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REPORT OF THE ROYAL COMMISSION ON ECCLESIASTICAL DISCIPLINE.

Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of His Majesty
1906.

transcribed by Mr Thomas J W Mason
AD 2001


CHAPTER IV.
PRESENT BREACHES AND NEGLECTS OF THE LAW.

(1) Vestments.

The law of vestments as laid down by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has already been stated in paragraph 26, but it is seldom strictly followed. The smallest and most common departure from it is that a stole (either black or coloured or white) is generally worn by the clergy, though not sanctioned by the Ornaments Rubric as construed by the Courts. Again, the requirement of the Advertisements and the 24th Canon, that in cathedrals and collegiate churches at Holy Communion a cope should be worn by the principal minister, is very imperfectly obeyed. It appears from the evidence that the cope is used regularly in one cathedral, occasionally in ten, and not at all in twenty-five cathedrals. It also appears that it is used by some Bishops and other clergy on certain occasions when the rubrics give no direction for its use.

The ritual irregularity possessing significance most frequently brought before us is the use of the Eucharistic vestments, by which are meant the alb, amice, chasuble, girdle, and maniple, together with the stole. Reports of services in 559 churches have been laid before us; and in 491 of them, these vestments appear to be worn by the celebrant officiating at the Holy Communion. In the great majority of these cases it would appear that coloured vestments were worn, but in some cases vestments of white linen only. No statistics exist from which exact information of the total number of churches in England in which such vestments are worn can be derived; but a book entitled the “Tourist’s Church Guide,” published by the English Church Union (latest edition, 1902), was laid before us. This book contains an alphabetical list of churches, and furnishes certain particulars as to each of them, including a statement whether the Eucharistic vestments are worn. We were assured by the Secretary of the English Church Union on the one hand, and by the Secretary of the Church Association on the other, that the accuracy of the statements in this book could be relied upon. But the former witness stated that the figures, if taken again now, would, he believed, show a considerable increase.

The total number of churches in England and Wales is 14,242. According to the “Tourist’s Church Guide” there were, in 1901, 1526 churches where Eucharistic vestments were worn. No attempt has been made in the book to distinguish churches where the vestments are coloured from those where they are white only. The 1,526 churches are said to be distributed throughout England and Wales as follows:—

London and Suburbs    167      Flint      3                      Northumberland           28
Glamorgan        30                   Nottingham                   44
Bedford                        16        Gloucester        48        Oxford                         52
Berks                           25        Hants               41        Pembroke                    5
Brecknock                   1          Hereford          13        Radnor                         1
Bucks                           16        Hertford           12        Rutland             1
Cambridge                   33        Huntingdon       8          Shropshire                    20
Cardigan                      1          Isle of Man       1          Somerset                      56
Cheshire                       22        Kent                 52        Stafford                        56
Cornwall                      59        Lancashire        39        Suffolk             41
Cumberland                  1          Leicester          27        Surrey                          19
Denbigh                        2          Lincoln 78        Sussex                          38
Derby                           29        Merioneth         1          Warwick                      31
Devon                          65        Middlesex        10        Westmorland                1
Dorset                          25        Monmouth        9          Wilts                            23
Durham                        23        Norfolk            45        Worcestershire 25
Essex                           48        Northampton    21        Yorkshire                     114

None of the present Bishops has taken any steps for the general prohibition of these vestments in his diocese; nor has any Bishop now in charge of an English diocese required that their use should be relinquished. The Bishop of Hereford refused to institute a presentee to a living who asserted his intention, if he were instituted, to wear them. The Bishop of Sodor and Man stated that, if occasion arose, he should not permit their use. [The case in the Isle of Man, referred to in the above table, is, we are informed, that of a private chapel, not of a parish church.] Several of the Bishops stated that they discouraged the use of Eucharistic vestments, especially their adoption in churches where they had not previously been worn. The Bishop of London, having been appealed to by a parishioner of St. Luke’s, Enfield, on the ground that the incumbent had announced his intention to introduce these vestments on and after Christmas Day, 1904, replied that he always dissuaded clergy from introducing them against the wishes of the communicants of their parishes, but that he found on inquiry the Vicar’s decision was based on the almost unanimous request of the communicants of the church, most of whom were parishioners. He added that in those circumstances the use of the vestments would “come within the limits of the Bishop’s toleration.”

The question of the significance properly attaching to Eucharistic vestments, depending as it does on individual opinions, is probably incapable of an exact answer. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that at least a great many of those who support their use connect them with the doctrine of a commemorative sacrifice in the Eucharist, to which we have already referred; and it is clear that the use of a special dress for the celebration of Holy Communion does not necessarily involve the acceptance of the Roman doctrine as to the nature of that service. There is no doubt that the Eucharistic vestments were originally the dress of ordinary civil life, and that for four or five centuries the civil and ministerial dress of the clergy was identical, save that at the time of their ministrations they would have put on a dress that was clean and white. Not till the seventh century have we any certain indications that the chasuble was regarded as a distinctly liturgical garment. From this date onwards, however, mystical meaning seem to have been attached to it and to the other articles of ministerial attire; and the use of coloured vestments may be traced. Thus the Eucharistic vestments were adopted some centuries before A.D. 1215, when the doctrine of Transubstantiation was defined. Both before and after the definition of that doctrine the chasuble was associated with the conception of an Eucharistic sacrifice. It is not open to question that the Eucharistic vestments were retained by the Church of England after the repudiation of the Roman doctrine and the substitution of the Prayer Book for the Roman service. The first Prayer Book of Edward VI. (1549) directed a “white alb plain with a vestment or cope” to be worn at Holy communion. On the establishment of Queen Elizabeth’s Prayer Book, in 1559, these vestments were by the Act of Uniformity, in clear terms, again directed to be worn; and this direction remained in force at least until the issue of the Advertisements in 1566, although generally disregarded. It is further to be observed that the notion of any connexion between these vestments and the Roman doctrine of the Mass does not appear to have occurred to leading writers on the Prayer Book, who held the opinion that the vestments, ordered by Edward VI’s. first Prayer Book to be worn, were still in strictness required by law.

On the other hand, many of those who object to the use of Eucharistic vestments hold that they are symbolic of the offering of a sacrifice in the sense in which the Eucharist was held in the Pre-reformation Church, and is now held in the Church of Rome, to be a propitiatory sacrifice. The evidence given before the Ritual Commission in 1867 by the Rev. W.J. Bennett is frequently quoted to show that this view is held by some of those who favour the use of the vestments. Mr. Bennett’s explicit statement, however, stands, so far as we are aware, alone, and is generally repudiated by those who use the vestments, though we find instances, especially in the manuals submitted to us, of language implying teaching which cannot be distinguished from the Roman doctrine condemned in the 31st Article.

Many witnesses have, however, argued that these vestments are in the public mind so closely associated with the Roman Church that their introduction into the Church of England, where, in fact, they were entirely discarded for 300 years, cannot fail to convey generally the impression that the Roman doctrine and practice are being brought back. They have urged that the attempt to restore such vestments is often accompanied by the restoration of a group of practices discarded at the Reformation. It is replied that the force of this argument was greater fifty years ago than now. What was then a complete and startling novelty has become a practice—a practice condemned by the law, but for thirty years unrepressed—in more than 1,500 English churches; and thousands of middle-aged persons now living have been accustomed to see those vestments worn as long as they can remember. It is urged that, unless the teaching of the clergy who wear these vestments be Roman, such persons may not see any necessary approximation to Rome in the use of vestments which even in Western Europe are not exclusively Roman.

(2) Confiteor and Last Gospel.

In 142 churches out of the 559 it appears that the officiating clergy immediately before the beginning of the Communion Service, and while standing before the Holy Table, engage in devotions of the nature of an addition to the service rather than of private prayer. These devotions are generally inaudible and accompanied by gestures, and sometimes include responses between the priest and the servers. It was suggested by the witnesses, and in some cases admitted by the clergymen concerned, that these devotions are a rendering or adaptation in English of the Confiteor or preparatory service of the Mass.

Some form of private devotion before celebrating the Holy Communion appears to be a natural part of the priest’s preparation; but no form similar to that now in use in the Roman Church, in which confession is made by the priest and assistant ministers to God, the saints, and to one another, with significant gestures, can be traced back to an earlier date than the twelfth or thirteenth century.

Evidence was also given as to 143 churches where, after the Benediction in the Communion Service, the celebrant is said to have read, generally inaudibly, and sometimes with genuflexion at the mention of the Incarnation, a passage from the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel, verses 1-14, which in the Missal is directed to be read by him at this place and is known as the “Last Gospel.” this is not found in any early service book. It first appears as a purely voluntary usage about the thirteenth century; nor was it ever of obligation in the Roman Church until the revision of the Missal by Pius V. in 1570. In England, before the Reformation, there appears never to have been any authority for using the Last Gospel at the Holy Table or for genuflecting at the mention therein of the Incarnation. The Sarum Use, from the fourteenth century onwards, orders the Last Gospel to be said by the priest while returning to the vestry.

In about 90 churches both the Confiteor and the Last Gospel appear to be in use. Both are defended on the ground that they are merely private devotions of the minister, with which neither the law nor the congregation has any concern. But their significance lies in the fact that they are derived from the unreformed service, were omitted from the existing Prayer Book, and are often accompanied by definite gestures, which, being always the same, have the appearance of being prescribed ceremonial acts, and suggest that the Confiteor and the Last Gospel so used have the same relation to the Communion Service, with which they are thus associated, as they bear to the Communion Service in the Church of Rome. They are used in such close connexion with the Prayer Book service that they are open to condemnation as unauthorised additions to it, on the principle of the judgment which decided that a procession inside a church immediately before or immediately after a service, is so connected with the service as to be an addition to it.

(3) Ceremonial mixing of the chalice.

It was alleged and not denied that the chalice was ceremonially mixed at 439 out of the 559 churches as to which complaints were made.

It was decided in the Bishop of Lincoln’s case, both by the Archbishop and by the Judicial Committee, that the administration of wine mixed with a little water, that is, of the mixed chalice, is not unlawful; but that the mixing of the wine and water during the service is an additionally ceremony not mentioned in the Prayer Book, and therefore unlawful. In the allegations above referred to, the expression “ceremonial mixing” was used to describe three distinct practices:—

(1) The pouring of wine and water from separate cruets into the chalice,  accompanied by solemn acts, such as waking the sign of the Cross over the chalice.

(2) The pouring of wine and water from separate cruets into the chalice, but unaccompanied by any solemn acts.

(3) The pouring of wine into a chalice already contained water placed therein before the beginning of the service.

It will be seen that, while (1) constitutes a ceremony in a substantial sense, there is an important distinction between (1) and (2). It is only in the purely technical meaning of the term “ceremony” (see paragraph 25) that (3) can be considered illegal.

The use of the mixed chalice can be traced back to very early days, being mentioned even before the middle of the second century. But, as was shown by Archbishop Benson in his judgment in the Lincoln case, the time and place at which the mixture was made has varied considerably at different periods, and in different branches of the Church.

(4) Wafers.

In 279 out of the 559 churches it was stated that wafers, or pieces of bread pressed and shaped to as to have the appearance of wafers, were used at the celebration of the Holy Communion.

Without entering upon the difficult question of the date of the origin of the use of unleavened bread in the western Church, it is sufficient to state here that the modern form of the wafer dates from the twelfth century, when it is said to have been adopted in place of the larger cakes formerly used at the Eucharist because of the paucity of communicants.

The question whether unleavened wafers or “the best and purest wheat bread” should be used in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was in the sixteenth century a matter of keen controversy. The fact that the unreformed church used wafers, and the belief that this was a gratuitous departure from the course followed by our Saviour at the institution of the Lord’s supper, were, no doubt, at the bottom of the grave objection felt to them by many people, an objection which also rests on the departure from the practice of dividing the one bread amongst the communicants.

In the Prayer Book of 1549 the rule was given as follows: “For avoiding of all matters and occasion of dissension it is meet that the bread prepared for the Communion be made, through all this realm, after one sort and fashion; that is to say, unleavened and round, as it was afore, but without all manner of print, and something more larger and thicker than it was, so that it may be aptly divided in divers pieces; and everyone shall be divided in two pieces at the least or more, by the discretion of the minister, and so distributed."

In the second Prayer Book of Edward VI. (1552) this was changed to the following: “And to take away the superstition which any person hath, or might have, in the bread and wine, it shall suffice that the bread be such as is usual to be eaten at the table with other meats, but the best and purest wheat bread that conveniently may be gotten.”

No change was made in this rubric in Elizabeth’s Prayer Book (1559); but it ought perhaps to be added that appended to the “Injunctions” issued later in the same year was the following direction: “Item, where also it was in time of King Edwards the VIth used to have the sacramental bread of common fine bread, it is ordered for the more reverence to be given to these holy mysteries, being the Sacraments of the body and blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ, that the same sacramental bread be made and formed plain, without any figure thereupon, of the same fineness and fashion round, though somewhat bigger in compass and thickness, as the usual bread and wafer, heretofore named singing cakes which served for the private Mass.”

At the last revision of the Prayer Book (1662) the rubric was brought into its present form. “And to take away all occasion of dissension, and superstition, which any person hath or might have concerning the bread and wine, it shall suffice that the bread be such as is usual to be eaten; but the best and purest wheat bread that conveniently may be gotten.”

It has been judicially held that, while wafers are illegal, bread “such as is usual to be eaten,” does not become illegal be being so pressed and shaped as to resemble a wafer.

(5) The Lavabo.

The ceremony of the Lavabo, that is the washing of the celebrant’s fingers after the placing of the elements on the Holy Table, and before the prayer for the Church Militant, appears to be practiced in 249 out of the 559 churches as to which evidence was given.

In the third century there are traces of a custom of washing the hands as a preparation for prayer on the part of all Christians; and from the fourth century onwards it appears to have been usual for the ministers at the Communion Service ceremonially to wash their hands before the more solemn part of the service as a symbol of inward purity.

The name “Lavabo” is derived from the words of the 26th Psalm, which the celebrant is directed in the Missal to recite during the ceremony; “I will wash my hands in innocency, O Lord, and so will I go to Thine altar.”

(6) Hiding of the manual acts.

In 438 out of the 559 churches as to which evidence was given it was stated that the witness was unable to see the manual acts directed by the Prayer Book to be performed by the celebrant in the Consecration Prayer. In most of these cases it did not appear whether the witness was conveniently placed for the purpose of seeing the manual acts, or whether these acts would have been visible to the bulk of the congregation, assuming them to have “drawn near to the Communion Table.” In the great majority of theses cases, the invisibility of the manual acts appeared to be due to the fact that the celebrant, adopting the eastward position, stood with his back to the people, rather than to any deliberate intention to hide what he as doing. But in certain cases the witnesses stated that in their opinion the concealment of the manual acts was intentional, and was due, not merely to the fact that the celebrant adopted the eastward position, but to his posture, described as leaning on the table and stooping over it. The clergy in their replies disown any desire to prevent the manual acts from being seen, though many of them indicate their indifference as to whether they are visible or not.

The law is thus stated by Archbishop Benson in the Lincoln case: “The court decides that in the mind of a minister there ought to be a wish and intention to do what has to be done [that is, make the manual acts visible], not merely no wish or intention not to do it; that in this case he must not hide the acts by doing what must hide them; that he must not be so indifferent as to what the result of what he does may be as to do that which is certain to make them invisible . . . . . and that the manual acts must be performed in such wise as to be visible to the communicants properly placed.” While the concealment of the manual acts, so far as it is unintentional, can have no meaning, the significance of their being made visible is thus described by Archbishop Benson in the Lincoln Judgment; “Books of devotion frequently desired communicants to fasten their eyes upon these actions of the priest. To hide them would be as if the signing of the child with the Cross were hidden in Baptism. The significance of these acts being open lies in what was the principles from the beginning, however overlaid at times. The consecration consists in the rehearsal and repetition of what the Lord did and said. ‘Hoc facere quod Auctor fecit’; ‘Non observari a nobis quod mandatum est, nisi eadem quĺ Dominus fecit nos quoque facismus,’ and constant similar expression, give the primitive rule. Bishop Andrewes expresses its adoption by the English Church ‘Sic nos Ejus ductu et exemplo Qui his prĺsidet.’”

(7) The sign of the Cross.

In regard to 298 churches witnesses gave evidence that the officiating clergy made the sign of the Cross upon the elements, vessel, or other objects such as the Gospel book, also over the people, sometimes with the hand alone, and sometimes holding the chalice or paten. This use of the sign of the Cross is most frequent at the Absolution and the Benediction in the Communion Service. The legality of this ceremony at these times was discussed by Archbishop Benson in his judgment in the Lincoln case. He decided that this was an innovation for the use of which there was, on account of its lack of authority, no justification.

It does not, however, follow from this that the use of the sign of the Cross is objectionable in itself; there is no doubt that at least from the beginning of the third century the sign of the Cross was in constant private use by Christians in the most varied actions of daily life; and about the close of the fourth century we find importance attached to it in connexion with the celebration of the Sacraments. In the ritual books of the West, from the eighth century onwards, precise rules are laid down as to the number of the crosses to be made at the consecration of the elements, and at other points of the service. In the Prayer Book of 1549 the sign was retained at the consecration, as well as at Baptism, confirmation, and Matrimony. In 1552 all mention of it was omitted except in the Baptismal service, its use in which is defended in the 30th Canon of 1604 as having been “held in the primitive Church” with “one consent and great applause,” and as having been “purged from all superstition of Popish error and reduced in the Church of England to the primary institution of it.” In this connexion it should be stated that it has been decided by the Court of Arches that the minister crossing himself during the service as an act of private devotion does not commit an ecclesiastical offence.

(8) Sanctus bell.

It was stated that at 212 out of the 559 churches as to which evidence was given a bell was rung at one or more of the following times—

(1) at the time of the consecration of the bread and also of the wine;

(2) at the saying, or singing, of the words “Holy, Holy, Holy, etc.”;

(3) at the moment when opportunity should be given for intending communicants to come forward to receive the Sacrament.

The bell used for this purpose is in some cases what is known as the Sanctus or sacring bell, that is, either a bell hung in a bell-cote or otherwise over the chancel arch, or a hand-bell or gong, kept for the purpose at the altar steps. In other cases the ordinary church bell is used for this purpose.

It would appear from the evidence that the practice of ringing the church bell at the time of the consecration, is valued as a method of enabling sick persons to join in the service at which they are unable to be actually present.

The use of the Sanctus bell was first introduced towards the end of the twelfth, and became general during the thirteenth, century. Its object was to call attention to the consecration as about to begin, or (when rung at the elevation) as complete. So early as the thirteenth century, the ordinary church bell was also sometimes rung at the elevation, in order that the faithful, who could not be at church, might engage in devotion at that time, while the Sanctus bell at the elevation was the signal for adoration to be offered by those present.

The us of a Sacring bell during the service of Holy Communion was held to be illegal by Sir Robert Phillimore, Dean of the Arches, in the case of Elphinestone v. Purchas.


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