Project Canterbury

God With Us:
The Meaning of the Tabernacle

by Frank Weston, D.D.
Bishop of Zanzibar

[London and Milwaukee: Mowbray and Morehouse, 1920. 135pp]
pp 64-74

transcribed by Mr. Alexander van Ness Munoz
AD 2000


A PRESENCE is real to us in the measure that the thing itself touches us. That which barely touches us, and, in a few points only, is less real than that with which we find ourselves entirely taken up.

i. Walking in a crowded street no one is so really present to me as a good friend whom I see approaching. And, living in a large household, no one is so really present to me as the one for whom I have the most affection. In a railway-carriage my book may be more really present to me than the other passengers.

Real presence of a person, at its highest, implies my entire attention to him and his entire attention to me. And therefore it is that the Sacrament is necessary to me when I desire the most real presence possible of Christ, the glorious King. The Sacrament focusses all my being on Him. And it focusses all His Being on me. It is the meeting of two persons—Christ and myself. No prayerful recollection, no contemplation on my part will be enough—He must attend to me and I must know that He is so attending. In His wisdom, the Sacrament is the symbol of His attentiveness to me, as it is the magnet of my attention, fixing it on Him. He is the present object of my faith.

The importance of this mutual attentiveness of Christ and myself, which constitutes our real presence to each other, is based not only upon our individual relation of love, but rather on the essential duties of Sacrifice and Communion. I must plead Christ's death, and I must receive Christ's life. Yet I can do neither without Him. He is the Priest, and I only share His priesthood. He is the Life, and I only receive Him and what He is. Therefore we must meet before either Sacrifice or Communion is possible.

The Blessed Sacrament makes the meeting. In it I am face to face with the Christ Himself in heaven: I can plead His death for me, and beg that He may be accepted for me while He can offer me with Himself. The presence is so real, in God's sight and mine, that Christ and I are as one, as if I held Him by His feet and He raised me to His heart. In very strict fact the Sacrament raises me to the throne of Christ.

Far different is my daily prayer. In it I do my best, with many an effort at recollection, now stirring my imagination, now silencing thought, that God may be known within.

The Sacrifice is an act—corporate, universal. I must get out of myself and see Jesus, the Lamb once slain, for ever present before God as my atoning Sacrifice. I must really reach Him, claim Him there where He is, and make good my share in all He has done and offered for me. This is true worship, true sacrifice, true adoration of the Blessed Trinity. But Christ alone is adequate to lead us to this Sacrifice. Therefore did He make for us the continuous memorial of His death until He come, therefore are we bidden to make it, showing forth His death. And our power of fulfilling this law of love must always depend upon the very real presence of the Christ Himself in the Sacrament. In His absence I can neither offer His one Sacrifice objectively nor can I be made more really one with Him as I offer.

2. If we are challenged to explain what exactly it is in the Eucharistic Liturgy that constitutes it a memorial of Calvary, a representation of Christ's death and passion, no answer can be given that will carry the unanimous consent of theologians.

From the story of our Lord's institution of the Sacrament, as from S. Paul's comment thereon, we know our part. We are bidden do what He did. The rest belongs to Him. He is present. And as present with us He is, for us and our needs, the same living Sacrifice that is ever before the Father.

Of all explanatory theories advanced for the further understanding of the mystery, that which to me is most luminous, and most reverent, is this. The essential note of Christ's death, as Sacrifice, was obedience. And it is His obedient human will that gives propitiatory value to the presence of His Manhood in heaven. Is this will inactive usward? No; a thousand times, no! and never is it more priestly in its action, never more truly propitiatory, than in each moment that He wills to be attentive to, and so really present to, a particular congregation of Christians here on earth. He makes an act of will and is present to us in the Sacrament, the will's action being entirely of one piece with the supreme act of self-surrender on the Cross.

But, whatever our special theory may be, the actual, real presence of Christ is essential to the making of the memorial.

The presence, then, is so real that we see Christ specially attentive to us, risking our possible failure in attention to Him. It is so real that He is at our service, our sacrifice and oblation; and, were our material veils to be dissolved, we should see Him before us. It is so real that we actually, take, receive, and partake of His glorious manhood, the spiritual Food from heaven; and, being made one with Him, become, literally and truly, part of the one Sacrifice, Himself.

3. This, then, is the Sacrament we reserve. And in reserving it we feel bound, in honour and in love, to worship the Lord Jesus in it. It is here the controversy is set. Painful as it is to write the word, we are disputing the privilege of giving to Jesus Christ in His Sacrament our heartfelt thanks and praise.

We must be candid. It is no good blinking facts.


The Bishop of Oxford's doubt whether Christ's presence is guaranteed between communions has become a theory; and, on the theory, the bishops have, by their proposed new rubric, set their seal, raising it to the level of a provincial dogma I But do they quite perceive what they have done ? They have, as it were, likened the Blessed Sacrament to a telephone. When it is not in use you may lock the instrument away in its room without any disrespect to the person at the other end. When you need your friend, you just unlock the room, call him up, and the telephone is ready to your use.

If this theory be true, the bishops' rule is right, for Jesus is not in the Sacrament; it is not His Body and Blood, except that, in the moment of communion, it conveys them. But, if it be false, the bishops' rubric is wrong. And wrongness of ruling, in a matter such as this, is evil. There is no excuse for interfering with spiritual freedom except the certain truth of the ruler's theory.

I cannot believe, even now, that the bishops are certain of their doctrine. I am inclined to think that it is the theory which justifies their policy, as the Petrine texts were called in to justify the papacy. The fundamental fallacy, at the root of the bishops' new theory, is the confusion of divine presence with human. The real presence of our Lord in the Sacrament is human as well as divine, it is the presence of God in manhood.

Were it the presence of God, as God, we might justly ignore the sacramental forms whenever we did not need them for communion. Just as we put away our Bibles, and go away from our exercises of prayers to realize Him through other methods amidst our daily work. But since it is the presence of manhood, God's manhood, such treatment does not apply, nor is it justifiable. Manhood is not immanent in the universe in the degree and meaning that God is immanent. That in God which is expressed in Christ's manhood is, of course, immanent, because God is immanent. But the Sacrament is the presence of a limited, human expression of God, and its presence to us enforces upon us conditions analogous with those we know as human. On God s side the presence has limits because manhood is not Deity. Therefore the Blessed Sacrament must be acknowledged to have, at least, such claims on us as human presence possesses—that is to say, we must not dare to guess when the presence is to be acknowledged and when it may be ignored. We must pay to the real presence of Christ's manhood at least the same attention we would pay to an honoured master here on earth. At least as much—and yet, how much more!

(b) The Bishop of Exeter's objection is based on different grounds. He gives voice to that large school of thought which will not adore the Christ in the Sacrament, because it cannot believe that the bread and wine are truly related to His presence. Dr. Gore's theory can have no meaning to him, because even at communion he does not associate closely the sacramental forms with the sacramental presence. Apparently to minds such as his the Sacrament is like a signpost pointing us to heaven's gate, so that they who follow its directions meet Christ truly, receiving Him at the same time as they receive the bread and wine, but not through the reception of these material things. If this is so, the real presence is a misnomer. There is no real presence in the Sacrament. There is only a real guide to the heavenly presence.

The bishop's view of the spiritual is, I think, that it is not externally real on earth: it is a heavenly thing, that is only realized by us in its internal operation within us as an influence on our souls. Thus the Body and Blood of Christ are real to him in highest heaven, outside our reach, and within us as influencing us. They are not real to him in the Sacrament. Whereas the Catholic doctrine teaches us that, although in highest heaven, they are brought within our reach in the Sacrament, and are truly given, taken, and received under the forms of bread and wine. If we are to take the bishop's doctrine as acceptable within the English synod of bishops we need not be surprised either at their proposed new rubric or at Dr. Gore's gentle suggestion that, in their debate, they should leave theology alone!

Here also the fallacy underlying the bishop's argument, or rather his unargued attack, is evident. He has confused the natural plane with the supernatural. He has not paid attention to the fact that Christ's manhood, while truly and completely natural, is on a higher plane than is our present manhood. He may ask how and why? Because it is God's manhood, manhood centred in God, aided by God, filled with God; because it is the meeting-place of God and mankind; because its natural home is in heaven; and because its normal, predestined perfection is life in God's highest glory, as the adequate temple of the Holy Ghost.

Therefore the notion of Christ's Body and Blood is on a higher plane than the notion of bread and wine. And in the moment of consecration, the notion of bread and wine is uplifted to the higher, supernatural plane, and is included in the heavenly notion of the Body and Blood under forms of bread and wine. Had the Bishop of Exeter attained to this truth he could never have degraded his office, and his pen, by writing as he has done of the sacramental presence.

What, then, remains to be said under this point of real presence?

We cannot accept the new rubric because it denies to us our natural liberty as sons of God and members of the freed humanity. We perceive Christ's manhood revealed and expressed in our very midst, in order that it may be entirely at the service of the sick and dying. We know that at any moment we ourselves may be claiming its ministry. And our hearts swell with grateful praise; we desire to adore and worship the Lover of our souls. And there is no other spot on earth where the sacred manhood is revealed and expressed; there is no other such gate of heaven ; there is no other such window opening on to the very throne of Christ. Nor does there exist any other such symbol and efficacious sign of our Father's notion of Christ's manhood under forms of bread and wine. There is no other such focus of the very heart of Jesus Himself.

Therefore we must pay our worship and give voice to our gratitude before the Sacrament itself. For there we perceive His manhood concentrated in attending to us, our whole congregation, and all our needs, in sickness and in death; and it is there that we will, in our turn, concentrate all our attention upon Him. In the spot where His presence is most real to us we will become as really present to His human heart as the Spirit shall enable us to be.

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