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 XVI
"Roman" and "Modern"

But it is a Roman innovation, we are told. We reply, so was Morning Prayer; so was refusing children Confirmation and Communion until long after the devil had secured a hold on their hearts and wills; so were Confession and Absolution in the Communion Service; so is the Three Hours' preaching on Good Friday; so are Missions and Retreats, and numerous other practices, some good and some bad, to which we cling with persistence. Let it be quite understood that we are not going to be frightened by such words as Roman and innovation. Whatever is good for souls, whether it be Roman and novel, or Protestant and trite.

But is it after all so Roman? Bishop Gore, who has certainly never been suspected of Roman tendencies, has lately told us that he feels "the attractiveness to the full" of public Reservation of the Sacrament "as an object and centre of devotion." He seems to find no intrinsic objection to it, regarding it merely as a question of authority. "If there were proper authority for it," he says, "I should, of course, be wholly willing to allow it." He adds, further, that there is perhaps no line to be drawn between a man kneeling in Church and directing his devotion to the Sacrament in the tabernacle, and formal Exposition of the Sacrament. Whatever his personal tastes may be, it is evident that he does not reject the principle of devotional innovation and development(1).

It has commonly been said that the East knows no extra-liturgical devotions. But it knows intra-liturgical devotions of a character corresponding definitely with our rite of Benediction. What difference does it make after all if the devotion is before or after the conclusion of the Liturgy? The Reverend I. Frank Buxton, lately and English Chaplain in Petrograd, gives the following account of Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament as celebrated in the churches of that city in connection with the liturgy of Saint Chrysosthom:

"After the Communion of the people," he says, "the priest and deacon are directed to return to the Holy Table, on which the Holy Gifts are placed, and censed thrice by the former. Then the paten is put upon the head of the deacon, who holds it there ready to carry it to the credence table (prothesis), while the priest takes the veiled chalice containing the Blessed Sacrament in both kinds mixed together, and, going to the royal doors, says, facing the people, 'Blessed be our God, always, now and forever, and to ages of ages,' and, according to the usual custom in Russia, makes the Sign of the Cross with itÂ…

The statement that Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament 'has no counterpart in any way in the Eastern Orthodox Church,' requires to be taken with qualifications. It is true that there is no service like the modern Roman rite, but it is undeniable that the liturgical ceremony above described resembles and recalls it. A representation of it may be seen in Mr Douglas' Pictures of Russian Worship. This book is a portfolio of fifteen pictures illustrating the Russian Liturgy at its various stages. It is published with a general introduction on the Eastern Church and explanatory notes, by the Faith Press, London."(2)

Passing now from the Easterns to the Old Catholics, we find the so-called Mariavite Church, whose headquarters are at Plock in Russian Poland. They have perpetual Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in all their churches, and are, "therefore, a living witness to the possibility of combining a frankly non-Roman, or indeed anti-Roman, orthodox Catholicism with an ardent devotion to the Reserved Sacrament and its extra-liturgical cultus; and a standing proof that such cultus is neither papal in theory, nor exclusively Roman in practice."(3)

Furthermore, it is a fact, often not realised that thousands of Anglican bishops and priests when giving the Holy Communion to the people, make the Sign of the Cross over each communicant with both species of the Sacrament. This is Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament pure and simple. Except in the mere ritual of it, it differs in no respect from the extra-liturgical service of Benediction with the Sacrament in a monstrance. Every doctrine implied in the one act is implied in the other. In the one case, the officiating minister wears a chasuble or surplice, in the other a cope. In the one case, the benediction is given to the people one by one, in the other all together as a congregation.

There is probably not a diocese in the world where this practice does not obtain, and we have never heard a breath of protest against it. With this almost universal custom amongst Churchmen of all schools, it seems hardly possible to say that Benediction with the Sacrament is distinctively Roman.

There is also a question as to the alleged modernity of such devotions. Father Herbert Thurston, of the Society of Jesus, has made the statement that for the first thousand years there is no known instance of what we should now call a visit to the Blessed Sacrament for purpose of worship and prayer. Dr Darwell Stone, however, takes issue with him, and cites the case of Gorgonia, the sister of Saint Gregory Nazianzen, about the year 363, who, in her suffering and distress, had "recourse to the Reserved Sacrament as a means of offering prayer and receiving spiritual help." I will not detain the reader with the details of this remarkable case, or of Dr Stone's argument, as it is easily accessible in his recent book, The Reserved Sacrament. Father Thurston's argument may be found on page 170 of his edition of Bridgett's A History of the Holy Eucharist in Great Britain. Those who wish to do so can thus study both sides of the question, and form their own judgement whether Dr Stone is right, or the learned Jesuit.

Whatever the method employed may have been, it appears that in the Eastern Church the principle of giving a blessing with the Blessed Sacrament long antedated anything like it in the West. It was recognised as early as the time of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem who was born AD 318. In the last of his Catechetical Lectures he directs in great detail how the communicant shall, on being given the Sacrament, bless (or "consecrate", as the Greek more literally implies), himself with both kinds before consuming It. The method he describes would hardly agree with our western ideas of reverence, but it makes it certain that a blessing with the Sacrament, involving the same principle as that of the central act in the so-called service of Benediction, was well known somewhere about three hundred years after Christ, for writing probably in 347, Saint Cyril speaks of the ceremony which he directs to be followed, as among the "traditions" to which the faithful must "hold fast."(4)

This would certainly seem to dispose of the contention that the principle of blessing with the Sacrament is modern. It would appear to be much older than the present form of the Nicene Creed.

There has never been any question that that most beautiful of all extra-liturgical devotions, the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament, was practised in England under the metropolitan authority of Canterbury over 800 years ago. Archbishop Lanfranc seems to have brought it from Normandy with him, and an elaborate ceremonial governing it was put forth in his time. There is probably not a case in history of elaborate ceremonial which did not involve slow growth, and Lanfranc's book of ritual for this Procession in Canterbury Cathedral would indicate that as a devotion it was no new thing at the time of the Conquest. In all likelihood, it was familiar in England in Saxon times, for it is well known that in the later Saxon period the English Church was powerfully affected by Norman influences.

In connection with this Procession there seems, according to Dr Darwell Stone, also to have been "an approach to Exposition" for on the return of the Procession, the Sacrament was placed on a specially prepared altar at the entrance of the great choir at the Cathedral.

Processions of the Blessed Sacrament were first introduced into the American Church at Saint Ignatius', New York City, about thirty years ago by the Reverend Arthur Ritchie. The devotion has spread slowly to various parts of the country, and is much on the increase.

1.. i. See The Oxford Diocesan Magazine, October, 1915.

2. ii. English Church Review, October, 1917.

3. iii. English Church Review, July, 1917.

4. iv. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume VII, pages 156-157

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