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 XV

Devotional Innovation

If then we are to worship Him in the Sacrament, the question inevitably arises, How are we to worship Him? In what manner are we to express this adoration? When we ask this question, we are confronted by the problem of extra-liturgical devotions, and before being able to deal with it we must settle the principle of liturgical and devotional development.

Nor do we need to linger long before finding a settlement. The history of the Church from Pentecost to the present moment has been one unbroken record of such development. The great Bishop Hopkins, in his pre-Catholic days, published a series of letters under the title "The Novelties which Disturb our Peace." The history of the Church has, however, been one steady history of novelties. The movement has not only been a development of the expression of devotion, but has involved the fundamental objects of devotion themselves. For example, we are told that the worship of God the Holy Ghost, as we practice it today, was unknown in the early Church. There is no suggestion in the New Testament of direct prayer to the Holy Ghost, and Church historians inform us that no prayer addressed to Him can be found in the Church's devotional literature for more than four hundred years after Christ.

The use of the creeds in the public services of the Church(1), the Filioque clause, our entire discipline concerning Confirmation and First Communion, Confession and Absolution at the Eucharist(2), the entire system of the Divine Office; - time was when all these and numerous other things of equal importance were innovations. They had no place in the Church's early practice.

So if there is any one thing that is proved beyond peradventure, it is the full Catholicity of the principle of novelty and innovation in things devotional. When the Church appealed to the early centuries for her faith and practice, she did not appeal only respecting those things which were to be found in complete expression at any one period. Her appeal was also to the principles which were found in operation in the early Church. This is brought out again and again in her formularies, and, as we have seen, one of the most important of these principles was that of developing the expression both of her faith and her worship.

Saint Vincent of Lerins, in the third chapter of his Commonitorium, has stated the rule of doctrine to be the acceptance of "that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all." In his much less known twenty-third chapter, however, he discusses this doctrine of development, laying down a principle which the Church from the beginning, and in all ages, has applied not only to the faith but to her devotional practices.

Nor was it ever more freely applied than by our Anglican Reformers. We claim nothing more today than the same privilege which they employed in developing the Prayer-Book out of the older uses of the Church. They did not admit that devotional development ceased with the sixth or any other century, nor do we allow that it ceased with the sixteenth.

The history of devotional development in the Church shows that in every age it originated not with the higher authorities, but with the people. This is the only reasonable method, human nature being what it is. It would be unthinkable for the legislature suddenly to decree that a devotional practice hitherto unheard of, should be enforced. It must first be tested by actual use.

This principle, as well as the historical fact, has been recognised by the best and sanest minds amongst us. Bishop Gore, preaching in Westminster Abbey four years ago, said: "I hope we shall all understand that no reforms will be procured except as the result of organised pressure from the mass of practising Churchmen … The great reforms in the past eighty years have been effected by pressure from below."

The reform and development of our public devotions have ever been accomplished in this way. Shall the constant method employed by the Church in every age since Pentecost, suddenly be reversed in the twentieth century?

To denounce innovation is therefore, "a denial of the living vigour of the Church," and we see no reason for making an exception in that which belongs to the Blessed Sacrament. We stand definitely for extra-liturgical devotions. Exercising the most scrupulous care that they do not contravene the faith, or any corollary thereof, we press them unhesitatingly. The only way to ascertain if they are of spiritual help is to try them. We believe our Lord to be truly and objectively present in the Blessed Sacrament, and this being so, we must worship Him there, and that, too, with a corporate worship, as, for example, in some service such as Benediction.

But they tell us that it was a thousand years before anyone thought of such a thing. We can reply that it was nearly five hundred years before men prayed to the Holy Ghost.

Further, we would ask, in what year of grace did the Church's springs of devotion go dry that they can send forth no fresh and healing floods for the refreshment of souls? If innovation in the devotion of the people is wrong in the twentieth century, it was equally wrong in the tenth or fourth century. If twentieth century souls are to be forbidden to develop devotion according to the need and spirit of their age, why should this privilege have been accorded to Christians of earlier times?

The test question is, Would those of us who oppose the principle of devotional innovation and development be willing to restrict their devotions to those expressed in terms of third or fourth century devotion as found in Asia Minor, Africa, or Italy? Would we not count it a bitter grievance?

1.. i. "The recitation of the Creed in the public ministration of the Holy Eucharist was first introduced by Peter the Fuller, Bishop of Antioch, in 471, and adopted by Timotheus, Archbishop of Constantinople, in 511. In the West it was first adopted in Spain, by the Third Council of Toledo, in 589, as an antidote to the Arian heresy, with which the Spanish Church had been infected; then in France in the time of Charles the Great, and lastly in the Roman Church under Pope Benedict VIII, in 1014." - Blunt, Annotated Book of Common Prayer, page 375.

2. ii. See H. M. Luckock, The Divine Liturgy, Chapter XXVII.

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