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 VI
Reservation and the Prayer Book

Before we enter upon the latter phase of our subject, it is necessary to remember that it is historically untrue that either in the process of the Reformation, or later, was Reservation ever set apart, even by the extreme Protestants, as a thing by itself to be forbidden or treated with neglect. It is rarely referred to in the controversies of the times. I know no occasion upon which it was an object of any special attack.

Its neglect was simply a part of the general neglect of the Eucharist, and there is every reason for believing that, had Holy Communion not been relegated to rare and unusual occasions after the Reformation, there would never have been any neglect of Reservation of the Sacrament.

When the spirit of devotion was at such a low ebb that priest and people were content with quarterly Communions, (or even once a year, as in some places), it is not to be expected that they would think it worth while to reserve for the sick. Those who, like the Non-Jurors, clung to the ancient ideals of Christian sacramental life, did not neglect Reservation and the Communion of the Sick.

In 1741, Archbishop Secker, then the Bishop of Oxford, pleaded with his clergy that if they would only make a real effort, he was sure that at least one Communion "might easily be interposed in the long interval between Whitsuntide and Christmas;" and the historian Wakeman adds: "It is evident from his tone that he did not expect that even this modest suggestion would bear much fruit." And it did not.

From the review of the custom and law of the Church which we have made in the foregoing chapters, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that the Reservation rubric in the First Prayer Book of Edward VI, so far as it operated to confine Reservation to a particular day and to particular cases of illness, was a novel thing. It reads as follows: "If the same day there be a celebration of the Holy Communion in the Church, then shall the priest reserve (at the open Communion) so much of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood as shall serve the sick person."

So far as scholars have been able to trace it, the practice it sought to institute seems to have been unknown in Catholic Christendom. It appears only in Protestant Germany, where, as Dr. Brightman points out(1), it finds precedent in the Brandenburg Kirchenordnung of 1540, from which Edward's revisers probably took it.

We often hear reference made to the rubrics of the post-Reformation service books, as affecting the question of Reservation. But only those who are uninformed concerning the relative force of various kinds of law would make an appeal to the Prayer Books as against the canons. A mere direction in a service book cannot abrogate, or weaken the force of, a canon. The rubrics must always be interpreted by the canons, and not the canons by the rubrics. And the American Church has showed repeatedly and clearly that it means to be guided by this principle.

The most notable instance of this is found in our unhappy divorce legislation. The Marriage Service in the Prayer Book, in emphatic language, declares marriage to be indissoluble. The officiating minister must inform the contracting parties that their union continues "as long as ye both shall live." But the General Convention years ago asserted the authority of the canons over the Prayer Book, and has enacted again and again canons which permit both divorce and remarriage after divorce. It is a poor rule that does not work both ways, and those who mean to be loyal to the principle set forth by the Church, (however unfortunate its application may be in certain cases), cannot regard a rubric as having force when it contravenes an ecclesiastical canon. It becomes a dead thing the moment it is placed in the Prayer Book.(2)

But since it is not an uncommon opinion that the Church should be governed by rubrical directions, it is only fair to look further at the subject. The first rubric dealing with the matter was the one of 1549 referred to above, and which it has been proposed to re-enact for use in our American Prayer Book. This directed Reservation for the sick, with the uncatholic restrictions which we have noticed.

The Zwinglianized Prayer Book of 1552 dropped this rubric. This book was, however, never adopted by the Church, and was in use only in a limited section of England for about eight months(3), being forced upon the clergy by the rough hand of the state. But the authorisation of 1549 was restored in the Latin Book of 1560, and this latter book is still in force, never having been abrogated.

But, it will be said, the succeeding revisions of the Prayer Book for general use, including those now in use in both the American and English Churches, persisted in omitting the rubric of 1549. This is quite true, and we must examine the bearing of this fact. We find the first Reformation Prayer Book included a rubric which was based, with restrictions, on the older canons, which had, some years before, been sweepingly re-enacted. No one has ever claimed that this rubric was necessary for the enforcement of these canons. But now that the rubric is dropped, it is assumed that the canons are repealed. This argument would scarcely impress a court of law. It seems hardly possible that the omission of a rubric which merely explained how a canon was to be observed, could effect the repeal of the canon which commanded the same act.

In our own time, there are still found some who advocate the principle that whenever in revising the Prayer Book, or other formularies, a direction is omitted, the omission is tantamount to prohibition of the thing concerned. But one has only to apply the principle consistently to see the fallacy of it. Bishop Hopkins of Vermont disposed of it by a single illustration. "The case," he says, "is much the same as that of lay-Baptism. The Church, recognised its validity in the First Book of Edward VI, and directions were laid down for its performance when a priest could not be called in time. These directions were left out afterwards, but no prohibition was put forth, nor has any well-informed Churchman ever doubted that a layman may lawfully baptise in the hour of extremity, just as before."(4)

1. The English Rite, ii.842.
2. A friend has called my attention to the fact that the American Prayer Book has been declared to be a part of the Constitution of the Church, and suggests that this would give its contents a higher force than that possessed by the canons. The Church's own interpretation as shown in its divorce legislation described above, disposes of this suggestion, however.
3.  Wakeman, History of the Church of England, p. 296
4.  Law of Ritualism, page 72

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