Project Canterbury

The Effect of Reservation on Character
By the Rev. A. R. Sharpe
Late Rector of Upper Heyford and Rural Dean of Bicester.

London: Mowbray, 1923. 24 pp.

IN this pamphlet a few thoughts on the Reserved Sacrament are given, dealing with It from the devotional and practical point of view. The writer proposes to incorporate some part of it later in a book on prayer. It would have been out of place here to have treated the subject from the historical point of view, even if the writer had been able to do so. That point of view is very well dealt with in Congress Book, No. 28 (Society of S. Peter and S. Paul). One thing, however, might be noted here. We sometimes hear priests talking of their "right" to reserve. Had they not much better talk of it as their "duty"? If we are to think about rights, it is far better to think of the rights of Him Who so lovingly gives us His Flesh and Blood: surely it is His right that They should be accessible to any of His people who may need Them in emergency from sudden illness or accident: surely, too, He has a right to receive Eucharistic adoration at all times from all His people, not merely from a few favoured congregations. Then, too, the people, the whole as well as those who are very ill or invalids, have rights; throughout the ages those rights have been acknowledged by the Catholic Church. With how great eagerness do we look forward to the day when the whole Church of England shall fall into line with the rest of the Church, and have the Blessed Sacrament reserved in all her churches.

After all, the priest also has his rights. Under the conditions at present holding in the majority of our parishes, he may be called upon, in case of accident, to celebrate the Holy Communion when not prepared to do so. He has certainly a right to be set free from this uncatholic disability.


Since the beginning of the twentieth century numbers of English Church people have experienced the great joy that comes from having Reservation established in their own church or in some church near to them. We may confidently hope, and must earnestly pray, that in the near future multitudes more may experience this joy, as more and more churches offer this great privilege to those who worship in them. This joy is very great, and helps to explain to us the joy of the early Christians as they were brought within the sphere of redemption. We ought to have felt this joy in our religion more strongly before; we failed to do so, because we had become accustomed to our Church privileges, and taken them for i granted. Now that this new joy has come to us, we must see to it that our whole religious life becomes more vigorous and alive. For we have to remember that, while this joy is given to us by GOD, so that we may thankfully allow our hearts to be filled with it, we must not rest there. We are bound to regard our worship before the Blessed Sacrament as a means for the greater glory of GOD through our own sanctification.

We must not, therefore, regard it as a spiritual luxury; we must not think of it as an easy form of Sursum Corda. The weary and overworked, the sick and the worried, may simply come and rest themselves in the Presence without attempting an effort of which they are incapable. Those of us who are well and strong must endeavour to respond to His great love in thus tabernacling among us by the best effort we can make to "lift up our hearts."

We may find that, even though we make our best efforts to lift up our hearts, it is not possible to keep them at a high level very long. We should then try passively to receive His workings in us through the Presence, and to respond to them. We may find that His working in us takes one of the following forms.


We may feel the attractive power of the church in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. We feel drawn to go to it; earthly attractions seem to fade away before its wonderful power. But, just as we feel drawn to prayer, and yet, when we come to pray, feel our weakness and inability, so with the Blessed Sacrament: we feel we must go to the church, though our devotions there seem so feeble; and though they seem so feeble, yet we feel we have no wish to go away. We must answer to this attraction by making time, and giving up things that are not necessary, in order to visit the Presence. Again, we may feel that the church is filled, as it really is, with a wonderful glory. This glory would not be there if the Host were not in the church, yet the Presence does not seem bound down to any particular part of the church, but pervades the whole of it. We feel how futile the expression "the Prisoner of the Tabernacle" is, except in so far as it expresses the loving condescension of our Blessed LORD in thus coming to be with us. We know that the glorified Body which we adore is as little bound by the doors of the place where It is kept as It was on the first Easter Day, when He passed through the closed doors of the Upper Room where His disciples were shut in together for fear of the Jews.

Again, we shall very possibly feel as if the church itself had become part of the Court of Heaven, just as we feel about any church during the latter part of the Mass. No doubt we ought to feel this about all churches at all times; but in so many churches the human element obtrudes itself very strongly. There is perhaps a noisy organ, or a choir attempting music beyond its powers, or the exaltation of the sermon above the worship, or a traffic in seats, any one of which may tend to drag us downwards. But, where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, things seem to fall into their right places: the human element retires into the background, giving place to the divine: we seem to have entered another world, a world where adoration and praise seem the natural thing, and neglect of GOD seems utter madness.


While we are in the Presence, we are not able always to fix our mind upon It; we may be engaged in doing other things; we may be hearing a sermon or making a confession. Though we cannot have the Presence in our conscious mind, yet our unconscious mind grasps It. Just as a man may be engaged in some mental work and be unable to think of the woman he loves, while yet he is happily conscious of her presence, so we shall be conscious of the Presence of our Blessed LORD. Or, again, as a man feels the warmth of the fire, even though his mind be fully occupied, so the Blessed Sacrament produces a sensation which is to our spirits what warmth is to our bodies. It is helpful, therefore, to come into the Presence, when we can, in order to make our devotional exercises. If we are preparing for Confession or for Communion, or are wanting to make a meditation or intercessions, these exercises will gain in fervour if they are made in the Presence, provided that we ourselves are doing our best to respond to the warmth which flows from His burning love by an answering warmth of love on our own part. The Presence does not act like magic on our cold hearts; but if we open our hearts and wills to It, Its warmth will enter in.

The Presence is so wonderful that it may affect those who are ignorant of It, or disbelieve in It. As an example of the latter, it was said of a certain Roman Catholic priest that he could feel the Presence in an Anglican church near where he lived, though he was officially required to believe that there was no Presence there at all. As an example of the former, the writer was once in the Presence, when there entered the church a sightseer who moved about with a very jaunty air. The writer could not help watching him to see if the Blessed Sacrament would have any effect on him. In the same jaunty fashion he moved up to the high altar, and then to the place, externally less glorious, where the Blessed Sacrament was reserved. When he got there his whole manner suddenly changed; his stick, which he had been carrying in an airy way under his arm, moved to the ground, and he looked like a soldier standing at attention; and yet he did not appear to know that the Blessed Sacrament was there, for he made no sign of external reverence, except what seemed to have been made unconsciously. His behaviour may have been a coincidence, but it did not look like that.


We now come to ask in what ways, besides those mentioned above, we shall occupy ourselves when in the Presence. There will be various acts, and first of all there will be acts of adoration. We shall tell our Blessed LORD how great and glorious and wonderful He is: we shall speak of the marvels of His holiness and love. We shall do this with no purpose except that of adoring Him, and because it is natural and in accordance with truth to do so. But acts of adoration have an effect for good on our character: the mere fact of making them creates in us an increase of humility, and at the same time of what may seem to the world to be self-reliance, though it is not on our weak selves but on His powerful love that we are learning to rely. Then there will be an act of contrition: we shall feel our sins all the more in that holy Presence, and because of the renewed proof of His love in that He allows us to draw near to Him in this wonderful way. There will be prayers for ourselves and for other people: there in the Presence we shall see their needs and ours more clearly, and shall know better how to pray for them and for ourselves. It is well for us to pray as our hearts are moved to pray; but we cannot always be sure that we are asking aright, and therefore it is well to use at times forms provided in the various books of devotion. Moreover, we approach the Presence not as individuals, but as members of the Church, and therefore we should sometimes use language used by the Saints.


But we shall not always be speaking to Him: sometimes we shall be listening to hear what He may say to us, and sometimes we shall remain resting in the Presence that He may work in us. When we bask in the sunshine, we are not all the time saying or even thinking consciously how glorious a thing sunshine is: we rather yield ourselves to its influence, and let it sink into ourselves. So is it in the more glorious sunshine of His Presence. At times we simply sit or kneel there, keeping nothing of ourselves back from Him, and letting His influence work on us. This ought to show itself in our home life, and in our work, after we have left the church. We ought to be kinder and more patient with others, not because we are putting a greater restraint on ourselves, but because we have learnt during our visit to the church to see others more as He sees them. Our behaviour to others will be a test of whether we have truly allowed Him to work in us or not. Another test will be whether we are becoming more unselfish in our prayers: for example, in the Presence we ought often to think of those many churches where there is no Reservation, and to pray that He will put it into the hearts of all the clergy to grant their people the privileges we enjoy. Again, if we have used our visit aright, we should be so full of the sense that, if we have JESUS, we have everything, as to become more dead to earthly goods, and less desirous of acquiring anything but necessaries. It seems quite possible that the LORD has granted the Western Church certain forms of sacramental worship unknown in the East, because the West is so much more materialistic than the East, and needs a definite point of attraction more than the Orthodox do.


Another point of great importance is this. He into whose Presence we have come is the Living GOD. We must beware of thinking of Him as quiescent, or passive. He loves us with a burning love, and will be content with nothing less than our perfection. Therefore He hates all that is bad and base in us. He is a consuming Fire, and will burn up all our evil, if we will let Him. All things are "naked and open in the eyes of Him" before whom we kneel. If we are in earnest this truth will be rather comforting than terrifying: for we know that in our hearts there is an amount of evil, we know not how much, of which at times we become conscious. He knows how much evil there is in us, though we do not, and we may be quite certain that, if we give ourselves wholly to Him, He can and will remove it. Now seeing that He loves us, and longs to help us, we may be sure that He has a message for us. Sometimes, as we kneel in the Presence, difficulties that have perplexed us seem to be solved. His usual way of helping us is through the inspiration of the HOLY GHOST, of whom He said, "He shall bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have said unto you." Let us therefore study and meditate on the Gospels, and, above all, on the sayings of the LORD. Then in the Presence let us listen and see what saying seems to come home to us. It may be that He seems to say to us, "He that is not with Me is against Me," and "he that gathereth not with Me scattereth," in order that He may remove our sloth. Or again, we seem to hear His warning that those who deny Him before men, He will deny before His FATHER and the angels; this will give us courage, and help us to overcome the fear of men. Or again, we may seem to hear His teaching about the idle words that each shall have to account for in the day of Judgement; this should help us to guard our tongues. Again, if we arc really trying to please Him, we may, in deep humility and with a strong sense of unworthiness, hear Him saying, "Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you," and so be encouraged to strive to serve Him better. Again, if we are praying for Christian graces, the words, "Believe that ye have received them, and ye shall have them" (R.V.), may come to our minds and encourage us to pray earnestly.


We do not come into the Presence as solitary individuals: we come as members of the Church, and hence it is right that there should be organized worship. More than this, it is His due that His people should unite together in adoration: to this an American bishop gave witness when he gave leave for Reservation, provided that there was Benediction once a week. Why our own bishops feel so strongly against it is hard to say; perhaps they are afraid that the English Church may lose her scriptural ideals, as has been the case elsewhere; but organized worship, provided it be of a sound character, must surely lead to an increase of the scriptural ideals of love, humility, detachment. It is much to be regretted that they could not have seen their way to give a lead in this matter, and provide the Church with some form of worship before the Presence: Benediction, with some such Litany of the Blessed Sacrament as is given in the Ancient and Modern, instead of the Litany of the Blessed Virgin, which seems very much out of place at Benediction, would have contented many of us; indeed, in our thankfulness at the bishops taking this step, we should probably have accepted gladly as a temporary measure whatever they might have been pleased to offer us.


We find English Church people at times attending Roman churches in England, because they say they cannot get what they want in our churches. Not only is this a dangerous course, because it may lead to the delusion that the Roman Church is the only true Church; it is also sinful, for the Roman body in England is schismatical, and we should make Romans see that we hold it just as wrong to attend their worship as they do to attend ours. How we long sometimes when on a visit to some place where there is no Reservation in our churches, to go into the Roman church, and there pour out our souls before our Blessed LORD. Let us be assured that our abstinence from doing so because we believe it to be wrong is more pleasing to Him, and does far more in uniting our wills to His, than hours of rapt devotion in a place where we ought not to be.


In this union of our wills with His lies the whole point of our aims. As regards our response to His claims, we must remember His teaching, that more is expected of those to whom much is given.

We, who enjoy the priceless privilege of having His Presence so near to us, are bound to try all the more to rise to a high level in our daily lives: though far be it from us to have any idea of trying to outstrip others in this endeavour: ours it must be simply to aim at responding to His claims.


That is to say, we must be careful to look on the Reserved Sacrament as a means rather than as an end in itself. We are so apt to say in our joy, "LORD, it is good for us to be here," as S. Peter said in the Transfiguration. Certainly it was good for them to be there, because it enabled them to endure the evil days that were coming. The thought of the Transfiguration must have acted on them unconsciously in that terrible time when their LORD appeared to have been taken from them, and through them it reacted on the others. So we must remember that, when we say in the Presence "it is good for us to be here," we are thinking of far more than the joy we experience there: we are looking through that joy, and seeing ourselves rendered more fit to serve the LORD because we have experienced the joy. It is the same in this as it is with so many other things in this world, with suffering for example; we may set ourselves like the Stoics to "grin and bear it": we may rise to a higher level and bear it with resignation, and even with joyfulness, because we believe it is sent by God: we should rise to a higher level still, and, looking through our pain, see JESUS using it to make us fit for the Vision of GOD.

If we are asked how adoration in the Presence renders us more fit for the Beatific Vision, we can give two thoughts in reply. It helps to set us free from wrong or undue self-love, and from human respect. We are bound to love our neighbour as ourselves, and Almighty GOD far above all. Any measure of self-love which transgresses these limits is wrong. The struggle to cast out a wrong self-love from our hearts is a hard and life-long struggle, and we need all the help that we can get. In the Presence an increasing love for JESUS should thrust out all undue self-love.

One form of self-love is "human respect," that deadly obsession which makes us love or fear others more than we love or fear GOD. Human respect is one of the most poisonous ingredients in our composition. When we are in the Presence, adoring Him Who is so infinitely above His creatures, surpassing them all by His infinite power and love, it seems incredible that human respect should influence us for a single moment. In that Presence we become our true selves. When the tide comes in on the sands you see little lakes and rivulets being formed: gradually these become joined together, and the glorious sea sweeps over all. So at Mass, in meditation, in the Presence, and when we are recollected, there are as it were lakes and rivulets of truth in our hearts. At these times GOD is absolutely first with us. Gradually, as we use all the means (and we cannot afford to neglect any means open to us), these lakes and rivulets of truth become joined together, and an abiding sense of GOD'S greatness and love expels all traces of human respect from our hearts. The struggle will last all our lives, but the victory is assured to those who use all the helps that GOD has given us.


As we hinted above, we sometimes enter the Presence and yet have no warmth of feeling, and we think that something must be wrong with us. No doubt, if we were all we ought to be, we should have warm feelings; it may be that our sins and slackness have somewhat destroyed the power of feeling. But we must not take it too much to heart, provided we are doing our best to be what GOD wants us to be. We find the same thing with contrition. Sometimes people say when they come to Confession that they have no real feeling of sorrow for their sins. It is well to tell them that the very fact that they have been willing to undergo the ordeal of Confession is the best proof of the reality of their contrition; and that contrition is manifested chiefly by our hatred of sin and our determination to take every remedy against it, and to avoid all occasion of sin, whatever it may cost us. So in the Presence, if we are doing our best to make ourselves fit to enter It, the very fact that we are ready to sacrifice time which might have been given to something we wanted to do, is of more value than warmth of feeling.

There is also the negative side: just as when we feel as if our confessions were of little use, we should think of the depths to which we might have fallen had we not been in the habit of going to Confession, so with the Presence. We can never say what depths of frivolity, and maybe worse, we may have been saved from by our visits to the Blessed Sacrament.


On the other hand, if we do feel a joy in the Presence, and a sense that we are greatly helped by it, there is always the danger of our thinking little of, perhaps even forsaking, other forms of devotion. We have seen this danger among Romans; we have seen, for example, the devotion of the Three Hours' Service, which first made its appearance among them, of late years discarded. "I suppose because it is not popular," said one Roman priest to the writer. Faber gives a good example of this danger (Growth in Holiness, p. 375) when he says that the world had "got used to the mystery of the Incarnation, and hardened its heart to its tenderness"; and that devotion to our Lady had come in to kindle favour in men's hearts. We cannot help wondering what will happen when the world gets used to devotion to our Lady. We have seen the same kind of tendency among ourselves. When the Mass was what we might almost call rediscovered by the English Church, some rather unthinking people were inclined to treat Matins and Evensong with contempt. In the same way people were inclined to despise sermons. Happily this is changed now. In Anglo-Catholic churches Matins and Evensong are said as a rule every day in the year, while the sermons are quite as good, and often better, than those in other churches. So far from causing us to despise any other forms of devotion, worship in the Presence should inspire us to use them with greater reverence and earnestness.


It is certainly the case that in the Presence the meaning of Holy Scripture seems to unfold itself with remarkable clearness. It is no doubt caused by the fact that the atmosphere of adoration, love, and penitence, in which we find ourselves, helps us to reach out towards truth, and makes us more receptive of it.

With regard to Holy Scripture, we must ask ourselves whether there is any danger of the Bible falling into the same place in the English Church as it has in the Church of Rome. They do not read it publicly to anything like the extent to which we do; nor does it find the same place in lists of books intended for them as in lists of books written for English Churchmen. It is extremely important that the study of Holy Scripture should hold a very prominent place amongst us, seeing that only those who hold the Faith of the Undivided Church, that is, Anglican and Eastern Churchmen, are in a position to give a thoroughly sound interpretation of the Bible. Protestants and Modernists reject parts of the Bible, and the Roman Catholic has to make it fit in with a number of definitions.

From the point of view of Eucharistic devotion, the study of Holy Scripture is of the greatest importance. When we pay a visit to any one, that visit will be all the happier if we are of the same mind as our friend on important matters. When we go before the Reserved Sacrament we ought to try and think about things in the same way that our Blessed LORD does, so far as we can. Now a number of things--conversations, novels, the Press, as well as the attractions of external things--tend to form a "carnal" mind, as S. Paul calls it, in us, which is absolutely opposed to the Mind of CHRIST. It is only by constant meditation on Holy Scripture that we can keep ourselves from becoming more unfit than we are to come into the Presence. The leaders of the Anglo-Catholic movement have done well in providing the two Congress books on Social Reform and the Christian Moral Ideal. The latter book sets the moral standard very high, and is in very marked contrast to the teaching given in many books on moral theology. May we never bo tempted, for the sake of an increase of numbers, to accept any moral standard lower than the one set by our Blessed LORD and His Apostles.


When Catholics go forth from the Presence into the world, they must do their utmost to commend their religious practices to others. We must never behave in churches where the Blessed Sacrament is not reserved like the French woman who is said to have bundled her children out of a church, with the words, "Le bon Dieu n'est pas ici." We must treat every church with the utmost reverence, seeing that it is the House of GOD. We must also beware of allowing in ourselves any sense of superiority over those who have not our privileges. It is sure to make itself felt if we do. The writer remembers a priest whose commentary at a clerical meeting on the words, "The first shall be last and the last first," was to shake his fist at the writer, and to say with bitterness, "You High Churchmen think yourselves first, but you'll find yourselves last." The priest was eccentric, but there must have been something in the writer's manner to provoke such an attack. Catholics are sometimes guilty of speaking sneeringly of other churches. The writer remembers hearing a priest say of a church where there was a very reverent and beautiful Eucharist, that it was a "different religion." On the writer pressing him as to what he meant, all he instanced was that the Epistle and Gospel were read towards the people. This sort of foolish criticism does not tend to win others over to our position, but rather alienates them. Moreover, we cannot talk like this if we remember that it is of GOD'S undeserved goodness that we are Catholics, and that many others would use Catholic privilege better than we do.


When we come into the Presence we have a great desire to possess the Mind of CHRIST. We have spoken of CHRIST'S hatred of oppression, and of His burning love of souls. We cannot come into the Presence rightly unless we too hate our social evils, and also desire earnestly to bring others to the fullness of Catholic Faith and practice. There is, however, another desire in the Mind of CHRIST that we are inclined to forget. We are so apt to take the divided state of Christendom as a matter of course that we forget how great a source of sorrow it must be to Him to see His people at variance one with another. We should be moved when in the Presence to desire the unity of Christendom, and to ask ourselves what there is that we can do to promote that unity. One thing that we can all do is to pray that the barriers that separate GOD'S people may be broken down. If we are truly using the Presence aright, we shall pray earnestly to this end, and we shall be moved to do whatever else is possible for us.


The great object of the Reserved Sacrament, apart from its use for the sick and dying, is to promote and increase loyalty to JESUS. We may, however, ask why this great privilege has been restored to the Church of England at this time. May we not answer it by saying that the love of money and the love of power are more than ever arrayed as rivals to the love of JESUS in the hearts of men, and that the purpose of the Reserved Sacrament is to help to win them back again to Him? May we not also add that, owing to the unsettlement caused by the war, large numbers of people have given up the habit of worshipping GOD in public altogether, and that this devotion may be meant for an antidote to this poisonous neglect?

There is another reason. Just as the Epistle to the Hebrews was given to the Church to promote loyalty to JESUS in an impending time of difficulty, when men would have to stand up for Him at great peril to themselves, so it may be now. The one religion that the devil fears is the Catholic Religion. It may be that in the near future there will be some great attack on the Church in this land, and that we shall then need all the courage that loyalty can give, and that this priceless gift has been restored to us at this time that we may be firm in the day of persecution.


Some appear to fear that worship before the Sacrament may take the place of attendance at Mass. The truth is just the opposite: as worship at Mass tends to increase the number of communicants, so worship in the Presence tends to increase the number of worshippers at Mass, as well as to help them to worship more worthily. Where the Reserved Sacrament is, there as a rule is the greatest number of worshippers. In the East, where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, but people are not taught to adore It, there are fewer Masses and Communion is rare. We may therefore pray that the practice of worship in the Presence may spread in the Eastern Orthodox Church, as well as amongst ourselves.


Project Canterbury