Project Canterbury

The Faith of an English Catholic
by Darwell Stone, D.D.

London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1926.

Chapter VIII. The Reserved Sacrament

THE thought of reserving the holy sacrament of the body and blood of Christ does not appear to have occurred to the Tractarians in the earliest days of the Movement. It would inevitably be suggested as soon as the study of the ancient and mediaeval Church, of the Non-jurors, and of contemporary Catholicism outside the Church of England, had made much progress, and when practical questions concerning the giving of Communion were being faced. But the actual practice of reservation was not, so far as is known, begun for some time; and it was long before it became prominent or wide-spread. If the beginning of the Oxford Movement is placed in the year 1833, the earliest instance of reservation of which the present writer has been able to hear was more than twenty years after the beginning, and for many years later reservation probably was rare and to some extent secret.

The evidence about the administration of Holy Communion in the early Church to those present at the celebration and to those absent from it is scanty. But it is clear that provision was made for the absent. The account of Church rites given by St. Justin Martyr, writing at Rome in the middle of the second century, records that the consecrated sacrament was carried to those who were not present at the service. Later writers show that in the third and fourth centuries the sick and others could receive the Holy Communion from the sacrament which was reserved, sometimes in private houses, sometimes in the priest's house, sometimes in the church. There are occasional instances in the first five centuries, each of them for some special reason, of Communion being given by means of celebration in a place other than the appointed place of worship; but the normal method of giving Communion to the sick and absent was by means of the reserved sacrament.

The custom of reservation continued through the later patristic period and through the middle ages both in the East and in the West. It was recognized as being part of the ordinary provision for the administration of the sacraments which the parish priest in the performance of his habitual duty was bound to make.

The course of events in the sixteenth and later centuries led to the custom in the Church of England being the opposite to that which had been usual in the early Church. In the early Church the sick and others were usually communicated from the sacrament which had been consecrated in the place of worship, and only in occasional instances from the sacrament consecrated in a private house. In the Church of England after the middle of the sixteenth century, the most usual, and then for a time the almost invariable, method of giving Communion to the sick was by means of a celebration in a private house. The Prayer Book of 1549 and the Latin Prayer Book of 1560 made provision for the sick being communicated either by the sacrament carried from the church or by means of a celebration in the sick person's house; but the Prayer Books of I552. I558, 1604, an(i I66i made mention only of the celebration in the sick person's house; and the methods of carrying the sacrament from the celebration in church and of reserving the sacrament, though not prohibited, fell into disuse. The disuse of reservation would be encouraged by the language of the twenty-eighth of the Articles of Religion, which, though carefully worded so as not actually to condemn reservation, stated that "the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved," that is, reservation was not part of what Christ Himself had commanded at the institution of the sacrament. And the rubric inserted in 1661 with the object of preventing the abuse of the consecrated sacrament being treated as ordinary bread and wine--" if any remain of that which was consecrated, it shall not be carried out of the church, but the priest and such other of the communicants as he shall then call unto him shall, immediately after the blessing, reverently eat and drink the same"--possibly helped to confirm the disuse of reservation. It is obvious that this was not the intention of those who inserted the rubric. The context in the rubric and a statement by Bishop Cosin [1] show clearly that the object was to prevent profanation; the practice of reservation was not in view at the time; and the phraseology of the rubric was based on language from a canon which had been in operation when reservation was the recognized and universal custom of the Church. [2] Still, when the purpose of the rubric had been forgotten, it was not unnatural that those who did not know the history of the phraseology used in it should understand it as inconsistent with reservation.

Thus, when the insistence by the Tractarians on the doctrine about the Eucharist which they taught, and their emphasis on the value of Communion, had begun to tell, practical questions which had long slept were stirred. The current practice of the English Church, with its serious departure from the methods both of the ancient and of the mediaeval Church, did not help those who were desirous of giving effect to the consequences of the Tractarian teaching. They were faced by a position not without complications. On the one hand there was much to encourage those who wished to restore reservation. There was their strong sense of the needs which might thereby be met. There were the natural inferences to be drawn from the immemorial duty of the priest to provide the reserved sacrament, a duty which appeared to be inherent in the charge of souls, and not to have depended on any privilege granted by a bishop or a council. There was the recognition of this duty in canons--some of them English--which had never been repealed. There was the absence of any prohibition of reservation in the formularies of the Church of England. And there was the inherited custom of reservation in the Scottish Church. On the other hand, there was the long disuse of the practice in the English Church, and a widespread, if somewhat vague, opinion that it was unlawful.

Some seventy years ago individual priests began to reserve the Blessed Sacrament; and by a progress at first slow and of late greatly accelerated the practice of reservation has increased until at the present time the number of churches in which it has been adopted is very great. It will be convenient to set out plainly the reasons because of which Anglo-Catholics reserve the Blessed Sacrament and value such reservation.

The primary purpose for which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved is to promote Communion. Experience has shown the importance of the sacrament being always at hand for the Communion of the sick and the dying. There are sudden emergencies in which the Communion of the dying is difficult or impossible if the reserved sacrament is not accessible. In many cases the administration of Communion from the reserved sacrament with a short service of prayer is more suitable for sick persons than the physically trying celebration, and is greatly preferred by many of them. In a large parish, the sick can be given more frequent Communion, and a larger number of sick persons can be communicated at the time of the great festivals, if there is reservation. The practical advantages of using the reserved sacrament for the sick and dying are very great.

There are many both in country and in town parishes for whom access to the church at the ordinary times of celebrations is very difficult. Both in town and in country there are classes of persons who have never been communicants, or have ceased to be so, not because of any hostility to religion or any disbelief in the sacrament, but because the exigencies of their occupations hinder or prevent their attendance at the celebration in church. There is a limit everywhere to the extent to which the number of celebrations can be multiplied, and in parishes where there is only one priest this limit is very soon reached. This difficulty, which is felt acutely by many parochial clergymen, may be solved if at convenient hours Communion can be given in the church from the reserved sacrament to those who cannot come at the times of the celebrations.

Moreover, if the priest is able on fitting occasions to administer from the reserved sacrament to the communicants during the celebration the relief from some practical difficulties is great, and the doctrinal and devotional value of thus linking on one celebration with another is not small.

The gain for promoting Communion which is supplied by reservation amply justifies the long and primitive tradition of the Church in reserving the sacrament.

The importance of the Blessed Sacrament being constantly reserved in the church does not end with Communion. Experience has shown that, where there is reservation, churches are far more used for private prayer. Both in the Church of Rome and in the Church of England the reserved sacrament makes a centre for meditation, for intercession, for prayer of many kinds; it supplies, more satisfactorily and more adequately, the need which has been met in a different way by the ikons in the East.

Some kind of common devotion in connexion with the reserved sacrament has been added to the private prayers of individuals in many English churches. For this addition there has been precedent in customs which have long been used in the Western Church. Processions of the Host existed in England in the eleventh century, and continued to be part of the recognized worship of the Church. Exposition and Benediction--the placing of the sacrament outside the tabernacle and the blessing of the people by the priest making the sign of the cross with the sacrament--began about the fifteenth century1 and became more usual in the Church of Rome after the Counter-Reformation in the sixteenth. In the English revival which resulted from the Tractarian Movement there have been occasional instances of Benediction and Exposition and of Processions of the Host since about the year 1855; and at the present time there are a few churches in which these are found. Of late years what have come to be known as "Devotions"--a form of service in which the reserved sacrament is a centre for worship but in which there is no actual Exposition or Benediction--have been largely used, and have been found to be both of much attractiveness and of real spiritual help. In all that relates to worship surrounding the reserved sacrament the Anglo-Catholics of to-day have gone far beyond anything that was usual among the Tractarians. The austerity, the self-suppression, the dislike of any external show, the fear of outward attractions, which were among the most characteristic features of the Tractarians, were in a different direction from much in the worship which of late has surrounded the reserved sacrament, as indeed they were contrary to many other elements of worship in the Church of England to-day. The Church of England as a whole has departed much from the love of retirement, the desire for silence, the seeking to be unknown, the hatred of advertisement, which the Tractarians cherished. In all this there is loss as well as gain, but also gain as well as loss; and it inevitably affects methods of worship. In considering the relation of the Anglo-Catholics of the twentieth century to the Tractarians of the middle of the nineteenth century, the important question is not about methods but about principles.

There were temporary differences among some of the Tractarians on the subject of Eucharistic adoration. All ultimately realized that the doctrine of our Lord's presence in the consecrated sacrament requires that in the sacrament He is to be adored. The implications of this truth cannot in the long run be limited to the time of the celebration. The notion that the sacramental presence of our Lord remains during the actual time of the celebration but ceases if the sacrament is reserved after the celebration has no support from authority or reason, and cannot make a lasting appeal. The doctrine of the real presence, as Dr. Pusey and Mr. Keble taught it, leads on inevitably to the belief that, if the sacrament is reserved, our Lord is still there with His sacramental presence, and still is to be adored. To say Adoro te devote to our Lord at the consecration in the Mass, and to say the same words to Him when kneeling before the reserved sacrament, is in principle the same act of devotion.

No distinction can rightly be made between private and public prayer in regard to what is lawful in principle. There may be distinctions as to what is expedient. Considerations of expediency may govern a good deal in the details of worship. But no such consideration can affect the truth that, if it is right for one person individually to worship our Lord in the reserved sacrament, it is also right for a number of persons to do so together; and, if it is right for one person or more persons than one so to worship our Lord in silence, it is also right for them so to worship Him with prayers and hymns in common and aloud. Whatever considerations of various kinds may dictate as to details of worship, the adoration of our Lord in the reserved sacrament by congregations follows from the adoration of Him at the time of Mass.

It is the belief of Anglo-Catholics that, in accordance with the tradition of the Catholic Church, it is the duty of the parish priest to reserve the sacrament in his parish church. They have no wish that this traditional duty should be imposed on those who do not agree with them. Rather, they would deprecate reservation by those whose beliefs would not justify them in reserving, or in surrounding the reserved sacrament with those outward signs of reverence and devotion which are its due. But history shows that the parish priest may fulfil this duty on his own initiative without seeking the leave of his bishop.

There are many matters in regard to the reserved sacrament about which the control of the bishop may be exercised. Formal services in connexion with it, like all other services not contained in the Book of Common Prayer, are subject to episcopal control, though the moral appeal of this control is greatly lessened by two facts,--first, the rarity of bishops seeking the advice of their diocesan synods before making decisions, and, secondly, the toleration of a state of affairs in which there probably is no church in England where the Prayer Book is exactly and completely obeyed. The duty of the parish priest to reserve in his parish church does not confer on him or on others a right to reserve in private chapels, reservation in which, as a special privilege distinct from the ordinary provision for the faithful, needs the leave of the bishop.

The theological justification for the devotional use of the reserved sacrament does not stand alone. This devotional use has been found in practice to be a means of deepening the spiritual life, and strengthening the spiritual energies, of faithful souls. To such it has supplied joy and comfort and resolution. And not seldom it has helped those to whom religion was strange to find their way into a right use of the ministrations of the Church.

It has sometimes been maintained that the devotional use of the reserved sacrament diverts the attention of the soul from the worship of God in heaven, and lessens the power of the continuous communion of the soul with our Lord in the inner life. This objection is of so serious a character that the two parts of it call for separate and careful consideration.

It is objected, then, that by worshipping our Lord in the reserved sacrament the capacity of the soul for the worship of God in heaven is made less. Such an objection really ignores the place both of the Incarnation and of the sacraments in Christian life. It is indeed true that God is everywhere, and that man can speak to Him and worship Him everywhere. There is an approach to God which can be made by heathen or Moslem or Jew or Christian independently of place or outward circumstance. In this approach there may be the true spirit of prayer and worship, and no one may doubt its value. It is the foundation in natural religion on which revealed religion may build. The Incarnation made possible a new approach whereby man with added security and fresh enlightenment and greater power might draw near to God in response as God drew near to him. The sacraments united Christians individually and corporately with God through the human nature of our Lord by a union more intimate and powerful than any approach to God had hitherto been. But neither Incarnation nor sacraments destroyed or lessened the communion of the soul with God which had been before them. Rather, they enhanced it and gave it new force. All that had been without them remained, but remained with a value essentially increased. Not otherwise, the worship of our Lord in the reserved sacrament does not take away the capacity for communion with Him and the Father and the Holy Ghost at other times. The Christian leaves the church where he has been worshipping our Lord in the reserved sacrament, and he carries with him into the world an increased power of realizing everywhere and always the presence of God.

In sacramental Communion the Christian receives the body and blood--the human life now spiritual and glorious--of our Lord. This gift bestows abiding union with our Lord on the soul. The communicant treasures that union as his constant support and joy. It sustains him in many times of temptation and trial and pain. It is a strength which lasts. There is no inconsistency if the communicant from time to time seeks the presence of the Lord where the sacrament is reserved. As Communion itself deepens and strengthens the communing with God which may be without it, so the visit to our Lord in the reserved sacrament renews and freshens the sense of the inner union which Communion has bestowed as a lasting gift.

There is a great progress of spiritual life. At no one stage does the worshipper of God deny his past. All that is of value before the Incarnation or outside Christianity is preserved by the Christian with the new life which the Christian religion supplies. The sacramental union vitalizes all the good which there might be without it. The worship of our Lord in the reserved sacrament strengthens our hold on His presence within our souls, and it gives new reality to our recognition of the presence and work of God throughout the created world.

[1] See Cosin's Works in Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology, V, 519.

[2] Decret. 3 (de consecr.). dist. 2. cap. 23, "Quod si remanserint in crastinum non reserventur sed cum timore et tremore clericorum diligentia consumantur." Cf. Lyndwood, Provinciate, 3, 26, "Presbyter semper babebit Eucharistiam paratam propter infirmantes: de conte. di. 2 c. Presbyter. Nee obstat eo d. c. tribui ubi prohibetur hostias plures in altari dimissas reservare quia verum est quod non debent reservari ad opus consecrantium sed ad opus morien-tiutn sic ut ibi no. per fo. See also Notes and collections on the Book of Common Prayer, series i (wrongly assigned to Cosin), in Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology, Cosin's Works, V, 121; T. W. Perry, Some Historical Considerations relating to the Declaration on Kneeling (1863), pp. 122, 123; C. Atchley (1899) quoted in Hierurgia Anglicana (new edition, 1903), ii, 164, 165; W. H. Frere, A new history of the Book of Common Prayer (1901), p. 502, note i.

[3] References to Exposition in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are frequent. As to Benediction, the present writer said in his The Reserved Sacrament (1917), pp. 73-75, that as a formal ceremony it probably is not older than the second half of the sixteenth century. After the publication of that book, however. Father H. Thurston in The Month for September, 1918, pp. 219-221, called attention to a probable allusion in the record of the Council held at London in 1309, and to a clear reference by Felix Hemerli, who died about 1460, in his treatise de benedictionibus aurae cum sacramento faciendii (see variae oblectationis opuscula, 1497, signature r 2 verso, r 3 recto). Hemerli refers to Benediction incidentally as an illustration of his argument as if it was well known and recognized in Germany and Switzerland. That it was not practised till the sixteenth century in France has been thought to be shown by J. B. Thiers, Traité de l'exposition du saint sacrement (1679).

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