Project Canterbury

A Rationale upon the Book of Common Prayer
by Anthony Sparrow, D.D.

London, 1672.

Of the Communion of the Sick.

THe Churches care for the sick, ends not here: For, besides all this, she appoints, that if the sick person desires it, the Priest may communicate him in his private house, if there be a convenient place, where the Curate may reverently minister. [Rubr, before priv. Com. of Sick] so was the ancient decree of holy Church. Nic. Can. 13. Cod. Eccl. univer. Generaliter omni cuilibet in exitu posito, & Eucharistiae participationem petenti, Episcopus cum examinatione oblationem impertiat. [To every man that is ready to depart out of this world, let the Bishop after examination and trial give the holy Communion, if he desires it.] For this, saies the Counsel, is antiqua & Canonica lex, ut si quis vita excedat, ultimo & necessario viatico minime privetur. [This is the ancient law of the Church, saies this Conc. there, concerning him that is dying, that whosoever he be, he shall not be denied the last and most necessary viaticum of his life.] This viaticum, or provision for the way, is the holy Communion, as is plain in the Canon cited. For though as learned Albaspineus observes, this word Viaticum was applyed to more things besides the Eucharist, as to Alms, to Baptism, to Absolution, which are all necessary helps in our journey to heaven; Yet in this Canon I conceive the Viaticum or provision for the way, to be the holy Eucharist. For in the first part of the Canon it is call'd Vltimum Viaticum, the last provision for the way; which cannot be meant of any other properly but of the holy Eucharist: For the rest, for instance, Absolution, (of which Albaspineus understands this Canon,) is Reconciliatio Altaribus, a Reconciliation to the Altar, or Sacraments, as it was anciently call'd, a fitting or qualifying of the Communicant for the holy Eucharist, and therefore to go before it, as the 76. Can. of Carth. 4. directs; and for Alms, they are part of the fruits of penance, and so necessary to fit us for Absolution, and Baptism is janua Sacramentorum, the first admission into Christs Church, which gives the first right to the Communion and Sacrament of the Church; and therefore, all these being precedentous to the holy Eucharist, cannot be call'd any of them ultimum viaticum, the last provision, but only the Eucharist it self. Besides, in the last part of the Canon there is expresly mentioned, the participation of the Eucharist, which must be the same with the Viaticum in the first part, as may appear by this: The Canon immediately before this, had directed, that penitents, especially those of the first or second degree, should fulfil the Churches tax, before they were received to the Churches prayers: but if those should fall into danger of death, the ancient Canon shall be observed (saith this Canon in the beginning) that they shall be admitted, notwithstanding the former Canon, to the last Viaticum; the reason is given in the later part of this Canon: Because that to every one whatsoever, that shall in danger of death desire the Eucharist, it shall be given to him if he be found fit to receive it. This could be no reason of the former part of the Canon, namely, of giving the last viaticum to penitents in danger of death, unless that Viaticum and the Eucharist, here be all one. To that which may be objected that this Viaticum cannot be the same with the Eucharist mentioned in the last part of the Canon, because this Viaticum here is allowed to persons in danger of death without any examination, but the Eucharist is granted to persons in the same danger with this exception, if the Bishop after examination shall find him fit. It may be answered, that notwithstanding this, the Viaticum and the Eucharist may be all one, for the Canon in the first part, where it allows it to persons in necessity without examination, speaks only of penitents, who had already undergone the examination, and had received their penance, and submitted to the Churches discipline, and so professed themselves truly penitents; and were in such necessity desiring the Eucharist, in the judgment of charity supposed fit to receive it; though the Church denied the same to them, when there was no such necessity, for the maintenance of holy discipline, and in terror of offenders. But generaliter de quolibet for every one that should desire it, before he had given testimony of his repentance, there could not be sufficient ground of charity to believe so well; and therefore they were to be examined by the Bishop, or some others by his appointment. So then I think the Canon may be interpreted thus of the holy Communion, without any contradiction; and that it ought to be so understood, may, I think, be concluded by these Testimonies following, Con. Ilerd. c. 5. Const. Leon. 17. And most clearly by S. Cyprian Ep. 54.

After consultation we have determined, that those that have faln in time of persecution, and have defiled themselves with unlawful Sacrifices, should do full penance: yet if they were dangerously sick, they should be received to peace. For divine clemency does not suffer the Church to be shut against them that knock; nor the succour of saving hope to be denied to those that mourn and beg it; nor to send them out of the World without peace and the Communion. This is exactly agreeable to that Canon of Nice. What Communion that was, he tells us soon after; that it was not only Absolution but the holy Eucharist besides, as appears by that which follows: Formerly we made this rule, That penitents, unless in time of extream sickness, should not receive the Communion. And this rule was good, while the Church was in peace and quiet; but now in time of persecution, not only to the sick, but to the healthful peace is necessary; not only to the dying, but to the living, the Communion is to be given; that those whom we perswade to fight manfully under Christs Banner, and to resist even to blood, may not be left naked and unarmed, but be defended with the protection of the body and blood of Christ; which for this cause was instituted, that it might be a strength and defence to them that receive it: how shall we teach them to shed their blood for Christ, if we deny them Christs blood to strengthen them? Or how shall we fit them for the cup of Martyrdom, if we do not admit them to the Communion of the Cup of the Lord? Upon this very ground was it provided, that all dying men might have the holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, the great defence in that dangerous hour, when the Devil is doing his worst and last. Agreeable to this of S. Cyprian is the 76. Canon of the 4. Carth. Coun. He that in time of sickness desires penance, if happily while the Priest is coming to him, he falls dumb, or into a phrensie, let them that heard his desire bear witness to it, and let him receive penance: and if he be like to die speedily, Let him be reconciled by imposition of hands, and let the Eucharist be put into his mouth. If he recovers, let him be acquainted with what was done by the former witnesses, and be subject to the known laws of Penance. And those penitents which in their sickness received the Viaticum of the Eucharist, let them not think themselves absolved without imposition of hands, if they shall recover, c. 78. Car. 4. And the Coun. of Orange c. 3. saies the same. They, that after penance set them, are ready to depart out of this life, it hath pleased the Synod to give them the Communion, without the reconciliatory Imposition of hands. Which suffices for the reconciling of a dying man, according to the definition of the Fathers, who fitly call'd the Communion a Viaticum. But if they recover, let them stand in the rank of penitents, that by shewing the necessary fruits of penance, they may be received to the Canonical Communion by the reconciliatory Imposition of hands.

It will not be amiss for the clearer understanding of all passages in these Canons, to consider the Church her discipline in this particular. Holy Church for preserving of holy discipline and deterring men from sin, did appoint for wasting sins, such as Adultery, Murder, Idolatry, and the like, severe penance for three or four, six or seven years, more or less, according to the quantity and quality of the offence. In the Greek Church they had several degrees of penance to be gone through in this set time.

1. First, they were prosklaionteV, Lugentes, Mourners, standing without the Church Porch; they were to beg of all the faithful that entred into the Church, to pray for them: in this degree they continued a year or more, according as their crime deserved.

2. They were akrowmenoi, Audientes, Hearers; these might come into the Church Porch into a place call'd narqhX, Ferula (so called, because those that stood there, were subjected to the Churches censure or Ferula) where they might stand and hear the Scriptures read, and Sermons, but were not admitted to joyn with the Church in her prayers.

3. They were upopiptonteV, Substernentes, the prostrate, as we may say; so called, because they were all to prostrate themselves upon their faces, and so continued till the Bishop said certain prayers over them, and laid his hands upon them. They might be present at Sermon and the first Service of the Catechumens, and then go out. Laodic. Con. 19. apud Nicolin. these were admitted into the Nave of the Church, and to stand behind the Pulpit.

4. Sunistomenoi, the Consistents; they might stay after the rest of the Penitents were gone out, and pray with the faithful, but nor receive the holy Sacrament.

5. MetexonteV, Communicants, they were received to the participation of Sacraments, but were still to weare some marks of penance, till by prayers and intreaties they had obtained the full Communion of the Churches favours and honours, says Goar. in Euch. Graec.

These several degrees were poor penitents to go through in the Greek Church, and as much affliction in the Latin, unless the Bishop should think fit to remit any thing of it, before they were fully admitted to the Churches favour: but if any of these were desperately sick, Holy Church took care, that upon their desire they should have the Churches peace by Absolution, 4. Carth. c. 78. and 77. and the holy Communion, sayes the same Canon, and Cypr. Epist. 54. lest they should want that great strengthening and refreshing of their souls in their last and greatest necessity. Provided nevertheless, that if they should recover, then they should resume their several places and degrees of penance they were in before, and go through and perfect their task of penance, which having done, they should receive Vltimam reconciliationem, their last and highest reconciliation; a favour which was denied to some that had been admitted to the Sacrament of the Eucharist, as you may see Con. Vas. 2. c. 2. This last Reconciliation was a solemn Absolution from all the Churches censures and penances, by the laying on of the hands of the Bishop, and some of his Clergy, says Cypr. l. 3. Ep. 14. A Declaration to all the Church, that they were received not only to necessary Viatica, and assisting such as the former Absolution mentioned, 76. Can. 4. Carth. and the holy Sacrament of the Eucharist were; which they were permitted to receive in case of necessity; but also to all the honour and solemnities, and priviledges of the faithful, quite free from all brands and marks of penitents. They were restored Legitimae Communioni, to the Canonical and Legitimate Communion, Orang. c. 3. they might offer with the faithful, and their offerings be received by the Church; and they might receive the kiss of peace, and all other favours of the Church. This that hath been said, may help us to understand the true meaning of the so much controverted Canon of Orange, before mentioned, together with the 78. Can. Carth. 4. Qui recedunt de corpore, &c.

They, that after penance received, are ready to depart out of this life; it hath pleased, that they shall be received to the Communion, without the Reconciliatory Imposition of hands: that is, they shall be admitted to the Communion without that last, outward, solemn Absolution in the Court of the Church, which Balsamon rightly calls katallaghn, the full reconciliation to the Churches honours and dignities, htoi lusin twn epitimiwn, a loosening of the Churches censures; which those penitents in case of extremity could not receive, because, as by the Canons appears, they were, if they recovered, to return to their several tasks of penance again, till they had fulfilled them. It was enough for them to be reconciled to the Altar and Sacrament, by the Absolution in foro Caeli in Heavens Court. The power of which was granted to the Apostles and their Successors, S. Iohn 20. Whose sins ye remit, &c. Which Balsamon calls carin, or the Absolution from sin; and this they were to receive Can. 76. Carth. 4. and after that the holy Eucharist. And this says the Canon of Orange was sufficient for a dying mans Reconciliation according to the definition of the Fathers. And this the Church of England provides for all dying men that shall desire it. And infinitely bound to their Mother, for this her care, are all true Sons of the Church. For thrice happy souls are they, who shall have the happiness at their last and greatest extremity, worthily to receive the Reconciliation and the holy Communion, the Bread of Heaven, the Blood of God, our Hope, our Health, our Light, our Life. For if we shall depart hence guarded with this Sacrifice, we shall with much holy boldness ascend to the holy Heavens, defended as it were with golden Arms, says S. Chrys.

We have seen the Churches care to provide all necessaries for sick persons salvation: 'Twere an happy thing to see in the people an answerable diligence in the use of these Ghostly Offices, that they would, when they are sick, send for the Priest; not verbally only to comfort them, by rehearsing to them comfortable texts of Scripture, whether they belong to them or not (which is not to heal the sick, but to tell them that they have no need of the spiritual Physician, by which means, precious souls perish, for whom Christ died:) but to search and examine the state of their souls, to shew them their sins, to prepare them by ghostly counsel, and exercises of penance, for absolution, and the holy Communion, whereby they might indeed find comfort, remission of sins and the holy Ghost the Comforter. And this should be done while the sick person hath strength and ability to attend and joyn with him in these holy Services. There is an excellent Canon to this purpose, Decretal. l. 5. tit. 38. c. 13. By this present Decree we strictly charge and command all Physicians, that when they shall be called to sick persons, they first of all admonish and perswade them to send for the Physicians of souls, that after provision hath been made for the spiritual health of the soul, they may the more hopefully proceed to the use of corporal medicine: For when the cause is taken away, the effect may follow. That which chiefly occasioned the making of this good Law, was the supine carelesness of some sick persons, who never used to call for the Physician of the soul, till the Physician of the body had given them over. And if the Physician did, as his duty was, timely admonish them, to provide for their souls health, they took it for a sentence of death, and despair'd of remedy, which hastned their end, and hindred both the bodily Physician from working any cure upon their body, and the ghostly Physician from applying any effectual means to their souls health. It is good counsel that Eccles. gives c. 38. 9: where we are advised, not first to send for the Physician, and when we despair of his help, and are breathing our last, then to send for the Priest, when our weakness hath made him useless. But first to make our peace with God by ghostly offices of the Priest, and then give place to the Physician. Which method our Saviour hath taught us also by his method of Cure; who, when any came to him for bodily cures, first cured the soul of sin, before he healed the bodily infirmity: teaching us, that sin is the cause of sickness, and that cure first to be lookt after. And by thus doing, we may possibly save the body, without the Physician, S. Iames 5. 14. Is any sick, let him send for the Elders or Priests of the Church to pray over him, and the prayer of faith shall save the sick. But if he fails of that bodily cure by these means, yet he may be sure to obtain remission of sins by their means: If he hath committed sins, they shall be forgiven him, ver. 15. by the benefit of absolution, so the words import. For amartiai, sins, being a feminine plural, seems not to agree with the verb afeqhsetai, it shall be forgiven, of the singular number, and therefore this word more properly seems to be rendred impersonally thus, If he hath committed sins, pardon or absolution shall be given him: and so by this means the sick person shall be sure, if not to save his body, yet at least to save his soul.

There was an ancient Canon, which that it might be truly practised and observed, it must be the wish of all good men. It is Can. 7. Con. Aurelian 5. ut qui pro quibuscunque culpis in carceribus deputantur, ab Archidiacono seu à Praeposito Eccles. diebus singulis Dominicis requirantur, ut necessitas vinctorum, secundum praeceptum divinum, misericorditer sublevetur; That all prisoners, for what crime soever, shall be call'd for and visited by the Archdeacon or Bishop of the Church, every Lords day, that the necessities, bodily and ghostly, of the prisoners, according to Gods command, may be mercifully relieved. The neglect of which duty, how dangerous it is, we may read, S. Mat. 25. 43. Go ye cursed, for I was sick and in prison, and ye visited me not. The Rubrick at the Communion of the sick, directs the Priest, to deliver the Communion to the sick, but does not there set down how much of the Communion-Service shall be used at the delivering of the Communion to the sick; and therefore seems to me, to refer us to former directions in times past. Now the direction formerly was this:

If the same day (that the sick is to receive the Communion) 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, and so many as shall communicate with him. And as soon as he may conveniently, after the open Communion ended in the Church, shall go and minister the same first to them that are appointed to communicate with the sick, if there be any; and last of all to the sick. But before the Curate distribute the holy Communion, the appointed general Confession, (in the Communion-Service) must be made in the name of the Communicants, the Curate adding the Absolution, with the comfortable sentences of Scripture, following in the open Communion immediately, and so proceeding in the Communion-Service to the end of the Consecration and Distribution: and after the Communion ended, the Collect is to be used, which begins; Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee, &c.

But if the day wherein the sick person is to receive the Communion, be not appointed for the open Communion in the Church; then upon convenient warning given, the Curate shall come and visit the sick person afore noon. And cutting off the form of the visitation at the Psalm, In thee O Lord, shall go straight to the Communion, Rubr. 3. Com. of sick; that is, after he hath said the Collect, Epist. and Gosp. there directed, he shall go to the Communion-Service. K. Edw. 6th. 1.

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