distance.
(12) Such Masses may be celebrated only after 4 p.m. and the Ordinary will be able to allow it only on certain days laid down as follows:
(a) Existing Days of Obligation in accordance with Canon 1247, i.
(b) Suppressed feasts (viz., what are commonly called Days of Devotion) in accordance with the list published by the Sacred Congregation of the Council on December 28th, 1919.
(c) The First Friday of the month.
(d) Other feasts attended by a large concourse of the faithful.
(e) One other day in the week in addition to those listed above, whenever it may be necessary for a certain class of people.
(13) Priests who celebrate Mass after noon and the faithful who receive Holy Communion in these circumstances, may take during their meal, which is permitted up to three hours before the start of the Mass or the time that they go to Communion, the alcoholic drinks to which they are accustomed; for example, wine, beer, etc., always excluding spirits. Before or after their meal, they may take something to drink, excluding alcohol of every kind, up to an hour before Mass or Communion.
(14) Priests, unless they have permission to say two or more Masses, may not celebrate both morning and evening: nor may the laity receive Holy Communion twice on the same day.
(15) All the faithful, however, even if they do not belong to the category for whose benefit the Evening Mass was authorized, may go to communion at it, provided they observe the conditions as to the fast, etc., given above.
(16) In territories in which the “Common Law” does not apply, but the “Missionary Law” Ordinaries can permit Evening Mass every day of the week on the same conditions.
Remarks. These concessions are not entirely new, for special indults for Evening Mass have been conceded before—and even for its habitual use in places in which there have been or are persecutions as Mexico and Russia—but these permissions are now codified and extended. It should be remarked that “Days of Obligation” clearly include Sundays as is manifest from Canon 1247. An application made in the diocese of Rome to the Cardinal Vicar for permission to have an Evening Mass on Maundy Thursday this year was refused “for the present” (The Catholic Herald, March 26th and April 10th, 1953). The terms of this refusal would seem to show that such an Evening Mass (whether optional or compulsory I know not) does seem to be contemplated as part of the reformation of the Ceremonies of Holy Week of which “The Restored Paschal Vigil” is a foretaste. Title I 3, “Priests who celebrate Mass after noon,” etc., is somewhat obscure. Canon Mahoney in The Clergy Review for April (pages 229-31) thinks that the most likely meaning is that “There is no restriction whatever on the number of solid meals accompanied, if desired, by non-spirituous alcohol, up to three hours beforehand. But apart from these meals only non-alcoholic liquid nourishment is allowed up. to one hour beforehand.” The other possible interpretations seem obvious, unreasonable and contrary to the spirit of the Constitution.
There are three more titles to the “Instruction” but I do not think they need be quoted, since they are concerned only with the uniformity of observance; reverence to the Eucharist (on which nothing specific is laid down); elimination of contrary customs; urging the faithful to make use of the dispensations and to assist at Mass and receive Holy Communion more frequently; and finally that priests are to preach about the Constitution and the spiritual benefits the Holy Father intends to result from it in the way of more frequent reception of the Blessed Sacrament, etc.
I have no doubt that when we first heard of this Constitution we all felt a certain shock, since it runs counter to much that we of the “Catholic Movement” in the Anglican Communion have been urging upon our faithful lay folk—to say nothing of our Fathers in God—for the past hundred years or so. And I think that before coming to grips with the practical side of our attitude to it it would be well briefly to review, as does the Pope, the history of the fast and hours for celebrating Mass. These laws would seem to be the result of ancient custom rather than positive legislation in the first place, though gradually local Councils, as for instance those of Hippo and Carthage towards the end of the fourth century, reinforced the customary law with positive legislation, and other Councils even later, such as those of Toledo and Braga early in the eleventh century and Constance in 1415, imposed sanctions. There seems to have been one exception to the fast deliberately made in some places, as in North Africa, on Maundy Thursday when a meal was taken before Mass in the Evening. The Gelasian Sacramentary provided three Masses on that day, the third an Evening Mass in memory of the Last Supper; and afternoon Masses—after None at about 3.30 p.m.—are common on fast days (e.g., the ferias of Lent); but there is no suggestion that the Communicants are not fasting. Mass after None is still ordered on fast days for the Conventual Mass in the Roman Missal, but that Hour of Prayer is said in the morning, so that Mass is actually celebrated at the usual time. It is true to say, I think, that Blessed Pius X was the first Legislator in the Western Church to give general dispensations from the fast (other than when the Eucharist is received as Viaticum) or, rather, to declare under what circumstances lesser authorities may do so. I think most of us are disposed to think that the Eastern Orthodox Churches are quite rigid in their attitude to the Eucharistic fast, but if Liturgy and Worship (Ed. W. K. Lowther Clarke and Charles Harris, S.P.C.K., 1932, page 255) is to be trusted, and I have no reason to suppose otherwise, the Orthodox do in fact have some informal relaxations of the fast, which have grown up by custom and to which no date of inception could easily be fixed. These are as follows. I quote:
“Regulations on this subject in the Orthodox Eastern Church. A learned Orthodox Archbishop gives the followinginformation as to relaxations of the strict rule of Fasting Communion,allowed in certain cases. (I) The Fast before Communionis not held to be binding in the case of very youngchildren; the general age for its being binding is six. (It will be remembered that among the Orthodox infants receive Holy Communion). (2) It is not held binding in the case of danger of death. (3) In the case of the extremely aged, the very infirm; and those who are dangerously ill, it may be relaxed by the priest confessor. (4) In no case can the individual decide for himself. (5) No other relaxations than the above are permitted. (6) Where relaxation is permitted the food taken must be of the lightest kind, a few grapes, or the like. (It should be added that these relaxations among the Orthodox are a matter of custom or œcumenical ‘common law’ and are not regulated by œcumenical canon.) “
It will be noted that these regulations are as we should expect less precise than the Western ones; but they seem quite in the spirit of Pius X or even Pius XII. Liturgy and Worship follows this up with substantially similar rules from the Armenian, Coptic, and East and West Syrian Churches. So that all the Churches of what we may perhaps improperly, but conveniently, call the “Catholic Tradition” will be seen to have come independently to a less rigid interpretation of the Œcumenical Law than they may have once had. This should go some way to removing the sense of shock which the New Rules of the Constitution of Pius XII gave at their first hearing over the radio. It will also demonstrate, I think conclusively, that the “mind of the Church” is that the Eucharistic Fast, being of purely human origin and concerned with discipline and not faith or morals, is by its nature dispensable whereas of course if it were a matter of faith or morals even the Holy See could not dispense and would not claim to do so. The position taken by the Church of England up to the so-called Reformation was of course that of the rest of the West, and indeed of the Universal Church. She both taught and enforced the fast. Since then she has given no indication anywhere (up to 1928) that she made or intended to make any change; but in fact she has ceased to enforce the fast and indeed for a long period up to 1833 to teach it publicly, though it has never quite died out of memory or practice among her children. The Proposed Prayer Book of 1928 (not 1927) contained a rubric saying that it is a laudable custom of the Catholic Church but that communicants may act in the matter as their consciences (perhaps ill-informed) dictate. I do not think that we should hold that this rubric expressed the true mind of the Church of England (though no doubt it does to some extent of the Anglican Episcopate of the day and perhaps largely since) or that it could do anything to modify the Œcumenical Rule. We now turn from exposition of the subject to the practical question of our attitude to the New Dispensations.
I have already shown that it appears to be the mind of the Church, as evinced by all the “Churches” of the “Catholic Tradition,” that dispensations are possible and desirable under present circumstances: and indeed that these Churches independently have acted on this view in more or less degree for their own faithful. The clergy of the Anglican Communion seem to be divided between two views up to the present. On the one hand there are those (the “Catholic Party” so to call them) who hold a rigoristic view that no dispensation is possible (except that for the dying which seems to be coeval with the law)—this is I believe the line set out in the statutes of the C.B.S. as they now stand—and on the other hand there are the rest of the clergy who teach and enforce no view, but suffer the faithful to whom they minister to go their own way or even in some cases actively discourage the fast altogether. We belong to the first named tradition, and the question before us is whether we are going to adhere to it rigidly and be more rigorous than Rome is now prepared to be, or than seemingly the Churches of the Eastern Tradition are either. There are two points upon which I think we may all find ourselves agreed: (1) That an Œcumenical Council, or other Œcumenical authority if such there be, could dispense from the laws with which we are concerned-the fast and permitted hours for Mass. And (2) that a “local Church” (i.e., a Province or group of Provinces) would be acting ultra vires in issuing on its own authority a universally applicable dispensation or in abolishing the Laws in their entirety. It is true that both Rome and the East seem to be against our second point of agreement; but this is because neither look upon themselves as a local Church or group of local Churches, but as the One Catholic Church of the Creeds. Whereas we hold, I suppose, that the Great Schism of A.D. 1010 and that of the sixteenth century between England and Rome did not break utterly the unity of the Church (which continued in either case in both parties to the Schism), but only marred its unicity and witness to the One True Faith (see Darwell Stone, by C. L. Cross, Dacre Press, page 296). Let us then agree on the validity of these two assumptions. It is for this reason that we refuse the rubric of 1928 and should continue to do so, though it were to acquire the undoubted authority of the English Provincial Synods. Incidentally it may be worth noting that this principal might be useful to us in other matters if the proposed Anglican “Canon Law” should ever come into force.
We agree then that local authority cannot issue a universally extended dispensation, unless authorized to do so by an authority which can speak for the whole Church. I leave on one side the question as to whether a bishop or some other lesser authority can validly dispense in an individual case. And we agree that an Œcumenical Council could issue such a dispensation or even abolish the laws completely. And I think that what has been said so far shows that “the mind of the Church,” as shown by the similar actions of both East and West, is that some measure of dispensation over and above that for Viaticum is needed. Indeed I think that the common mind of East and West goes far enough, without any further argumentation, to allow us to say that the dispensation in the Constitution “Christus Dominus” with regard to the infirm, both priests and lay folk, can be safely acted upon in the Anglican Communion. And this I should have held even prior to the issuing of the Constitution, for the dispensation given by Pope Pius X goes no farther than, and indeed in some respects not so far as, that granted by customary law in the Orthodox Churches to those in that and similar positions.
An Œcumenical Council then can undoubtedly change or abolish the laws or customs with which we are concerned. But if we go no farther we are in fact allowing for no dispensation at all in the foreseeable future or with regard to those classes of the faithful who must stand in need or who without some dispensation are almost if not altogether debarred from Holy Communion or even the hearing of Mass. It would seem necessary then to find some other authority capable of expressing the mind of the Universal Church on such matters of discipline: and I find such an authority in the Holy See which has in fact issued the dispensations we are now considering. I maintain that to find in the Pope such a competent authority it is not necessary to be a “Papalist,” for the Anglican delegates to the Malines Conferences, who were not such (with the possible exception of the late Lord Halifax), agreed that the Holy Father rightly exercises a certain responsibility of oversight for the whole Church Militant. And this question of the Eucharistic Fast and hours for the celebration of Mass is surely just such a case in which this authority, admitted by the Anglican delegates, might rightly be exercised. To admit that the Church Militant has a Metropolis and that this is Rome is not inconsistent with Anglican Loyalty, unless such non-Papalist Anglicans as Darwell Stone and Evelyn Underhill, who both admitted as much were disloyal (see Stone’s Life, page 18, and Underhill’s Letters, page 195). If the Holy See is not a competent authority in such a matter it is difficult to see who is: and to hold that there is no such authority would seem in the present circumstances to run the risk of falling under our Lord’s condemnation: “Ye do make the law of God of none effect by your traditions” (St. Matt. xv. 6); since the laws in question are of human origin and the command to “eat the flesh of the Son of Man” (St. John vi. 53) is of divine origin, and many can scarcely fulfil it now because of the human law which stands in the way. If however it be admitted, as Stone seems to allow (see Life, page 240 et seq.), that lesser authorities may dispense in individual cases, as distinct from applying the dispensations granted by the Pope, then they may well be guided by the eminently sensible rules set forth by him. The laws were made for the avoidance of unseemliness and worse when the Agape preceded the Eucharist (cf. 1 Cor. xi. 2 1 et seq.): circumstances and needs have change since then, and it seems reasonable that disciplinary regulations made to fit them should be changed with them. We believe in a Holy Catholic Church ever guided by the Holy Spirit and not in a fossil Church of Antiquity ever static. And there is nothing inherently more abhorrent in taking food before Communion than immediately after it. Indeed solid food is not in question, except medicine which is scarcely food in intention even if solid, except in the case of Evening Mass and Communion.
Someone might say at this point that this is all very well but the Canon Law binding upon us is not the Codex of 1918 or any modem Papal Constitutions but that in force in Ecclesia Anglicana of the Middle Ages, which with certain modifications is also part of the Statute Law of the Realm. Perhaps this is so in theory: but if we refuse to admit the relevance of emendations to it made more recently in the Western Church we shall find ourselves in all kinds of curious difficulties. For instance the Bishops will have both the right and the duty to compel reservation of the Most Holy in aumbries in accordance with the Papal decree “Sane” of 1215. For Peckham’s “tabernaculum” did not mean a tabernacle set in the midst of an altar; and hanging pixes, though universal, were made illegal by this Papal decree (see Detection of Aumbries by G. Dix, Dacre Press, 1942, page 28 et seq.). Or, more seriously, we should have to accept “tacit profession” in solemn vows—the Middle Ages knew no others—of all Religious who have lived in their Convent and in the Habit for one year. This would play havoc with the rules and constitutions of many of our modern Communities, which have a Noviciate of several years or a period of temporary vows (see Lindwood’s Provinciale, Ed. Bullard and Bell, Faith Press, 1929, pages 79, 80). The Council of Trent abolished tacit profession as liable to abuse; but it is an undoubted part of our Canon Law if we interpret it in such a way as to allow no relevance to what is done in the rest of the Western Church since the sixteenth century. We must, I think, allow some relevance to the Codex and Papal Constitutions at least as useful guides to conduct where the Medieval Canon Law is silent or unworkable in modern circumstances.
Two further objections may be raised. Firstly, that by accepting the changes proposed we should show ourselves lacking in pietas towards our fathers in the Catholic Movement. On the contrary, I think we should show our loyalty towards them or at least, what is more important, towards their primary aim, the vindication of the essential Catholicity of the Anglican Communion as an integral part of the Western Church. Their method was to place themselves as to dogma and discipline once again in the main stream of Western Catholicism; with some few reservations on doctrinal grounds, many of which we have now shed. In adopting the discipline of the Constitution we shall be acting as they did; and there is no doctrinal or moral issue involved to make us hesitate. In refusing so to act we shall risk thus far making the Movement a “museum piece” unable to react to the needs of the times: just what we accuse others of doing in another sphere by their clinging over-literally to “the Second Year of King Edward VI.” Secondly, it is objected that lack of discipline in Ecclesia Anglicana makes it unwise for us to adopt the proposed relaxations. Lack of discipline we must admit; but shall we remedy it by refusing to move? It is not so that we have acted in the past with regard to points of discipline which have proved too irksome, e.g., the lists of “Feasts to be Observed,” or the “Days of Fasting and Abstinence” and their rules. We have rather accepted the lighter discipline of our fellow Catholics of the Roman Obedience. Why should we act differently now? Might not the reasonableness of the New Rules be expected to commend them to our fellow Anglicans who at present keep no rule? And if not, we shall be in no worse position than we are at present in this matter. I would add a further consideration, of a pragmatic character, namely, that it will become increasingly difficult, I have no doubt, if not quite impossible for those who most wish to do so to enforce the old rule of absolute fast from midnight in all cases except Viaticum: for the Catholic-minded laity will become familiar in due course with the new Roman discipline, and will rebel if required to observe a stricter one themselves while many of their fellow Anglicans keep no discipline at all in the matter.
Evening Mass requires a word to itself. I will leave to others with greater parochial experience to speak of the need, and will only say that the more I think about the matter the more reasonable in the abstract the provision seems to me to be. We may dislike the innovation, but this is surely chiefly due to our mental training and heredity which teach us most properly to value Catholic antiquity. The only valid reason that I have ever been able to find against it is the ancient customary law of the absolute fast for both celebrant and communicant; and until now this reason has been conclusive. But if we admit that the law needs modification and are prepared to accept the modification which the Constitution makes in the rules for the fast in other respects, then our only valid objection is removed: for the fast from solids and alcohol for three hours and from every kind of drink for one hour before. hand is enough to safeguard us from the unseemliness which sometimes occurred in the early Church at Evening Masses; owing to the Agape preceding the Eucharistic celebration. And we might if we think fit require that intending communicants should notify us beforehand as a further safeguard.
Another question which presents itself is that, by the terms of the Constitution, it is for Ordinaries and not parish priests to initiate action in this matter. But we cannot help feeling that some of our own Ordinaries might well be very unsafe guides to follow, since they do not themselves accept, or attach any importance to, the observance of Catholic discipline with: regard to the Eucharist. One solution of the problem would be for priests prepared to accept and act on the Constitution to take counsel together that their standards and actions might be co-ordinated. Here the C.B.S. could most fittingly give a lead and guidance if it would. Alternatively, and more simply, we could agree to follow the directives or suggestions of the local Roman Catholic hierarchy: not of course as recognizing their jurisdiction in any way, but as being a body likely to interpret aright the mind of the Legislator. At present this hierarchy has ordered Mass at 8 p.m. on the eve of the Coronation in all parish churches, and, according to The Catholic Herald for April 24th, has sanctioned at its usual LowWeek meeting Evening Mass on Days of Obligation, otherthan Christmass Day, falling in the week (therefore not onSundays), though individual priests are not to act beforereceiving instructions from their own Ordinary. Our lay folkwill up to now have associated the idea of Evening Mass andCommunion with the extreme Protestant wing of the Churchof England: and so, in instructing them on these dispensations,as we are bound to do by the terms of the Constitution, wemust stress our own carefully regulated practice, and distinguish it from the unregulated, and hitherto not permitted, use of these things by the so-called “Evangelicals”—a use which will probably continue to ignore and condemn ecclesiastical discipline with regard to the fast, etc. But abusus non tollit usus, and there is no reason why because others may not observe the safeguards we should not welcome the permission now given to meet contemporary needs.
It has been suggested that, since the fast and hours for Mass and Holy Communion are matters which concern the whole Anglo-Catholic Movement, as indeed they do, no one should act until all be agreed on the line to take. I suggest that if we had taken this course over other matters in the past the Movement would not have arrived where it has to-day: and that in this matter as in others pioneers are necessary, and must be prepared if need be to suffer some measure of obliquy for their pioneering. And, further, that if the Constitution is relevant to us—and I have been contending for this all along—it is so from the moment of its promulgation; and that therefore the individual priest, or bishop, in his own proper sphere and jurisdiction is at liberty to act on its provisions as soon as, and in the manner that, may seem to him needful and wise.
I ought perhaps to say that I have already made known to those under my jurisdiction as confessor the terms of the constitution, and have given a few dispensations in accordance with it to the infirm and those obliged to be up all night. I should add that I am chaplain to a Convent, whose nuns look after incurables of various kinds, including some heart cases. I do not suppose that Evening Mass, at least for the reasons it is now permitted, will ever be a practical issue for me: but I am quite prepared in theory to accept it, since as I see it the provisions of “Christus Dominus” are one indivisible whole resting on the same authority throughout, and it seems inconsistent to accept part and to reject part.
In conclusion it should be emphasized that the aim of the present Holy Father in relaxing the rules for the fast and hours permitted for Mass and Communion is one and the same with that of those who instituted the fast and confined the hours at which Mass and Communion was allowed to the forenoon: it is none other than the promotion of devotion to the most Holy Sacrament. This devotion, though constant in the Church, has shown itself under various guises. In the Church of the first ages it was manifested in frequent reception of the Eucharist, even self-administered. In the Middle Ages it showed itself principally in a sense of awe and unworthiness to receive, which compelled the Church in the end to enforce Holy Communion at least once a year at Easter. The Eastern Orthodox Churches are still largely at this point of development. In the sixteenth century, in Latin Christendom, though Communions became more frequent, it showed itself above all in “extra-Liturgical devotions,” to use a question begging term. Now, probably as a fruit of the growth of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and certainly in response to the initiative of Blessed Pius X, we seem to have returned in another age of persecution to that form of devotion current in the Primitive Church, with the consequent lessening of the sense of awe which overpowered the men of the Middle Ages. And surely this is as it should be for, however legitimate this is, and however legitimate the worship of the Reserved Host exposed—and I should be the last to depreciate them—the method of devotion to the Eucharist inculcated by its Divine Author was undoubtedly the receiving of it in Holy Communion. But since circumstances over which the Church has no control have made it well nigh impossible for many to receive the Blessed Sacrament, or even to assist at the Holy Sacrifice, if the old regulations as to the fast and permitted hours of celebration were to remain in force: the present Pope has mitigated these manifestations of devotion to the Eucharist, that the more fundamental form of devotion, restored by Pius X, frequent reception of the Bread of Life, might have free course. Surely it is difficult or indeed impossible to maintain that in acting thus he is not acting in the best interests of the Church (whose life-blood is the Eucharist) and of the spiritual growth of souls; especially in this time of trial, and indifference on the part of many, in which there is more need than ever if we are to overcome that we be fed with “the Bread of the strong?” Indeed, with these thoughts in mind, we might even be prepared to give a welcome to a much wider extension of the permission for Evening Mass and Communion, until it should become as common as Mass and Communion in the morning: for why should those whose work allows them to assist and receive in the forenoon be privileged merely for this reason over those whose work makes this impossible except perhaps very seldom indeed? Did not our Blessed Lord Himself say, “Come unto me all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you?”