Project Canterbury



A Letter




AUGUST, 1920

The Superior-General of the Confraternity acknowledges
the assistance of E. C. U. in the preparation of this reply



[16 pages plus frontispiece]

transcribed by Mr. Allan R. Wylie
AD 2000




From the


The Palace, Exeter.
June 29, 1920.

Dear Lord Victor Seymour,

I write to you as the head of the C.B.S. to try to find, as there should he found, points of agreement on questions, on the premises of which at least you and I are quite agreed. I assure you that this is no idle correspondence, but a letter written by me as Bishop of this Diocese to one who has great influence in this Diocese, and with the intention of avoiding friction, and restoring the ancient Catholic discipline of the Church.

Let me enumerate the ‘points on which we are quite agreed, in order to save time.

We are quite agreed, if I am not mistaken, on the fact that up to the Reformation the Holy Sacrament was always Reserved and adored.

We are quite agreed that, after the Reformation, the First Prayer Book of Edward VI. recommended a limited Reservation of the Holy Sacrament—that is, for the sick alone—and that though that recommendation was revised by subsequent editions of the Prayer Book, still there is evidence to show that it was used at least until 166o.

I need hardly add also that there is complete agreement between us that a promise is a promise, and that however unfortunate that promise may be, it is binding on a man till at least he repudiates it, and resigns any position he has obtained by making that promise.

These are the points of agreement. Let me now quite temperately and quietly point out the disagreements as I understand them, subject naturally to your correction.

I hold—(i) That our Prayer Book as it now stands forbids all forms of Reservation without exception, and that this is the plain obvious meaning of the Book.

(2) That our promise of assent to the Prayer Book, and that our solemn pledge to use no other except as shall be ordered by lawful authority, compels us as a point of honour to adhere to that Prayer Book, unless we could show that it had been altered by lawful authority, and then we are bound to that alteration.

I gather—I speak under correction—that you deny the Prayer Book forbids Reservation, and that therefore if I can show that it forbids Reservation we shall be in absolute agreement, for I do not for a moment suggest that you could be a party to an agreement to observe the rules of a Prayer Book when there was an intention to break them.

I think I have narrowed the controversy down to the real point of difference. Does our Prayer Book allow Reservation or does it not? If it does not, has any lawful authority altered it so as to permit Reservation, and if so, under what conditions?

In support of my contention, I would refer you to the Office for the Communion of the Sick, and I would ask you whether, on reading that Office and its rubrics, there can be the slightest doubt that Reservation is not allowed.

In the first place, the order is distinctly given that the Priest is to celebrate for the sick man. As this word was changed from "minister" in 1662, it shows that it was the intention of the Prayer Book to exclude the practice under the First Prayer Book of celebrating in Church and ministering to the sick in their own home.

To dispel any doubt, another rubric was added in 1662, which quite definitely ordered the Priest, after the special Collect, Epistle, and Gospel, to continue according to the public Office of Holy Communion.

The rubric which follows adds conviction, for the case is there dealt with when, for lack of company, it would be impossible to have a Celebration for the sick man, and the very harsh rule is made that for lack of company the sick man must be content with a Spiritual Communion.

When we add to that the assertion of the Twenty-eighth Article that the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s Ordinance reserved, and that the rubric at the end of the Communion Service orders complete consumption of the Holy Communion after celebrating; and that, further, for two hundred years in no church of England was there any Reservation at all, I cannot see that there can be any doubt in a fair man’s mind that the Prayer Book forbids Reservation.

We therefore come to the second point. How far has lawful authority altered these rubrics?

If lawful authority means the Houses of Parliament, of course we must hold that Reservation, even for the sick, is impossible for us, not because we do not approve of it, but because we have promised not to use it.

If lawful authority means the decrees of Convocation, we may reasonably take the new Prayer Book, and adhere to the rubric which allows Reservation for the sick, and for no other purpose.

If lawful authority means the decrees of any individual Bishop—a reading which I cannot myself think to be tolerable, as it would place the individual Bishop above the Synod of the Church—then Reservation would be allowed in those Dioceses where the Bishop permits it, and forbidden in those Dioceses where the Bishop forbids it, because then it could be said—I think wrongly—that we were still keeping our promise, we were observing the Prayer Book except in so far as it -was altered by the Bishop of the Diocese, which we deemed to be lawful authority.

But whether the authority be that of Convocation, or of Parliament, or of an individual Bishop, it is a pledge that refers to the future. We promise to observe the rules of the Prayer Book unless they are altered.

If the rules of the Prayer Book are wrong, we have promised to do a wrong thing. If they are opposed to the teaching of the United Church, we have promised to oppose the Church. If they need alteration, then we promise to keep them until they are altered. Many in the reign of Elizabeth refused such a pledge.

I am certain that you will agree with me that to prove that a promise is wrong, perhaps immoral, is a reason that should prevent us making it; but if we have made it, we cannot refuse to perform it unless we are ready to forfeit the position and the advantages which we have procured by making it.

I say all this because I wish to be quite clear that the point which I feel to be of importance, is not the Adoration of the Holy Sacrament, but rather the sense of truth, God is Truth, and the slightest falsehood in our lives prevents our sincere worship.

I find that several of my clergy are quite prepared to accept a position which to me seems dishonest, in that they agree with me that the Prayer Book forbids Reservation, and that the alteration made in Convocation only allows Reservation for the sick; and they quite agree with me that they made a promise to adhere to the rules of the Prayer Book; but they hold that as the Prayer Book is wrong, they are dispensed from their promise.

Surely, they can only be dispensed if they resign their Livings; and you I am certain, as a true Priest, would refuse Absolution if they confessed to you that they had broken their promise as they considered it false, and yet were profiting from the advantages that accrued to them by making that promise.

Everywhere nowadays men are seeking and asking questions. The position of the Prayer Book is being closely examined by men of very different views, and I feel a certain sympathy with any movement that would relieve us of a promise to keep its provisions. It is for that reason that I am a supporter of the new Prayer Book, and I am not averse to giving a much greater liberty if it is done by lawful authority. But I feel no sympathy for a doctrine which, if translated into civil life, would inevitably bring a man into a criminal prison, a doctrine which places the morality of a priest lower than that of a horse cheat at a fair, a doctrine which declares that words have no meaning and a promise is of none effect, but that each man may take apparently any promise he likes, translate it as he likes, and thereby accept every advantage that comes of a false declaration.

I know you condemn this vile and immoral point of view as much as I do, and therefore I am writing to you to give you an opportunity to express your abhorrence of this doctrine, and to help me to understand your position in which you maintain that the Prayer Book itself, of alternately some lawful authority, which you know and I do not, allows perpetual Reservation for the purpose of adoration.

Yours faithfully,

From the


76, Cornwall Gardens, SW. 7.

July 15, 1920.

The Right Rev. the Lord Bishop Of Exeter,
The Palace, Exeter.


DEAR Lord Bishop,

In reply to your Lordship’s letter of June 29th

of this year,—

I beg in the first place, in order to clear the issue, to take the strongest possible exception to the wording of the last paragraph, which runs as follows:—

"………you maintain that the Prayer Book itself or an alteration by some lawful authority, which you know and I do not, allows perpetual Reservation for the purpose of adoration."

So far as my knowledge goes, Reservation has never been allowed at any time in the history of the Catholic Church for the purpose of adoration. Nor have I or my friends ever maintained such a contention.

What we do assert is that Reservation for the purpose of the Communion of the sick, or others who are prevented from receiving Communion at the ordinary times of the celebration, has not only been allowed, but definitely enjoined by the Canons of the Church and sanctioned by custom and use; and that it is the duty of every parish priest to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in his parish church for that purpose. But if the Blessed Sacrament be so reserved in the parish church, it necessarily follows that there must be adoration on the part of the faithful when they find themselves in that Presence.

Your Lordship will recognize that this is an entirely different position from that which your words imply.

To follow the course laid down in your letter, I will enumerate the points on which it seems that we are agreed:—

(1) On the fact that up to the time of the Reformation the Blessed Sacrament was always reserved, and where reserved there necessarily adored.

(2) That after the Reformation the Prayer Book of Edward VI. did recommend Reservation of the Holy Sacrament for the sick, and that there is evidence to show that it was used at least until 166o.

(3) I need hardly say that of course I agree that a promise is a promise, and that as such, however unfortunate, it is binding on a man at least until he repudiates it, and shall be prepared to resign any position that he has obtained on the strength of that promise.

The ground of contention between us lies


In the interpretation of the meaning and purpose of the statutory Declaration of Assent to which your Lordship’s letter refers


As to the intention of the Prayer Book with regard to Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament for the sick and


As to whether the Prayer Book intends (or, if it intends, has any power) to override a universal custom of the Church Catholic which is also enjoined by the Canons of this realm.

It is contended that the Declaration of Assent, taken together with the Office for the Communion of the Sick and its rubrics as found in the Prayer Book, preclude the practice of Reserving the Blessed Sacrament for the Communion of the sick altogether and absolutely.

In reply to this contention the following arguments are respectfully submitted

1. There can be no doubt that not only is the parish priest allowed by ancient authority to reserve for the sick and dying, but that under normal circumstances he is bound to do so. By normal circumstances is meant that the conditions of his church are such as to permit of Reservation with due reverence to the Holy Mysteries.

2. For the custom of the Catholic Church for ages past has been to reserve for this purpose, though not for any other purpose. It is not too much to say that if any custom can be called a Catholic custom this must be so called. It concerns a matter of great gravity, and it is not a question of ceremonial. Consequently it is not a matter which it is competent to any Provincial authority to abrogate. No authority other than Ecumenical could do so.

3. This Ecumenical custom has been, and is, enforced by English Provincial Canon Law—thus Canon XXXVIII. "Canons made in King Edgar’s reign" (900)—"let the Priest have the Housel always in readiness for them that may want It."

NOTE—That Canon XXX. of this same Collection enacts-—" No Priest shall celebrate Mass in any House but a hallowed Church except on account of some man s extreme sickness."

Canon XXV. of Elfric’s Collection (957) enacts the same. This is important as showing that there is no inconsistency between the injunction to reserve perpetually and the per. mission occasionally to celebrate in a sick man’s house.

Elfric’s Canon speaks of some "necessity"; such would arise if through some accident the Blessed Sacrament so reserved had been consumed and not renewed.

In the Legatine Council of York under Archbishop Walter (1195) Canon I. provides: "Let care be taken that the Host be reserved in a clean and decent Pyx, and let It be renewed every Lord’s Day."

In Canon II. of the Council of Westminster, it is enacted: "Let the Eucharist be reserved in a clean and decent Pyx—let the Host be renewed every Lord’s day."

Canon IV. (of 1322) provides the same—the Pyx to be "of silver or ivory or otherwise as befits the Sacrament."

Archbishop Peckham’s Constitution VII. (Council of Reading 22 79)—See Lyndwood III.,

26, a. Dignissimum— -provided that the Holy Sacrament should be reserved in a Pyx which was to be placed in a " Tabernacle" to be constructed iii every church—and that "the venerable Sacrament was to be renewed every Lord’s Day."

None of these Canons have been repealed or abrogated. To suppose that they could be abrogated by any rubric of a Service Book would be an inversion of the well recognised maxim that no rubric binds

ex proprzo vigore; that being so, no rubric could repeal a Canon. The rubric must be interpreted according to the law, not the law interpreted according to the rubric.

4. What is the provision of the Prayer Book with regard to the Communion of the Sick? It provides that if certain conditions are satisfied the priest may go and celebrate in the sick man’s house—not necessarily in the sick man’s presence—and give him Communion, using the form prescribed, But while that is one way in which the sick man may receive the Blessed Sacrament, it does not follow that it is the only way. The provision of this Office for Communion of the Sick is not an exclusive provision necessarily. But supposing that the conditions are not or cannot be duly fulfilled, the priest is not then justified in celebrating in the house. For instance, supposing the sick man though desirous of Communion- does not wish for a Celebration of the Holy Eucharist, can it be contended that a mere rubric could deprive him of his right as a penitent Christian to receive his Lord’s Body and Blood? It might well be that the man felt so ill that he could not stand the strain of the service being celebrated in his room. Can it be contended for a moment that it would be better, more law-abiding, for the priest in such case to celebrate in the house rather than in the church? That would be to exalt a mere rubric of provincial authority only, above the law—often re-enacted since Canon LVIII. of Laodicea (365)—a Canon of the Ecumenical Code, forbidding the celebration of the Mysteries in private houses without necessity. What object could possibly be secured by his

50 doing?

The only possible way of interpreting the rubrics in the Office for Communion of the Sick so as not to bring them into collision with the law and custom of the Church, is to say that they apply only to the case of the Blessed Sacrament not being reserved, and that they do not imply that the Blessed Sacrament will never be reserved. On the principle already alluded to no other interpretation is possible. If the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the parish, then the sick man if he desires to be communicated is under no obligation to give notice asking the priest to celebrate for him.

5. Moreover, it cannot be contended that the word "must"

" in the rubric—"must give timely notice, etc."— implies any obligation on the part of the sick man to have a Celebration of the Holy Eucharist in his house, it is merely directory of what should be done in case there is to be such a Celebration In fact, the whole office, rubrics and all, must be taken not as being the normal method of clinical Communion—(the normal method is that which is provided by law, not by rubric)—but as a method to provide for a condition of things which had practically arisen but which ought not to have arisen—viz., Celebration of the Holy Eucharist and absence of the Reserved Sacrament. The events which led up to this condition were not such as could alter or abolish the law of the Church. The circumstances ought not to have arisen, because they involved a grave breach of the law.

6. But it is contended that the declaration of assent precludes the use of the Reserved Sacrament, inasmuch as that would not be an administration of the Sacrament such as to satisfy the undertaking to "use the Form in the said Book prescribed."

7. But what is the Form? The word is technical, and cannot be taken as equivalent to method or way or such like. "Form" in relation to service means the text of the service. But if the priest has used the office prescribed when he consecrated in Church, and then uses in actual administration such portion of the service as relates to Communion, that namely, which taken from the "Order of Communion," was prescribed in the First Prayer Book of Edward VI., he has in administering unquestionably used the "Form" prescribed.. It would be quite inadmissible to use the word "Form" for the totality of the Office for the Communion of the Sick. But if the priest, in administering the Reserved Sacrament were to use, say, the Form prescribed in the Roman Ritual, or the Sarum Manual, he would then be violating the undertaking he has given in his assent.

8. We may further in relation to the declaration of assent, take into consideration that it is impossible to contend that when that declaration was framed, any question of inhibiting the use of the Reserved Sacrament was within the purview of those who imposed it. It was intended to secure that the form of words provided for administration of the Sacraments should be used. To apply it to determine whether Reservation should be practised or not is to travel beyond its scope. There are matters which are not provided for in the Prayer Book, and their lawfulness or otherwise cannot be determined by reference to that Book alone. Reservation is one such matter. It is true that provision for one method of providing for the Communion of the sick is sanctioned, but that does not exclude another method if sanctioned by lawful authority. Reservation, as has been shown, is so sanctioned, and more, it is enjoined. Provided, therefore, the Form of administration of Communion, as distinguished from the whole service for celebrating the Holy Eucharist, that is to say, that part of the service which relates to administration properly so-called of this Sacrament, is used, the undertaking given is sufficiently and rightly fulfilled.

9. It may further be observed that if exception be taken to the definition of the word "Form" given above, and if it be contended that it means the whole service (in this connection the whole service for Communion of the Sick), then the reply would be—the declaration contains the proviso "except in so far as shall be ordered by lawful authority." But, as shown, Reservation is ordered by lawful authority for clinical Communion, and that by necessary implication authorises the use of the Reserved Sacrament for such Communion, though without excluding the use, if the sick person so desires, of the other method, viz., that of celebrating in his house, the necessary conditions being fulfilled.

10. Whichever way, therefore, the terms of the declaration of assent are taken, it is submitted that they do not form any bar to the practice of communicating the sick with the Reserved Sacrament.

Further, with regard to the declaration of assent. The argument is that Reservation and the administration of the Reserved Sacrament to the sick is not only permitted by lawful authority, but enjoined. That is to say, Reservation is specifically enjoined for that purpose, and this carries with it a command to use the Sacrament should It be required for such purpose. It is so required in all cases where the provisions of the rubric in the Office for the Communion of the Sick have not been complied with by the sick person in every particular.

It would be wrong to interpret the declaration of assent so as to make it a deliberate undertaking to disobey the law and custom of the Church. Further, the declaration does not deal with existing authority, but with the future exercise of authority. Yet any declaration of this kind must be taken at the same time to recognise existing authority. It was necessary, therefore, to put in this saving clause, because otherwise it might have been contended that even if the Book were altered by the same authority that imposed it, those who had previously made the declaration could not use the Book when it had been so altered.

No one moreover could lawfully make a declaration binding him to disobey the existing law. Nor is it likely that it was the intention of the framers of the Prayer Book to place any Priest in so hurtful a position as to require that of him.

As already argued, the Provincial Synod could not abrogate the law and custom of the whole Church as to Reservation; much less could it impose a declaration by which the person making such declaration would bind himself to disobey such law and custom. Hence this document must, like all such documents, be interpreted in accordance with law. It must be taken that the "animus imponentis" was to impose only what is lawful. The force of the declaration is exactly the same as though it contained the words, "except so far as shall have been or shall be ordained by lawful authority."

Further, the Book contains no directions as to Reservation. There was no necessity that it should be so. That matter was sufficiently provided for by the Church already. It is not meant however that that was why the framers of the Book made no provision in the matter. What they did was to provide that, under certain conditions, the Parish Priest might celebrate in the sick man’s house. It is questioned whether he is even then bound to do so, unless it should happen that he could not otherwise administer the Viaticum to the sick person. That is so, because any mere local provision must be interpreted in such manner as is most in conformity with the general law and practice of the Church. If he does celebrate in the house, then the declaration of assent applies, and he must use the form provided. Of course, under present circumstances, it would be, generally speaking, exceedingly imprudent and even uncharitable, to refuse to celebrate privately if the conditions are fulfilled, even though the Priest may not, as is probable, be bound to do so. But it must be noted that this permission to celebrate privately under certain conditions cannot be regarded as a positive precept, but is of the nature of a privilege granted to the sick person, of a kind similar to licenses granted in the Middle Ages to owners of large houses remote from the Parish Church to have oratories in their houses wherein Mass might be said. But it is a principle of law that a privilege cannot lawfully be used, and indeed would be forfeited, unless alt the conditions under which it is granted are carefully fulfilled. A privilege cannot be stretched, so to say. It follows from all this that the question of Reservation does not fall within the scope of the declaration. Reservation is not a breach of the undertaking therein given.

What is meant by lawful authority?

(a) As already observed, this clause is a necessary saving clause required to cover the eventuality of changes being made in the Book by the same authority that provided that it should be the Service Book in use. That authority of course is the Provincial Synod.

(b) Like most saving clauses of this description, it is inserted rather "ex majore cautela" than with any very definite purpose.

(c) This saving clause was only inserted in 1865, when the form of assent contained in Canon 36 (of 1603) was altered to its present shape. It may be inferred from this that, inasmuch as the change of form was in the direction of liberty rather than of the reverse, of relaxation rather than of restriction, that the saving clause does not indicate a more rigorous, but rather a more elastic mode of interpretation.

(d) While the effect of the Synodical sanction in 1662 was no doubt the curtailment of the "jus liturgicum" of the diocesan bishop, it cannot be pressed to the extent of suppressing it altogether The "jus liturgicum" is arm ancient authority inherent in the Episcopal Office, and indeed is the only authority by which the Service Books of the Church anciently received their sanction. The Bulls of Urban IV., etc., so far as the Latin Communion is concerned; and in England the Synodical Act of the two English Synods, jointly in 1662, introduced a new method of sanction, which, being in restraint of the "jus liturgicum," must on juristic principles be interpreted very strictly—that is, that the effect of that sanction must not be pressed too far. While undoubtedly an English Bishop could not substitute a new Liturgy, could not substitute (say) the Liturgy of the First Prayer Book of Edward VI. or the Sarum Missal for the present Liturgy, nor another Office for Holy Baptism, and so forth, yet he can, "ex proprio motu," sanction additional services, and can exercise an interpretative authority as regards rubrics, distinguishing those which are substantial from those which are merely directory, e.g. concerning Exhortations and such like, provided such interpretation be not contrary to any Canon or general custom of the Church. He could not indeed, at any rate without the concurrence of his Diocesan Synod, impose a new obligation, but he could interpret in the way of relaxation and elasticity.

In conclusion then, my Lord, I contend that the position of Catholic Priests in the Church of England who reserve the Blessed Sacrament for the sick and dying, not only as of "right" for those on whose behalf the thing is done, but also as a positive duty incumbent on themselves as parish priests, is entirely honourable. They are rendering the necessary obedience to the universal law and custom of the Church on the one hand, and are at the same time conforming to the requirements of the Book of Common Prayer in that they use "the Form in the said Book prescribed, and none other," and are at all times, when circumstances permit, ready to celebrate in the sick man’s house should he so desire.

No such aspersion on their honour as is implied in your Lordship’s letter can justly be made; and as I, for myself and my brethren, repudiate any such suggestion, so I must respectfully deprecate the language which your Lordship uses, for it implies an animus in the matter which no one could do other than deplore.

I note that your Lordship’s letter is not marked Private or Confidential. In consideration of the fact that it practically concerns all members of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, I shall therefore circulate the letter, together with my reply, among the members of the Council, and reserve to myself the right to publish both, either throughout the Confraternity or in the public press.

Believe me,

Yours sincerely,
Superior- General C.B.S.

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