Project Canterbury

Reservation and Adoration:
A Historical and Devotional Inquiry

Shirley Carter Hughson
Superior of the Order of the Holy Cross

The Holy Cross Press
West Park, New York

transcribed by Dr Elizabeth G Mellilo
AD 2000

Chapter XII
The Historical Conclusion

With the foregoing account, we close our survey of the history of Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in the post-Reformation Anglican Church. In the following pages we shall venture to summarise the facts. The conclusion will speak for itself.

  1. The Reformation under Henry VIII found every parish priest bound by written Canon to reserve constantly for the sick.
  2. In 1534, the year after the Reformation began, a law was passed, at the insistence of the clergy, re-affirming all existing canons, including those requiring Reservation. They have never since been repealed or superseded.
  3. In 1549 a rubric appeared in the First Prayer-Book of Edward VI directing the manner of Reservation.
  4. The Prayer-Book of 1552, which was approved by Parliament only, omitted this rubric.
  5. This Rubric directing Reservation was restored in the Latin Prayer-Book of 1560, which Book was in 1640 approved unanimously by Convocation. It was recommended for the use of all the clergy, and has never been abrogated.
  6. The Prayer-Book of 1661 (the present English Book) makes no reference to Reservation. Thorndike and Sparrow, two of the editors of this Book, writing some years afterwards, declare Reservation to be in agreement with the mind of the Church, and plainly expect the clergy to practise it.
  7. In Scotland there has been an unbroken practice of Reservation since 1688. The Non-Jurors Communion Office of 1718 ordered Reservation. The present Scottish Communion Office orders Reservation, describing it as the "long existing custom." (In the Scottish Liturgy before the revision of 1911, it read, "the universal custom.")
  8. At the same time both these Offices contain the Cosin Rubric forbidding to take the Sacrament from the Church, showing that along with Thorndike and Sparrow, they do not regard it as applying to Reservation.
  9. Reservation began to be restored through the whole Anglican Church about seventy years ago. In America, it began about 1855, perhaps a little earlier.
  10. During this period the Sacrament has been reserved in four-fifths of the American dioceses, under the rule of more than one hundred fifty bishops.

This review of the history of Reservation in the post-Reformation Anglican Church in England, Scotland, and America, certainly shows that the prescriptive force of its neglect has been slight. Regarded from the standpoint of both reason and custom, it is not possible that a negative practice, (if this be not a contradiction in terms), with such a slender history, can prevail against both the immemorial tradition, and the written and repeatedly enacted law, of the universal Church.

But even should we grant that there is something in the Protestant contention that these laws are to such an extent obsolete as not to be capable of enforcement, we must differ from the conclusion that is drawn from it. It is, of course, conceded that to a certain extent disuse has affected the binding force of these canons. No one would at this time say that the parish priest who did not reserve in his church every Sunday, merited three months suspension from the exercise of his ministry, as the law lays down.

But our opponents are not content with this. They declare that, because these laws were persistently violated, and became obsolete as the result of the Church’s neglect of duty in enforcing them, it is therefore lawless and disloyal for any priest to do what they unconditionally require. In short, because a law cannot be universally enforced, the man who complies with it at all is a criminal. This kind of logic perishes with the using.

Another legal point of importance introduces itself here. It is an accepted principle that although a law may be so neglected as to make it an unreasonable hardship without notice to proceed to punish those who fail to conform to it, yet under changed conditions it may be revived and henceforth enforced. More than once during the Great War it has been announced that the assumption of certain unusual powers that the civil government of the United States felt it necessary to exercise, was based upon old statutes the existence of which had been long forgotten. The courts made no question of this right to revive obsolete laws.

The same principle holds in ecclesiastical law, and the Church authorities have not hesitated to recognise it. The famous "Ornaments Rubric" of the English Prayer-Book is an instance of this. Under the change produced by the Oxford Movement it was revived after a total neglect of many generations. It is now conceded by practically everyone to be of force, the question between parties being only of its interpretation. At the present moment the highest authorities of the Church of England are engaged in planning for its amendment, no suggestion being advanced of its being a dead-letter.

The present prevalence of Reservation as described above, would undoubtedly place the Peckham Constitution in the same category as the "Ornaments Rubric," even had it become obsolete through neglect which we have seen was far from being the case.

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