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 II
The Law of Reservation

It would be a historical mistake were we to conclude that in the early centuries Reservation was regarded as a mere right or privilege. It was an obligation; for it appears certain that the first Canons enacted on the subject were not passed with the idea of giving permission to do a new or doubtful thing, but for the sole purpose of re-enforcing a custom which had been universal almost from the beginning, and of securing its reverent practise.

The earliest canons had the last mentioned end particularly in view. In the seventh century the Armenian Catholicos, Isaac II, promulgated a canon, requiring the Sacrament to be reserved, "only from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day, or from Sacrifice to Sacrifice." That is to say, It was to be renewed at every Eucharist. This is the first canon which has been discovered dealing with the subject. The earliest English canon is the Twenty-second Excerption of Egbert of the year 740, which directs "that priests have the Eucharist always ready for the sick, lest they die without Communion."

After this date, there appear frequent canons in the English Church, all quite evidently dealing with what was regarded as an abuse on the part of the clergy in neglecting to follow the ancient custom of Reservation. There is not a phrase in one of them that can be construed into a permission to reserve. So far from permission or license being required, it is uniformly regarded as a grave failure on the part of the parish priest if he does not conform to this practice. In every instance the clear internal evidence shows that the canons are enacted only for the purpose of correcting an abuse. These canons culminate in the famous Constitutions of Archbishop Peckham, issued at Reading in 1279, and at Lambeth two years later. The Seventh of the Reading Constitutions reads as follows:

"We charge that for the future the most worthy Sacrament of the Eucharist be so kept that a tabernacle be made in every church with a decent enclosure, according to the greatness of the cure and the value of the church, in which the Lord’s Body may be laid, not in a purse or bag, but in a fair pyx lined with the whitest linen, so that it may be put in and taken out without any hazard of breaking it; and we charge that the venerable Sacrament be renewed every Lord’s Day, and that priests who are negligent in keeping of the Eucharist, be punished according to the rule of the General Council; and if they persist in their negligence, more severely."

This canon not only re-enacts the former decrees on the subject, but lays a penalty on those priests "who are negligent in keeping of the Eucharist." The General Council whose penalty is here invoked is the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, whose Twentieth Canon ordered a priest who neglected the duty of reserving to be suspended from his ministry for three months.

Passing on to the Reformation, we find no new canon touching the subject of Reservation. It is certain that when the Reformation began, every parish priest in England was bound by canon law to maintain the constant Reservation of the Sacrament. It is equally certain that those canons were never repealed. Nor were they ever superseded by contrary canons, which is the method usually employed in Church legislation. On the contrary, when Henry VIII wished to repeal all previous Church law and start de novo, for once the Church stood firm, and not only saved the old canons but by an Act of the 25th year of Henry secured legislation to the effect that in spite of the break with Rome, all canons then in force should remain so until revised.

The only revision of the English canons that has been made since Henry’s time is that of 1603, and no canonist has ever interpreted the work of 1603 as effecting the repeal of all previous Church law. So far from this being the case, we find that the Eighty-first Canon of 1603 refers to the Tenth of the Constitutions of Archbishop Edmund, in 1236, regarding the care of the baptismal font, as of force, saying that it is "too much neglected in many places;" and the authorities, as we shall see, have repeatedly decided that the pre-Reformation canons are the law of the Church of today.

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i. Freestone, The Sacrament Reserved, p. 265
ii. Freeston, Ibid., p. 152
iii. Freeston, Ibid., p. 265

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