THE LORD BISHOP OF CHICHESTER.
Everybody knows that it may take only a minute to make a statement which it will want days to answer. Something of this kind is true of the novel practise of Evening Communion. There are just one or two things to be said for it,--one or two only,--and these may be said at once, easily and quickly. Such as it is their force is felt at once, and that without effort on the part either of hearer or of speaker. If they are shallow, they are at least clear, and it saves a world of trouble to accept them without hearing the other side.
Turn now to that other side and you have a different argument before you, and one which it takes far more time to grapple with. It does so not because it is weak but because it is strong. It does so because the moment you begin to answer the short and easy reasons for evening communion you are led on, not merely to expose their shallowness, but also to develop the whole history of the Communion-time itself, how it came to be settled one way and not another, the exceptional usages which history sets before you as clustering round the normal practise, the explanations often highly instructive of these exceptions, and then lastly the great moral and religious reasons which exist in favour of a practise as remote as possible from that of communicating at night. It will be our business to give [3/4] a brief outline of these considerations, and as we must begin at the beginning, the first thing will be to direct attention to what can be said on the side against us.
There are, then, so far as we know, two, and two only, reasons on which our opponents rest. These are, (1) the argument from expediency, (2) the argument from the hour of our Lord's actual institution of the sacrament--"when the evening was come." These two arguments we must take in order, observing only that the second argument, if it be a valid one, is of itself so powerful as to cast the former altogether into the shade. "Why, then, do we put the expediency argument first? We do it because our opponents do so. Never throughout all our experience have we ever met with anyone who has adopted the evening communion in the spirit of simple obedience to the Lord's supposed example, and then afterwards defended it on the score of expediency. The rule is all the other way. It is adopted on the score of expediency, and then, after it has been adopted, comes in the after-plea of our Lord's example to buttress up the practise. Let us therefore state the expediency argument first. It is simply this:--"People do not come to Holy Communion so well as could be wished at the hours hitherto usual:--the late evening service is popular with the lower and middle classes:--therefore let us offer them the Holy Eucharist after the late evening service." This is really all.
Now we will admit that where there is nothing to be said on the other side even a very slender reason may be sufficient, just as a half-ounce weight will turn the balance when there is nothing in the other scale. The question in the case before us is what reasons are there on the other side? There is this one sole solitary plea of expediency on one side. May there not be counterpoising pleas of expediency on the other? Nay, more, may there not be countervailing reasons [4/5] based on principle, or on the nature of the service, or on actual right? For be it remembered that if there be but one single reason based on inherent right, that single reason must avail against any number of pleas based on mere expediency, and here we have but one such plea, and that, as we hope to show, by no means well made out. Are there any such reasons? Let us see.
Now, as we are writing for churchmen, one might have thought it enough to remark that this novel practise is not only novel but absolutely foreign alike to the formularies and the custom of our own church and those of every other church that we ever heard of. Look at our Prayer Book. There is absolutely no provision for such a communion. It is not prohibited;--some one will reply. But why not? Simply because such an idea never entered into anybody's head at all. Parricide had no punishment assigned it because the crime was considered inconceivable. So here. To our minds the fact that such a communion is absolutely foreign to the structure of the Prayer Book would be quite sufficient, and we should consider ourselves disloyal in even listening to the proposal for such a communion.
But some one will say--if persons will only come to an evening communion is it not Letter to break a mere technical rule than that they should lose the blessing? We answer by another question--Are you so sure that you do give them the blessing by such questionable means? You know the old rule, that when the goodness of some desired end is doubted, you decide by seeing whether or not it can be obtained by honest means. So here. More questions than one want answering before we can rest satisfied. Can there be the dispositions needed for beneficial reception of the Body and the Blood, when people will not communicate except their convenience is suited by an evening celebration, and unless the whole order of the universal church [5/6] is set aside to suit their laziness? And if not beneficially received, what then? Are not these evening communions downright temptations to unworthy reception? Do they not place an "occasion of stumbling" in the way of the weaker Christians?
But we are told of persons, domestic servants for example, who cannot communicate after the ordinary 11 a.m. service, and that for them, at least, it is a case of mercy being better than sacrifice. In all such matters as these, it is best to be honest and outspoken, and therefore we say at once that we do not believe in such cases. If a domestic servant wishes to go to Holy Communion, he or she will rarely have any difficulty because of the hour. Servants do not find it so difficult to make their own terms with their employers as to time for secular pleasure, and what they can do in one case, they can do, if they are so minded, in the other. We believe this plea to be vastly exaggerated. But suppose it otherwise, why does it drive you upon evening communion? There are the early morning hours, and if the head of a family finds no difficulty in letting servants go out to evening service, he or she would find still less in allowing them to go out to an early morning one. In fact the domestic servant argument hardly deserves the space we have given it, and we should not have done so, but that we did not wish to underrate the argument from expediency. The morning communion is the true way out of the difficulty, if difficulty there be, and especially so in the case of the poor, who are shy of the mid-day communions, which bring them too closely along side of their better dressed fellow Christians.
There remains then the argument from our Lord's example, and this of course looks at first sight like an argument from principle. But a great deal too much has been made of this, as will be seen if we look a little closer [6/7] into it. For first of all, though our Lord gave the strongest directions as to the Rite, He gave absolutely none as to the hour, so that there is a distinction to be observed at once. Next, if His example was intended to be binding, even without His saying so, how is it that the primitive church did not perceive it? Surely the primitive church could not have gone so dead against evening communions, in spite of our Lord's example, unless there had been some very distinct reason why His example did not apply. We ask, therefore, was there any special reason for our Lord instituting it in the evening which does not apply to later cases? and we soon see that there was. For what is the eucharist? It is a developed Passover, and being thus the Passover's successor it was absolutely necessary for its institution to be at the Passover hour, which was in the evening. There was a reason then for His instituting it at this particular hour, but to make this example binding without further authority, when the Passover with its hour had passed away, and with the universal practise of the primitive church against you, 18 to say the least, a dangerous proposal. Why not press the Lord's observance of the Jewish Sabbath against that of the church's Sunday? We are entirely in the dark as to the mode of the transition from the seventh day's rest to that of the first day of the week. All we know is that the whole church went over to the latter, although all the Lord's example was otherwise. It may have been due to some unrecorded command of Christ. It may have been due to some general instinct. Anyhow the primitive church regarded the observance of the Sunday instead of the Sabbath, as a symbol of having passed from Judaism to Christianity. And yet it never thought it broke the Fourth Commandment, which said nothing about the first, but which did enjoin the seventh day. So with the Holy Eucharist. The Loud celebrated His first Eucharist along with the old [7/8] Jewish Passover of which it was to be the development and successor, just as our Sunday is of the Sabbath, and therefore, seeing that the Jewish dispensation yet lasted, He could not but institute it in the evening. Mosaic Sabbath and Mosaic Passover are now both gone. We celebrate our Eucharists apart from the Passover, which the Lord could not do. The change of hour marks the transition from the one to the other, exactly as the change of the day, from the seventh to the first, marks the distinction between the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Sunday.
There is a further point of similarity. The Christian Sunday commemorates the day of the Lord's Resurrection, "an Easter Day in every week." Was not the communion-time chosen in connection with the hour of the Lord's Resurrection, "very early in the morning," and does not this explain the ante-lucan assemblies for the Christian Sacrament spoken of by Pliny? And if so, does it not also explain the silent way in which the arrangement came about? You do not give reasons for what everybody does by natural instinct. It is when changes are hard to make, and come about through conflict and debate that the reasons get set forth at full. It is when everybody does it, and when everybody feels the reason, that nobody stops to explain the rationale. It is curious too to notice that, later on, S. Gregory of Nazianzus, adduces the difference between the hour of communion and that of the Institution as an example of the fact that not every act of Christ was meant to bind our conduct, and then goes on to bring the communion-hour into connexion with the Resurrection. "Christ instituted it in a supper-room, and after supper, and on the day before His Passion. We celebrate it in Christian Temples, and before taking supper, and after His Resurrection"--as though it was the Resurrection which changed all, and that what was the natural hour before [8/9] the Passion ceased to be so after the Resurrection. So in still earlier days wrote Cyprian. "It did behove Christ to offer about the evening of the day that the very hour of sacrifice might show the setting and evening of the world. But we celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord in the morning." Add to this that as the Passover hour was itself a commemorative hour, so it is only natural that the communion-hour should also be a commemorative hour, and that as the Passover at evening commemorated the evening of deliverance from Egypt, so the communion at early morning commemorated the victory of Him who at early morning rose again for our deliverance from Satan.
Thus then we can discern a plain reason why the hour of our Lord's Institution should be no more meant as giving the rule for our celebration, than His observance of the Mosaic Sabbath is a rule against the change to the first day of the week. At all events the whole primitive church regarded late communions with an antipathy for which it is hard to find any other explanation. Take the Christian eucharist in its primitive aspect as the great Lord's Day service, commemorating the deliverance which His resurrection accomplished, and conveying to us its benefits, just as the Passover commemorated the rescue from Egypt and from the destroying angel, and we feel that our resistance to evening communion rests on grounds stronger than those even of the most peremptory of church rules, even upon a Christian instinct which leads us back to the days when first the church of Christ began to keep her Lord's Day, not on the day of the ancient Sabbath, but on that of her Saviour's Resurrection.
CHAPTER II. THE ARGUMENT FROM AUTHORITY
In our last chapter we accounted for the, at first sight, singular circumstance that whereas the Holy Eucharist was instituted in the evening the primitive church universally celebrated it in the morning. The fact that the primitive church did so, we assumed as being for argument's sake already granted. For we felt that, with thoughtful people, the question which wants answering is not so much what was the custom of the primitive church, as how to account for that custom. It is quite a different thing with the fact, and a very remarkable fact it is, that primitive Christendom was at least as unanimous in its rejection of evening communions as it was in its transfer of the day of rest from the seventh to the first. We might even add that it was a good deal longer making up its mind about the latter, so that whatever arguments may be made out for evening communions, a still stronger one could be devised for our keeping Saturday instead of Sunday. We will now proceed to sum up, as briefly as we can, the testimony of antiquity to the Christian practise of early, as opposed to late, communions.
I. We begin then with Holy Scripture. And here we have to observe that whatever is learned from Holy Scripture on this or any kindred subject, is matter of inference rather than of direct statement. We say on this, or on any kindred subject, advisedly. Of positive institutions Holy Scripture tells us scarcely anything. In Holy Scripture we see only the rudimentary forms, the incipient germination, so to speak, not the completed form and shape of the tree which was to grow from the mustard seed which was planted on the Day of Pentecost. Hence the vast importance of the [10/11] age next after the Apostles, and of primitive church history in settling for us in what actual forms the various Apostles carried out the hints which we trace in the New Testament Scriptures. It settles it for us in this way. The Christian Church was not planted by one Apostle or by two, but by many, and by persons who, after a very early date, had no further opportunity of co-operation or concert. Whenever, therefore, years after their decease, we find a universal agreement in any point of practise among scattered churches we feel certain that here we have something which all the Apostles must have concurred in teaching, since each church traced its customs to an Apostolic source. Egypt would not have changed its Apostolic customs to please Rome, nor Ephesus to please Jerusalem; they must have agreed from the first. The concord could not_ have been brought about artificially, years after the decease of the Apostles. Whenever, therefore, in later years, we come upon a usage common to most churches, we are satisfied that it is something which every teacher of the New Testament period had concurred in delivering. It is in this way that we turn the records of history to account in determining what is meant by many a scattered hint in the New Testament writings.
What then do we learn on the matter in hand? Once and once only is evening communion discussed in the New Testament, and then it is where S. Paul has to repress the scandal accompanying it with such exceeding sternness. Prone to laxity, luxury and party spirit, it does not speak well for the practise of evening communions, that it was in the Corinthian church alone that we find it prominent; and the question occurs,--if such a practise ever prevailed elsewhere may not these Corinthian scandals have been the cause of a suppression so speedy and so total that it never appears again in any known church whatever? The case at Corinth was this;--They followed literally the order of [11/12] our Lord's Institution. First, the Agape, founded on the Jewish Supper, and occurring at the ordinary time of a supper: then the communion itself following the Agape, and therefore, also, in the evening. At Corinth the Agape itself was degraded into an ordinary meal so that the Eucharist was made to follow an ordinary supper (or dinner--as we should say)--and the scandal ensued of putting the Holy Communion after an ordinary dinner. It is against this scandal that S. Paul writes, with what energy we all remember. There were two things to correct:--(1.) the abuse of the Agape; (2.) the profanation of the Eucharist. How does S. Paul deal with it? He only gives an ad interim order, namely, that the Agape must not be treated as an ordinary meal. As to the more important part of the matter, viz., the Eucharist itself, he leaves that until he sees them, "The rest will I set in order when I come."
This much then is clear. The one marked case of evening communion occurs in a church distinguished for its irregularities, and that within three or four years of its foundation. This leads to scandals. Then these scandals lead to an ad interim order respecting the Agape, and to a promise that the rest of the matter should be regulated by the Apostle in person. It is only natural to suppose that the Apostle did take action according to his promise, and what so natural as to separate the Holy Eucharist from all risk of juxtaposition with any meal whatever? At all events after the Apostles' time we never hear of such a thing as an evening communion again. It is discussed only this once in the New Testament, and it is not in good company. It is discussed once, and then with a promise from the Apostle that he will "set it in order" in propria persona. And the "setting in order" would seem to have been final, for as soon as we come upon any definite notice of the communion-time the morning hour is the rule throughout all the churches which the [12/13] Apostles founded. Varying, as they did, in so many particulars, varying in the forms of their creeds and usages, varying even in the day of keeping the Easter Festival, can anything be more inevitable than the inference that the christian instinct, of which we spoke in our last chapter, became the Christian rule as well, and that these Corinthian scandals gave occasion for formulating a precept which, but for those excesses might never have needed formulating at all?
II. For coming down the stream of time, when Pliny writes to Trajan and reports the Christian usages, (we need not quote the well-known paragraph) we find the Agape and the Sacrament both are mentioned, but this time they are not consecutive, or even combined observances. The Agape is no longer before but after the Sacrament. The Sacrament itself is ante lucem. [We cannot here pause to refute the objections taken to Pliny's "Sacramentum," meaning the Holy Communion. In an essay like this we may well take it for granted.] This was in Asia Minor, A.D. 104. A few years later on we come to Justin Martyr, and with him the Holy Communion is described minutely, together with the sacred character of its elements, but now the Agape is lost sight of altogether, so that Neander doubts if it ever existed in the churches Justin knew of. Thus Pliny shows that the universal custom of Asia Minor, in A.D. 104, was that of an ante lucem communion severed from the Agape, while Justin, A.D. 133, never so much as mentions the Agape at all, but only describes the Communion Service itself, and explains the sacred elements. Be it observed, too, that Asia Minor Christianity was the Christianity of S. Paul and of S. John; so that whatever prevailed there in A.D. 104 carried S. John's authority, and then we can have no manner of doubt but that the great Sunday Service of S. John's days was this early communion, followed by a quiet, social meal later on in the day. Now the late communion and Agape of 1 Cor. xi., [13/14] was either an unusual thing and peculiar to the Corinthians in A.D. 65, or it was not. If it was peculiar to them, then it was only another specimen of Corinthian lawlessness, a thing without authority, the occasion of scandal, and therefore no example for any one to follow. If it did prevail elsewhere, then, at all events, there must have been such an universal Apostolic condemnation of it as to have swept away every trace of it for ever. The Agape and the communion never recur in combination, and the normal hour of communion is found in early morning. In either case our reference to Scripture and Antiquity sets it before us as an example not to be followed but avoided.
III. Passing on from the times of the Apostles and their immediate successors, we come from Syria and Asia Minor to Africa and Carthage. The testimony is the same, fasting and early communion the rule, but with one strongly marked variation, that, namely, of certain week-day (not Sunday) communions which took place in the afternoon. The consideration of these is curiously confirmatory of our view, for (1) they were fast-day Communions received before the fast was broken;--(2) they were no case of evening communion at all; and therefore--(3) they supply the strongest argument possible for the universality of early communion on Sundays and other feast-days.
First, as to the general rule, Tertullian writing some fifty years after Justin speaks in the De Corona, c. 3, of the Sacrament as "omnibus mandatum a Domino etiam in ante-lucanis coetibus," the etiam pointing to the contrast between the antelucani coetus with the hour of the institution. In the Ad Uxorem, c. 5, lie speaks of the wife's reception ante omnem cibum--before all food.
Next, as to Communions later in the day. In the De Oratione he speaks of the fasts of the Station Days, i.e., Wednesday and Friday, when food was not taken till 3 p.m., [14/15] and explains that afternoon communion on these days need not be objected to because it did not break the fast, showing that the bare idea of communicating later than 3 p.m. never occurred to him. These fast-day communions at a later hour than those on Sunday are referred to in a Sermon on Psalm cxviii, where fast-day communions are enjoined later on in the day, but while still "esuriens'"--hungry--i.e., before the fast had closed. It would seem as if this, practice of communicating later on the fast-days was a sort of guarantee for keeping the fast unbroken, and in the sermon in question S. Ambrose urges the approaching communion as a reason for abstaining from the earlier meal, the "prandium." The same remark holds good of the Easter Eve communion of the newly baptized. This too was a case of a late communion on the most solemn of all fast-days, the most exceptional case possible, and as in the former instances it only strengthens the rule of early communion for Festivals and Sundays. Fast days had their noon, or afternoon communions, for the fast lasted till afternoon was over. An evening communion is quite another matter.
Next, almost as if to point the contrast, there did arise some who pleaded the hour of Institution as an excuse for a later communion, but their case does not recommend the practise. Who were they who first invented alike the practise and the excuse for it? It was a sect called the Aquarii, so-called from using water without wine in the Holy Communion, against whom Cyprian writes to Caecilius, A.D. 253. Cyprian tells them that they use water without wine only lest they "should be redolent of the blood of Christ," (by having taken wine in early morning) and so betray themselves to persecution as being Christians. They reply that if they use water only in the morning they can "offer the mingled cup" at the evening communion. Cyprian answers that there is no such thing known to Christians. He does not even argue it, the case is so plain, but says, "when we sup [15/16] we cannot call the people together so as to celebrate the truth of the Sacrament," [sacramenti veritatem] i.e., it would be no true Sacrament if at supper-time;--such a thing could not be. "But still," he proceeds, "it might be urged that such was the case at the Institution." The quiet way in which he answers this shows how utterly unheard of was this novel innovation:--
"It did behove Christ to offer about the evening of the day, that the very hour of sacrifice might show the setting and evening of the world; as it is written in Exodus, and all the people of the Congregation of the children of Israel shall kill it in the evening. And after, in the Psalms, 'Let the lifting up of my hands be an 'evening Sacrifice.' But we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord in the morning." Ad Caecil, c. 16.)
Thus then the only known case of a plea for evening communions was this fear of persecution, and it is important to observe that Cyprian considers it sufficiently refuted by the brief and simple appeal to church usage above quoted. We infer that such communions were things unheard of and self-condemned, and that it was not necessary to waste words upon them.
IV. But some one will bring up S. Augustine's letter to Januarius, from which it appears that later on in the church history,--i.e., about A.D. 400--there was a custom of communicating late in the evening, at least once a year, namely on Maundy Thursday. Granted, but this, like the cases we have considered of fast-day afternoon communions, makes entirely against the use of evening communions as a practise. Look at the circumstances. Church usages vary in various countries. Augustine advises how a Christian traveller should act respecting these variations. Among the novelties which a traveller will meet with in Africa he deals with this singular practice of a Maundy Thursday evening communion." Augustine points out that no stranger need set himself against it because it is a mere exception, and that as such it no way [16/17] impugns the otherwise universal rule of early communions. He insists that his recommendation of compliance does not contravene the rule "universae ecclesiae quod a jejunis semper accipitur." And then he goes on to recite the grounds of this universal rule, just as others had done before him, arguing that if our Lord had meant His hour of Institution to set the hour of our communion, it was altogether inexplicable that no one should have known of it--but that in point of fact it was left to the regulation of the Apostles. Thus Augustine's toleration of a local exception only proves the universal rule. And not only so, but the African church itself affirmed the rule even while sanctioning the exception, when it ordained (Conc. Carth. iii., Canon 29.) a few years previously "ut Sacramenta altaris non nisi a jejunis hominibus celebrentur, excepto uno die anniversario, quo coena Domini celebratur." Indeed the only known trace of a genuine evening communion--i.e., as an habitual practise such as our contemporaries contend for--occurs in the The-baid and in the neighbourhood of Alexandria; and there, curiously enough, we find it in connection with the substitution of Saturday for the Lord's Day, as the Christian Day of Rest! And we find it mentioned by Socrates (Bk. v. c. 2) in his list of strange customs.
"The Egyptians in the neighbourhood of Alexandria, and the inhabitants of the Thebais, hold their religious meetings on the Sabbath, and do not participate of the mysteries in the manner usual with Christians in general: for after having eaten and satisfied themselves with food of all kinds, in the evening making their oblations, they partake of the mysteries."
We are convinced then of the close connection between the two great changes from Judaism to Christianity, i.e., (1.) from the Sabbath to the Lord's day: (2.) from the Passover-hour at evening to the Communion-hour in the morning. The Resurrection was to the Christian what deliverance from Egypt was to the Jew, and both the two great changes were [17/18] ruled by this. And thus the only known case of evening communions in early times was connected with an adherence to Saturday instead of Sunday. No one no w raises a question whether the Saturday should take the place of Sunday, or whether it ought to be observed along with it as having a parallel claim; but in early days it was not so. In fact, the early hour of the Christian Passover made itself good in primitive times much more easily than did the Lord's day versus the Sabbath Day. Early Christian writers, and the decrees of early local councils, are full of references to the Sabbath, especially in the East, where the remnants of Jewish feeling had to be regarded. In the East regard for those feelings led to its being kept as a feast with the same church Services as the Sunday. In the West, where no such need existed, the church reversed the rule and made it a fast, to heighten the contrast between it and the Lord's day. This lasted even for centuries; and, just as Augustine wrote to Januarius about the evening communion of Maundy Thursday, so in his nineteenth letter to Jerome he discusses the question whether an Oriental coming to Italy might conscientiously change his way of keeping Sunday. So long-was it before Sunday reigned alone. And, doubtless it was of a piece with this, that in Asia and in Africa the annual evening communion held its own so long--that occasion, once a year, on the anniversary of the actual Passover, when the old Passover hour to which our Lord conformed, was--once in a year--commemorated. It was an isolated, independent observance, having no connection whatever with any other communion, but a thing apart and standing upon a separate ground. And in course of time this died out too, just as the observance of Saturday died out. And like the observance of the Saturday feast, this Maundy Thursday evening communion never had a universal observance. Sunday evening communion never existed anywhere. Can any one wish for a more complete exhibition of the Church's mind?
CHAPTER III. MORAL AND RELIGIOUS OBJECTIONS TO EVENING COMMUNIONS.
After what has been said in our last chapter we hope that we may consider the subject closed, so far as precedent and authority is concerned. But there are minds to which, on subjects like this, precedent and authority are not final; and there are many who urge that considerations of present utility ought to over-ride those of primitive practise, on the ground that if a novelty leads to good, it is none the worse for being new.
This question then remains;--does this particular novelty lead to good? and there are two ways in which our opponents might answer it. One would be to show that, practically, it has done good. The other would be to show that, from the nature of the case, it must do good. As to the first, we reply that time only can show the outcome of a new thing--and a considerable time too; and not time only but a considerable breadth of experience spread over various kinds of places and parishes. A narrow experience goes for little. Thus, then, we are driven to argue from the nature of the case, a mode of dealing which always requires special caution if we are to reason justly. Anybody can make out a case for anything if you will let him keep to one set of considerations only. So, then, we must not only ask what good people say it must lead to--but also, may there not be positive moral and spiritual evils attending it which may overbalance this good, even if you get it?
Now, the only one good end which its promoters allege is that of multiplying communicants; and we are willing to grant that it does make it easier for two classes of people [19/20] to communicate--(1), the indolent, who will not get up in time even for eleven o'clock service:--(2), the very poor, who are restrained by the poverty of their appearance from attending that service. We grant this, but we grant no more. The domestic servant argument we consider to have been sufficiently disposed of in our first chapter. We grant then, that wherever the old primitive early communion is impossible, an evening communion may meet the difficulty arising from the shyness of the very poor. Whether it is the very poor who attend evening communions where they have been tried; and whether it is in numbers anything like equal to those of the corresponding early communicants where early communions are offered, we have our doubts. As to people who will not get up early enough for an eleven o'clock service they do not need much consideration. Accordingly, the whole good supposed to be achieved is narrowed down to making communion possible on easier terms for the very poor.
Now for the cost at which this is to be accomplished.
I. Such communions cannot be restricted to the particular persons supposed to be had in view. The evening service is a favourite in town parishes, and perhaps to an unhealthy extent. Many circumstances conduce to this. There is the pernicious habit of lying in bed late on the Sunday morning. Then, comes the habit of wasting the noontide in aimless gossip, and the afternoon over the sequel of the Sunday dinner, usually the one liberal meal of the week. And then after the bulk of the Lord's day has been spent in purely secular--not to say sensual--indulgence, then the average British townsman is to go to evening service, only to find the greatest possible encouragement to this unchristian way of spending Sunday! The highest Christian service will be going on. He will be called to share in the loftiest Christian privileges. He will be led to feel that, so far as church privileges go, he has lost nothing by putting [20/21] off all religious worship to the end of the day. Thus evening communions will encourage Sunday desecration, and lead people to feel that, do what they may with the day-time, they may yet come to Holy Communion in the evening, and so finish the day religiously as they say:--with what preparation for that Holy Feast we shrink from saying. They encourage the people in salving their consciences, which comes perilously near to deadening them; for even granting that some serious impressions maybe stirred in a man's mind under such circumstances, these impressions will be very different both in themselves and in their permanence from the corresponding matutinal ones. The physical exciteableness natural to the evening hour is itself antagonistic to permanence of impressions, as the Monday morning spiritual and moral condition will tell. Thus, then, we fear that evening communions may lead' to the desecration both of the Sunday and of the Sacrament, while tending also to entourage a religion of mere excitement.
Take away the solemnising influence of its morning communion from the Sunday daytime, and let the Holy Feast be celebrated at night, and it all but remits the Lord's Day, as a day, into the category of common days. The Lord's Day Evening, not the Lord's Day itself, will become everything. Then--
II. Look once more at the danger of unworthy reception. The argument for evening communions proceeds upon the very dangerous ground of making too much of mere reception as apart from worthy reception. Clergymen wish to multiply communicants. It is a good wish; but may there not be too much hurry? Is not the offer of evening communion almost like saying to them--If only you will consent to receive we will give it to you at any hour when you may choose to come for it, let the rest of the Sunday be spent how it may?--is it not enough to [21/22] lead people to think that so long as they do receive it is a secondary matter how they receive? Does it not altogether obscure the magnificence of the privilege of being admitted to such a Heavenly Feast at all? No doubt it is a duty for a Christian to receive the Holy Communion, but a man must be a very poor kind of Christian who only receives it as a duty. If the privilege is worth anything, it is worth making some sacrifice for. Nay, unless some effort has to be made, is there no danger of the privilege being lost sight of? One of our deepest instinctive aversions from evening communions arises from their utter exclusion of the idea of self-denial in connection with communion. Yet in Holy Communion we profess to offer ourselves, our souls, and bodies in union with the great Sacrifice:--a very solemn mockery surely in many of the cases which this practise will encourage. And as evening communions obscure the sense of privilege, so too they will lead to unprepared reception. People are sometimes very impulsive in coming to Holy Communion, particularly on the first occasion after long neglect, just when caution and advice are needed, and when a little judicious delay is desirable. Sometimes a sermon or some excitement of feeling, or the attraction of others moves them. They receive without either preparation or deliberate purpose. They come insufficiently acquainted with what they are doing, or with something upon their conscience which ought to prevent them, at any rate without full consideration and confession to Almighty God. All these things beset us even now, though there is much less risk of them in the ordinary noon-tide communion. There is, practically, none about an early, seven or eight a.m. communion. It would be frequent with evening communions, especially if following exciting services and preachings. Evening communions will lower the standard of preparation, low enough as it is already, so that even on [22/23] this ground alone they are to be deprecated. Nothing can be more inconsistent than for a movement of this kind to come from a School in the church which has always insisted upon the importance of the inward disposition with which ordinances are used, to the comparative disparagement of the ordinances themselves. Here they act as if the receiving was everything, and as if it mattered not how men receive so long as they do receive.
On every ground then, on the ground of the disrespect done to the Sacrament itself in thus pushing it aside until every other service of the day is over--giving all the best of God's day to the merely human services, and leaving this the one specifically Christian Service to the end--on the ground of the disrespect to the Lord's Day in depriving it of that which should hallow it from its commencement and pushing its most blessed privilege into a corner, when spirit and body are either failing through weariness, or else stimulated through artificial excitement:--on the ground too of the danger of unprepared receptions and the spiritual risk to those for whom we have to give account:--on all these grounds we maintain that there are objections to evening communions which utterly overbalance the one sole object which their advocates can plead. It is not as if this object could be attained in no other way. It can be attained, and what is more it is attained, and long has been attained, in many a parish where the poor have to be specially considered, and it is done by the obvious arrangement of early--not late--communions. And when attained in this way there is no danger of the evils we have shadowed forth. You will not find the early communicant mis-spending his Sunday. The day is sanctified to him by the Presence in which he has spent its morning hour, and the surest way to secure a well-spent Lord's Day is to begin it with the Lord. Far less chance of the early communicant [23/24] coming unprepared, or upon mere impulse, or without due reverence. He comes too with mind and heart undisturbed by the occurrences of a long day's course, and the little self-denial involved in an early reception helps to fit him for the solemnity. In fact we believe that the whole movement is an unworthy concession, partly to the laziness of the age, partly to its sensationalism, partly to the hurry of the age which wants to feel that it has prompt results to show for its spiritual as well as other endeavours. It is but a short-sighted expediency. A host of communicants who would not come to any but an evening communion will not do anything like so much for the christianizing of your parish as a fraction of that number of early communicants will. A few thoroughly devout souls will do more in the long run to leaven your parish than ten times as many of the lukewarm; for true piety is catching and it is its nature to spread. Lukewarmness never kindled anything. A clergyman has done more real work, even for the rest of his flock, if he has been the means (under God) of bringing a few souls so to feel the privilege of the Holy Eucharist, that they will get up a couple of hours sooner in order to partake of it, than if he had a church full of evening communicants who would not receive it unless it were thus brought to them. It is not every short cut that brings you safe to your journey's end.