Project Canterbury

Received with Thanks.

By H. A. Wilson.

London and Oxford: A.R. Mowbray, 1940.

Digitized by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2016


[146] “I SAY, Wilson! The Old Man wants you. You’re for it, my bonny lad.”

My heart came right off the ‘ook, as they say in Haggerston. The dread summons was not unexpected; but hope springs according to tradition in the schoolboy’s breast. Now I knew that it was vain.

I grinned as nonchalantly as I could at the equally grubby urchin who had gleefully acted the part of Mercury; refused his offer of sheets of blotting-paper as a species of buffer-state for that portion of my anatomy which was made for me to sit on; closed and locked (because I knew Mercury well) my tuck-box in the crypt; dodged the participants in the usual game of tennis-ball football; tried to whistle; and walked to my just doom.

The echoing cloisters seemed very desirable as I shuffled along their draughty lengths. Some of my compatriots were clattering off in studded boots to their football in the North Field: I would have given the whole of my next Saturday’s pocket-money, threepence, to have been one of them. As I crossed the open space between the main buildings of the school and the Star, the Old Man’s House, one of the peacocks screamed derisively.

I knocked at the door. “Come,” answered Jupiter’s voice. [146/147] I entered, closed the door behind me, and stood—with knees that would knock, with a mouth that was suddenly dry—in The Headmaster’s Study.


My feelings were not dissimilar when first I stood in Mackay’s room in Margaret Street, about to be one of the preachers at the patronal festival in his famous All Saints’ Church.

I had done my best to refuse his invitation, sent months before: he would not permit it. I knew that I had learned the sermon by heart; and also had an extensive “crib” of it in my suit-case (it is not the smallest of my many disabilities that I must always write every word that I am to speak in pulpit or on platform). I had walked from Haggerston, mumbling under my breath my piteous discourse—to the consternation of passers-by in Holborn and Oxford Street who saw my moving lips. I had tried to fortify myself with coffee in an A.B.C.; and would cheerfully have given all the pocket-money I possessed (which now was more than threepence, but not much more) to have been any one of the many whom I passed with, apparently, not a care on their shoulders. As I rang the bell of the neat front-door of the vicarage, I wondered, with my whole soul, why I had been such an idiot as to allow myself to be lured to the ordeal from which there was now no escape. I would even have gone back over the years, and bent down again in the Old Man’s study.


Sydney Smith wrote, about a hundred years ago, [147/148] “Preaching has become a by-word for long and dull conversation of any kind; and whoever wishes to imply, in any piece of writing, the absence of everything agreeable and inviting, calls it a sermon.” [Lady Holland’s Memoir.]


It is still the fashion, both in and out of that ecclesiastical journal which emerges from Portugal Street in Kingsway, to bemoan and deplore the standard of preaching. Doubtless the castigation is deserved; but I sometimes wish that the two laymen who respectively own and edit the aforementioned twopenny Friday weekly, and whom I am honoured to count among my friends, could—with sundry other lay acquaintances of mine—be driven into the pulpit: and that not once (anybody can preach one sermon), but Sunday after Sunday, year in and year out. I should also like to hang from every pulpit which I am compelled to ascend, a replica, save for the alteration of one word, of the notice displayed in an American back-woods saloon:


There may be some fortunate priests who can stand up and talk for twenty minutes after little or no preparation; though whether the people in the pews are equally fortunate is another matter. I am not one of them. After having decided on my subject, [148/149]  which in itself is—to me at any rate—no easy task as year succeeds year but fast and feast recur in similar cycles, the writing of my discourse rarely occupies less than a morning of at least three hours; and I should be in a condition of complete panic if the Sunday sermon had not reached this state at least by the previous Wednesday. For I am so old-fashioned as to believe that sermons can matter; and I do not forget that God spoke to Balaam through an ass.

It is then my custom, as I have indicated, to reduce the homily to the dimensions of a fair-sized half-sheet of notepaper that is not unlike the “crib” of schoolboys’ days. As often as not, when I am in the pulpit, I scarcely look at it; but it consoles me to know that it is there.

But, again to speak out of my own experience, the worst part of the sermon for the preacher is the half-hour immediately preceding its delivery. Then again knees will knock, and the mouth go dry with apprehension; precisely as they did in the days of yore, when one sat, with one’s pads on, in the pavilion in the North Field, waiting to go in to bat. Never to this day, and I have now been preaching sermons for five and twenty years—woe is me!—do I mount the pulpit-steps without great nervousness. This vanishes to some extent when I have, so to say, played the first over and got out the sermon’s first words; but it is always with a feeling of intense relief (which is, without doubt, shared by every member of the congregation that I scarcely dare [149/150] to think was also an audience) that I leave the pulpit, and know that for twelve blessed hours—until Monday morning—I can leave sermons wholly out of my mind. The first words of an old priest-friend of mine, after his resignation of his living became effective, were “Thank goodness. I shall never have to preach again, unless I wish to.” I can sympathize with him.


Judge, then, what an ordeal it was to such an one as myself to ascend the formidable ornate pulpit in the church of All Saints, Margaret Street; and preach to a congregation that was accustomed to listen to Mackay!

He was one of the, perhaps few, great preachers of his day. Of his sermons he wrote, and read, every word, without giving much impression of reading. They were invariably as fresh, topical, and up-to-date, as they were devoid of clichés, platitudes, a word too many, a word too few. Always they were penetrating, packed with knowledge of contemporary and pristine human nature, flashing of phrase, impossible to ignore, difficult to forget. He ascended his pulpit, donned a stole, adjusted his pince-nez, and announced his text. You might, if you were a casual visitor to Butterfield’s not particularly beautiful church of the tall spire in the street where stands that emporium of which it has been said that “ubi Mowbray, ibi Ecclesia,” at first think him aloof, didactic, dictatorial. He would, perhaps, remind you of a bishop; or of your headmaster in the days when you too were in juvenile trouble. [150/151] But by the time he had delivered two or three sentences you would decide that he was a preacher who must be listened to; and he would not fail to hold your attention until the end of the last searching, incisive, and polished sentence. He had no distracting mannerisms: he did not lean in irritating fashion over the pulpit’s edge, he never either waved his arms about or ceaselessly fidgeted with his surplice, nor did he stroke his reading-desk, or smite the unoffending piece of furniture to emphasize his points—as is the maddening manner of some. He stood quite still, his hands resting on the pulpit-cushion on either side of his manuscript; detached, almost impersonal; somewhat with the air of “This is fact, this is truth: I have been at considerable pains to prepare this statement for you, and to verify the accuracy of all that I am about to say: it is my duty to preach to you this sermon: whether you accept or reject its implications is your concern.” The only mannerism in which I ever knew him to indulge was an occasional slight sniff of the sensitive tilted nose after making some particularly mordant criticism or trenchant remark. He too was intensely nervous in the pulpit (absolutely the only point that he and I had in common in this connection). And perhaps his greatest gift was the facility and aptness with which he expressed the eternal truths in terms of the twentieth century.

Here are extracts, picked almost at random, from some of his sermons (it is not the least testimony to [151/152] his art as a preacher that he “reads” as well as he sounded):

A dying soldier in his last agony remembered his friends and comrades, and prayed for each of them. That was not Christianity. That was Christ.

The modern generation wants to ring God up on the telephone; but it doesn’t know his number.

There are some excellent people who are rather trying in their efforts to improve one; who are in fact sometimes admirable but disagreeable, like carbolic acid or chlorate of lime—and sometimes admirable but uninteresting, like boracic powder.

Halfway down the Bethphage valley a little group is standing. They are the owners of the ass’s colt. They are shading their eyes and watching. They are watching the high road which crosses the end of the valley. A procession is being formed there; boughs of olive and palm are being brandished; brightly coloured cloaks are being waved like flags and are now cast down to make a carpet. Raised above the crowd, on the draped colt, the figure of the Lord slowly passes by, until it is hidden by the shoulder of the western spur of the mount. On the still afternoon air the shouts of “Hosanna” ring softly from side to side of the valley. “What a pretty sight!” say the owners. “I am so glad we lent the colt”; and there are actually tears in their eyes. The point is this: those tears are no good.

Twenty years ago, when the scientific mind proclaimed that dreams always meant too much toasted cheese for supper, I should have been obliged to ask you to remember that dreams have sometimes seemed to have a significance; to-day, when the scientific mind proclaims that dreams are the only sure clue and guide to life, I must ask you not to go so far, but to continue to regard dreams as the great human [152/153] tradition regards them—experiences usually of little consequence, but occasionally giving an opportunity for ideas in the subconsciousness to rise and enter the conscious mind.

Francis was a good churchman; he was getting no answer to his perplexities from institutional religion, but he remained loyal and obedient to it; so he went and had a long talk with the Bishop of Assisi. Bishop Guido was a very good man; he told Francis to go on being a good lad, and to help the Church with alms. The churches round Assisi were sadly in need of new vestments and altar linen, said his Lordship. If Francis could see his way to helping them it would be a good thing, and the Bishop said he was sure he need not remind him that he should take an intelligent interest in any case of poverty that came his way. Francis was grateful for this kindness, and did what he was told. He went to Mowbrays’, and sent large parcels of linen to Whitechapel and Bethnal Green; vestments and hymn-books to Nassau and Corea; asked Bishop Gamier how he could help him; and sent a large subscription to the Church Army.

As St. Paul descended the steep path to the stream the great prospect vanished, and the soft green billows rose and met the tender blue of the Roman sky. It was a pleasant place to die in. Tradition insists that the Emperor Nero came, and it is not impossible. Certainly it was a popular event, and there was a crowd; but the little old man about to die was a Roman citizen, and all would be conducted with perfect dignity and courtesy. A cell is shown in which we are told that he was kept until the great folks came. At last all was ready, and the beloved Saint came into the square of grass kept by the Roman soldiery. I do not think he gave even one farewell glance to earth or sun or sky; but I think he remembered the faithful hearts hidden here and there amid [153/154] the breathless crowd and that he knit himself to them all in the Communion of Saints. And so he was free at last to go to his Lord. He bent his head to the sword which, with one mighty stroke, sent him into the presence of Jesus Christ.

Obstinate is an able, hard-headed man of the world, an out-and-out materialist as far as practice goes. He has the reputation of being a good fellow, and he has a wonderful fund of Rabelaisian stories. He is in dress clothes, with a cigar in his mouth; and he looks very clean and well got up. He surveys Christian, ragged, burdened, sweating from head to foot. Then he takes his cigar out of his mouth, and says one sentence: “You damned fool.”

They sat talking in the sheltering gloom of the house during the fierce heat of the day, and towards evening one of them came out and walked away in the evening light to find a brother of his who was also a follower of the Baptist. When he had found him he took him aside, and said a thing which changed human history. For he looked into the eyes of his brother Simon, and the eyes of his brother Simon were just like the eyes of the very nicest dog in the world; and he said, “We have found Messiah.” There was that in Andrew’s face and voice which silenced questioning. Simon followed his brother, still like a large and very nice dog. They reached the house. Probably the evening lamp was lit. I seem to see Jesus sitting on a low seat still talking to John. As the footsteps were heard approaching I feel a silence falling, and I think our Lord stands up. The brothers enter, and our Lord takes a step forward and looks into Simon’s face. I see Simon’s dog-like eyes looking at him quite straight and unblinking, exactly like a good little boy—you know how good little boys look at you unblinking until you feel you must scream. Then our Lord said, “You are Simon         [154/155] Bar Jona. You shall be called Cephas, a stone cut out of a rock.” Now the Greek for Cephas is, as we should say, Peter.

During the Third Anglo-Catholic Congress of 1927 (Subject: The Holy Eucharist) he read a paper at the conclusion of which the great audience in the Albert Hall paid him the rare compliment of rising spontaneously to its feet and applauding for some minutes. I beg leave to transplant it in its entirety into these mediocre pages; [It has been published as a pamphlet by the Church Literature Association.] both because it contains many words that could be read with profit (even in episcopal palaces) in these days, and because it shows him in the light of a platform-speaker rather than in that of a preacher in his own somewhat eclectic pulpit.

His subject was The Use for Communion of The Reserved Sacrament.

I have been asked to deal with a small practical point in connection with the subject of the Holy Eucharist. The title of my paper is “The Reserved Sacrament: Its Use for Communion.”

You have been reminded again and again during this congress that the Eucharist has always been regarded as the central Christian occasion, and that the occasion has always been held to produce a power to be exercised Godward and Manward, and that this power has always been held to underlie the sacramental elements after consecration, and to remain effective for its purpose so long as the Sacrament is reserved for practical reasons.

We connect our Communions so simply with the scene in the Upper Chamber that we are apt to forget that our Lord’s followers, if left to themselves, [155/156] might have interpreted the significance of that scene in other ways.

Granted that our Lord commanded the perpetuation of the scene, since the occasion was a secret one with only his principal followers present, it might have been regarded as an esoteric rite reserved for the highest initiates, and to be celebrated only on rare occasions of great significance. Such an interpretation would no doubt have involved the reproduction in detail as close as possible of the original scene; throughout the centuries the initiates would have reclined about a supper-table in an upper room.

The Apostles understood the Eucharist differently. They connected it directly with the ministries to the bodies and souls of men in which they had assisted our Lord while he was on earth; they connected it directly with such a scene as the feeding of the five thousand; they connected it with the gifts described in the sixth chapter of St. John; they regarded it as intended to be the central occasion, the supreme act, and the highest gift bestowed, in the life of every baptized person.

All through the history of Communion you will find that the matter of greatest importance was held to be the widest possible extension of the opportunities of Communion, and for this reason the necessary symbolism was narrowed as far as possible. The history of Holy Communion is indeed the history of five of the commonest objects—a table, a plate, a cup—bread on the plate, wine in the cup—and a man who can produce proofs that he has received our Lord’s commission and power to give these objects the significance with which our Lord has invested them.

Since the Apostolic Church attributed supreme significance to the Eucharist, it is natural that it was chiefly concerned to guard its central position in the [156/157] Christian life, and to think of it as the centre and source of Christian unity. Occasional and clinical celebrations of the Eucharist for the benefit of private persons would not, therefore, form part of the earliest Christian conception of it.

In the earliest Church of Jerusalem we see the Christians coming together every day for the breaking of the Bread and for the Prayers, sharing the Lord’s Body, and with it sharing all else they possessed.

Almost at the same time we see the Gentile Christians gathering in their cities round the same table once a week at night-time or in the early morning with a discipline and a ceremony which their antecedents and circumstances demanded. A century later the Church has grown and spread; it is a time of persecution, and large gatherings of Christians are dangerous; but the Eucharist remains the centre to which all faithful Christians congregate, and to those unavoidably absent the deacons carry the Sacrament, that they may be counted as present.

The picture thus presented should be retained in the mind because it is typical—the one altar, the one priest, the whole body of the faithful, all communicating, and the ministers going out this way and that into the neighbourhood to administer the Blessed Sacrament to those unable to be present and to the infirm.

All use of the reserved Sacrament for Communion is a further expansion from practical necessity of this conception. It is a reaching-out from the altar to draw the absent into the unity of its life.

It is clear that this idyllic picture sketched for us by Justin Martyr can only be realized under certain favourable circumstances; it is only possible when the congregation is moderate-sized and its members live within easy distance of the central meeting-place. The extension of the Church and the rigour of the persecutions soon made the official distribution of [157/158] the elements throughout the neighbourhood at the time of celebration unmanageable.

Under these circumstances the Church might have said: “We can stretch the essential symbolism of unity in the one Bread no further, and those who cannot now be present at the Liturgy must go without Communion.” But she took an opposite and an exceedingly daring line: she gave trusted lay-people the Sacrament to reserve in their homes, that they might communicate themselves.

This custom was not merely an expedient resorted to when public persecution became acute; the personal difficulties of Christians whose relations were mostly pagans were often great. They were often forbidden to attend the Christian assembly. So generous was the Church in her care for such that she entrusted them with the Sacrament, to be hidden away in safety and received secretly.

And when persecution ceased and private difficulties abated, the custom of private reservation did not at once die away.

During the persecutions the Christian desire for Communion greatly increased. Our Lord would seem to have manifested himself with personal tenderness in the Communions of the persecuted, giving them a foretaste of the beatitude of the Kingdom of Heaven, and a desire for frequent and even daily Communion grew strong. But at this period the Liturgy was not celebrated every day in the week; on certain days celebrations were prohibited (as they are to-day in the East on certain days in Lent, on some of which the Rite of the Presanctified is used—as they are to-day on the Fridays in Lent in the Archdiocese of Milan, and all over the West on Good Friday). The difficulty was met by priests giving people supplies of the Blessed Sacrament for clinical Communion, for which purpose it was reserved in [158/159] their oratories in a vessel of dignity. St. Basil, in the fourth century, defends this practice as legitimate, and says that the symbolic unity of the Eucharist was still sufficiently preserved, since the Sacrament so received was always a far-flung gift from one altar, distributed originally by one hand.

But the supreme example of the Church’s readiness to put practical considerations before symbolism in her treatment of the Eucharist is the fact that during the early ages the Sacrament distributed for the purpose of reservation and private Communion was in the species of bread only, and that the Communion of infants—the general practice of those days—was in the species of wine only. The reason for the general practice of reserving under the species of bread only was the practical impossibility of reserving the chalice. We do not know whether the deacons who distributed from the Liturgy to the absent, communicating them at the time, brought the chalice, but it is thought probable that they did not; the Sacrament had to be carried in those dangerous times with secrecy. Christians had even been denounced to the authorities by detecting the odour of wine in their breath in the early morning. When Tarcisius the Acolyte, in the third century, was martyred while carrying the Sacrament, his murderers searched his dead body and found nothing. He had no vessel with him, and apparently had consumed the Host, which he may have been carrying in a fold of linen. In this practice of private reservation, so far as we know, the Host only was reserved; in the case of religious communities living in the desert without a priest, a supply of Hosts was given into the charge of the head of the monastery, who communicated the brethren.

Occasionally in cases of mortal sickness, where the circumstances permitted, as in religious houses and [159/160] in the houses of great personages, Mass was said and the Sacrament carried in both kinds to the dying patient. This method seems to have been regarded as an honorific way of treating the dying person. But there was no thought that Communion in one kind was a defective Communion.

A thousand years before St. Thomas wrote the Lauda Sion the Church in her practice was saying: “Wine is poured and bread is broken, But in either sacred token, Christ entire we know to be.” That is to say, what was known later as the doctrine of concomitance was always implicit in the usage of the Church.

As you survey the history of the Eucharist you are conscious—more vividly, perhaps, than in any other department of theology—of a Power behind the theologians, the liturgies, and the prayers, devotions and religious conceptions of the people, tenderly leading them further into an understanding of the relation of our Lord to his children.

The practice of private reservation, had grown up in heroic days, days of persecution, days of pure religion, days in which Communion was ardently desired and when martyrdom was thinning the ranks of the priests. In the laxer days which followed, when the quality of Christians had been lowered by the influx of multitudes, and the desire for Communion had waned, the practice of private reservation became liable to abuse, owing to the remnants of pagan ideas in the minds of the people. But there was no sudden and decisive action of the Church to suppress it. Official control of reservation was gradually gained. It was left in the hands of the priests, who continued to reserve on the old lines. Gradually inquiries began to appear as to whether the priests were doing their duty in the matter. We hear of the Celtic [160/161] clergy carrying the reserved Sacrament about with them as part of their ordinary equipment, in order that they might be able to give Communion to persons who were desirous of it, a custom revived in the twentieth century by some chaplains in the Great War.

Official reservation continued to be in one kind.

But in the tenth century the practice of intincting the Host with some drops of the chalice became a widely spread custom. For some time people were communicated in this way in the Liturgy, and the custom spread to the Communion of the sick.

It disappeared before long in the West, being violently reprobated in some places, partly for the foolish reason that it suggested the sop of Judas. It is considered to have been the first step in the West to the withdrawal of the chalice from the laity. The East adhered to it, and it unfortunately became a point of difference between East and West.

The custom of intinction, I say, disappeared before long in the West, but survives in the East. Easterns are communicated with the mingled species at Mass, and for sick Communion a holy loaf is signed with the Precious Blood, which is then dried upon it by the application of heat; the loaf thus artificially prepared is broken up into fragments, which are reserved throughout the year. It will be noticed that in this process the element of wine disappears, so that the Communion of the sick in the East is really Communion in one kind. The Sacrament is also freshly mingled and reserved for the Communion in the Rite of the Presanctified. I gather that in the East the Communion of the sick is practically confined to those in extremis, and that our ministry of carrying the Sacrament to those confined to bed in various degrees of illness is not customary. In the matter of the reservation of the Sacrament the methods of East [161/162] and West have come to differ in other important particulars.

An Eastern church is partitioned into two parts, corresponding, we may say, to the Earthlies and the Heavenlies. The Blessed Sacrament is reserved on the holy table in the Heavenlies, and is thus shut off from the cognizance of the people. In the West our churches are not solidly partitioned into two parts, and the Blessed Sacrament, the Fountain of Communion, necessarily the most sacred point in the building, is always in front of the people.

In old days it was usually reserved in this country either in a pyx hanging over the high altar, or in a safe called an aumbry, in the north wall of the sanctuary. In later times in the West the pyx came down, so to speak, on to the altar, was nailed upon it, and became a tabernacle. Of these various plans, the tabernacle seems best to combine dignity and practical convenience, and brings the reserved Sacrament into that direct and obvious relation to Communion which we should always desire to emphasize.

But there must have been a great symbolic beauty in the arrangement of an old English church, its many chapels, shrines, and chantries witnessing to many aspects and moods of the Christian life, and in the centre the Holy Sacrament, as it were, hovering above and brooding over the whole scene in a ceaseless ministry of love to the needy and the dying.

The interest of this subject for us to-day lies in the fact that the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament has been restored amongst us, and the rest of my paper is concerned with practical considerations arising out of the historical sketch I have given you.

In the Church’s provision for Holy Communion her chief aim has always been practical convenience combined with decency and order, and in all modifications [162/163] of practice practical convenience has led the way. We must take that as an axiom. First, you have already noticed that the Communion of sick and dying persons is only a very small part of my subject.

Before reservation was restored amongst us the cases of the most poignant need were naturally those of sick and dying persons. When the desire for Communion began to rise to the normal Christian level through the Catholic Revival, the absence of provision for the Communion of the sick was bitterly felt, and reservation for the sick became the cry. Years have rolled on, and the desire for Communion has risen still higher, and has brought with it the demand for the normal Christian facilities for Communion to meet all needs and circumstances.

I will speak first of the Communion of the sick and dying.

There is, I think, no intrinsic objection of importance to the celebration of Mass in a sick-room, if under certain circumstances it seems desirable, but as a rule the Christian tradition has been against it. The Church has always made difficulties about Mass being said in an unconsecrated building; partly because the Mass is the centre of ordered unity and should be celebrated at a Christian centre, partly because clinical celebrations might become schismatic gatherings, and also because the surroundings might be unseemly.

There is a canon of the ninth century forbidding it on the third ground. “In the midst of hounds and harlots,” says the canon, “the holy mysteries are defiled rather than consecrated.”

This recalls an incident in my own ministry. As a young priest I was called upon to offer the holy sacrifice at two o’clock in the morning in the filthy room of a man in the last stages of septic pneumonia, [163/164] the floor above being a brothel, and the floor below being a brothel.

On the other hand, I should be sorry if celebrations in houses came to be ruled out altogether. They are greatly valued by devout bedridden people, and have often had a missionary value in a family. Some of our most beautiful memories are connected with sickroom celebrations.

But for the future our normal method of communicating the sick will be in the traditional Christian manner—with the Sacrament reserved and taken for the purpose from the tabernacle, pyx, or aumbry.

Both practical convenience and decency will, I think, be found ultimately to require that this, generally speaking, shall be according to the traditional Christian custom in one kind. The reservation of the chalice has always been against the mind of the Church, and most priests will feel it to be practically impossible to carry the chalice to the sick. Modern distances and modes of travel make this more unfitting than ever. I had to take the Blessed Sacrament thirty miles the other day. The powerful car which was sent for me had been told to make haste. Twice, the case I had with me was flung across the car. Under such circumstances the Blessed Sacrament can only be carried in one kind in a pyx round the neck. Entering, as we are, upon a period of experiment, it is probable that some priests will prepare intincted Hosts for reservation in the tabernacle by touching them with the Precious Blood. This is probably not Communion in both kinds; the element of wine is so said to lose its integrity under these circumstances almost at once, and if this is so such a dealing with the chalice is not reverent. On the other hand, where the occasion permitted, there could, I think, be no objection to tincting a Host at Mass with [164/165] the Precious Blood and carrying it at once to a sick person. But this would only be possible in certain cases; it would meet no case of urgency.

Freedom to communicate the sick in one kind is imperatively required. I speak from personal experience. I myself have received Viaticum taken from the tabernacle at All Saints’ in the middle of the wedding of a friend of mine whom I was to have married.

This experience lays upon me the responsibility of urging freedom to give Communion in one kind to the sick and dying in this revival of religion.

But the Communion of the sick and dying is but a small part of the mission of the reserved Sacrament. The Sacrament is also reserved for the Communion of the oppressed. I insist on the phrase “the Communion of the oppressed,” for I hold that all those who are forcibly prevented by the hard conditions of their lives from coming into the glowing heart of the Church’s life—the celebration of the mysteries—are more oppressed than those slaves who came to Mass from Nero’s household. There are classes of people in country places and in the towns whose occupations would prevent them all their lives from leading the life of Communion unless they can be communicated from the reserved Sacrament. For example, a priest is breakfasting after his Mass on Sunday morning. A servant enters. “Please, Father, three newspaper boys are at the door; they say they have finished taking their papers round, and they are ready for their Communions.” That is a request which no priest will ever be able to refuse.

Every Sunday morning before the earliest Mass some hospital nurses may be found kneeling before the tabernacle at All Saints’ with only ten minutes at their disposal. Those nurses can never be sent empty away.

[166] I recall an incident of thirty years ago. I was on a mission. I met a man of great holiness of life. He was a distributor of milk in a large London suburb. At the end of the mission he brought me a resolution. It was to read the Bible with prayer three times a day. I proposed to apply the missioner’s blue pencil to the resolution. “I advise,” I said, “that you make it twice a day; three times might prove unmanageable.” He looked at me with a little surprise. “But I have always done that,” he said, “and I am sure that I can get in another time at the dinner hour.” “You might also increase your Communions,” I said. “I cannot do that,” he answered; “I go as often as I can.” “How often is that?” I asked. “Four times a year. I have searched this neighbourhood, and there is one church which, four times a year, has a celebration early enough for me; but that is all.” For all such cases as this the age-long wisdom of the central Christian tradition has provided the possibility of Communion from the tabernacle.

My Lord Bishops, reverend Fathers, my brethren, the Lord’s Supper in the Church of England has become what the Apostles knew that it must never be—the esoteric rite of the High Initiates. The deadly evil in the Church of England is the separation of the Lord’s children from the Lord’s table.

The Church of England, as Newman said, has a miscarrying womb and dry breasts because she has ceased to feed upon the Bread of Life.

This congress shows that our Lord’s children are finding him again in the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar must be made accessible to every man, woman, and child in this country, accessible in that point of perfect union [166/167]  between himself and his children which he has designed, and in which he says to the nurse and to the shepherd, to the milkman and to the thin and white-faced but most plucky little newsboy: “Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”


“Well!” he said, on a Spring day in 1925—in his large room, the windows of which looked on to the small quadrangle between his vicarage, the busy London street, and the church with which his name will always be linked: a comfortable room of deep armchairs, broad sofa, filled bookshelves, and numerous photographs of young men and boys—”What is it to be? An overseas bishopric?”

He spoke in that short, clipped, rather shy and nervous manner of his, which made all but his intimate friends think him cold and aloof.

He knew that I had recently been summoned to Fulham Palace, and had surprised me by ringing up Victoria 1984 (as it was then) and asking me to go and tell him the result of the interview. He knew, too, that I had, a year or two before, decided to discontinue my Anglo-Catholic Congress Secretaryship in order that I might become again a parish priest.

“No, father,” I laughed rather nervously, still feeling something like a small boy in the headmaster’ study; “it is to be a clergy-house in East London.”

“Did you ask for it?”

[168] “Yes. I think that is my sort of job. The bishop has promised to send me there, when there is a vacant living.” [I told Bishop Winnington-Ingram that the church of which, more than any other, I would be proud to be vicar was S. Peter’s, London Docks. He promised to offer it to me after Fr. Wainright died. A few weeks later he wrote, “I think that Fr. Wainright will outlive both you and me. Will you go to St. Augustine’s, Haggerston?”]

“Splendid! I’m so glad. You’ll probably break your heart there, and perhaps your body too. But you will love it. And it will either make you, or mar you.”

It was from that moment that I knew I had his friendship; and lost, so far as he was concerned, my schoolboy complexion.

Stage-manager and sole producer for five and twenty years of the efficient, smooth-running, powerful concern, known to many as “Arl Saints’,” familiar to all in the Anglican Communion and to many outside it; confessor of many of the great men and great women in Church and State, as well as countless people of humbler walks in life; a vicar who always attracted the best type of curate, and both expected and obtained the best out of them; one whose advice was not infrequently sought from more than one episcopal palace, and was rarely set aside; always over-worked, never robust in health:—yet he could extend his friendship to a dull young vicar half his age in an obscure East London slum, give him wise advice in his efforts to restore its church-life, tell his generous congregation to send money to Haggerston, even toil down Hackney Road to [168/169] preach in its mediocre pulpit, and write in his parish paper

Fr. Wilson has written a book about his parish which he calls “E.2.” It is just the story of various aspects of the life of Catholic priests at work among the London poor, and it could not be better: it is a most moving and inspiring book. Here you have the story of Tractarians at work among the poor to-day.

His friend Sidney Dark has written his Life; [Mackay of All Saints’. Published by the Centenary Press.] I wish, as I re-read it, that I had known him for many years, and that I could have worshipped in his church in another capacity than that of an occasional, and always apprehensive, visiting preacher. I would like to have learned my religion at All Saints’, and to have heard Mackay preach Sunday after Sunday.

On a bleak April day in 1934, having inadvertently swallowed an over-dose of Haggerston, and as a result been ordered to sea for three months by an obdurate specialist, I set out, gloomy and alone, from St. Pancras Station to Australia. When the jaded boat-train had at length crept so far as Tilbury, and my baggage and I were transferred to an Orient liner, I walked morosely round her decks to view my luckless fellow-passengers. To my joy, Mackay was almost the first I met. He was sailing to Naples in a last, and vain, attempt to recover his health.

During the eight days of our transit through the Bay of Biscay, past Finisterre and Gibraltar, in the [169/170] sunlit Mediterranean, by Toulon and Majorca, I learned much of the overpowering burdens that lie heavy on the shoulders of Catholic priests who serve famous churches such as his; and my homage to, and admiration for, Mackay grew to even larger dimensions. There were things that he told me, one night under the stars, when the ship’s cross-tree swayed slowly backwards and forwards across the velvet sky as though a giant crucifer headed a procession over the world,—things about the disappointments and disillusionments that every priest must expect, things about the courage and sense of eternal hope that every parish-priest must possess and cling to as to his life, things about the earthly joys and rewards that come to none but faithful old priests—that I can neither repeat nor forget.


In the autumn of the same year he resigned the living of All Saints’. Yet another faithful servant had been broken by the Church of England; too late she could only fling him a canonry in Gloucester Cathedral (the only preferment, I believe, that was ever offered to him). He had to resign it six months later.

When he was dying, in the Lent of 1936, one of his sisters wrote to me:

Kye says that he thanks you for your letter, and sends you his love. He adds that he wishes he were more worthy of the things you say about him. He also says, “God be with you, in your Haggerston, for many years to come.”

A week or two later, on Low Sunday, he passed [170/171] from the Church Militant, to continue to praise and magnify his Lord in the broader sanctuary of the New Jerusalem, where weariness is unknown and perpetual youth holds sway. One of the colonial bishops who had been his curates laid his thin body to rest in a peaceful Gloucestershire village-churchyard; and his own choristers sang by his grave.


I have one set of Mass-vestments which is my personal property. They are white. I only wear them at Low Mass on the great feasts. They belonged to, and were worn by, a man of God, who was a typical priest of the aristocracy, and, to my mind, embodied and represented Anglo- Catholicism at its best—with, perhaps, a slight emphasis on the Anglo; who was so great that he could be interested in the small things that concern the little story of a little parish off Hackney Road in East London. I never wear those vestments without saying a prayer for his soul.


What is this wonderful meeting-place where dark and light, twilight and dawn, meet and are fused into the loveliness of the eternal day?

It is the heart of the Cross. All have come from its extremities, marching the length of its arms; all have met in the centre, and when they do so they find the Cross transformed.

It has become the city which lieth foursquare. For the four right angles of the square turned inwards form the perfect Cross, and the four right angles of the Cross turned outwards form the perfect square.

Never forget, then, that the angles of the city which lieth foursquare, the square of perfection, are now [171/172] the angles of the Cross of probation; and when in the end we have all reached its heart and have found that it is not a heart of wood, but is the living, loving, burning, thorn-crowned heart of Jesus: then the need of the Cross will be past, its angles will be reversed for ever, and it will become the square which holds us joyous through all eternity. [All H. F. B. Mackay’s books are published by The Centenary Press. These are the concluding words of The Twelve Gates.]

Project Canterbury