Project Canterbury


An Appeal for Liberty

by the


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[16 pp pamphlet]

transcribed by Mr. Allan R. Wylie
AD 2000


An Appeal For Liberty

A paper read at an E.C. U. meeting at Oxford, January 15, 1917, by Rev. Father Bull, S.S.J.E.

IN this paper I wish to leave on one side the technical arguments for the lawfulness of the practice of Reservation—such as those drawn from the Ornaments Rubric—or ancient Canon Law. In the peculiar circumstances of the Church in England it has often been necessary to fall back on technical arguments. Those who have appealed to Caesar have been compelled to argue in front of Caesar, and to observe Caesar’s distinctions. It has been a battle of wits. But the intellectual fencing has been in defence of matters of spiritual import. Living issues lay behind the turning over of the leaves of old folios. And to-day it is the living issues which have leaped into insistent prominence, and claim freedom.

The political situation in England affords a parallel. We could not have believed a couple of months ago that anything but a formal, balanced, heavily-weighted, slow-moving Coalition Cabinet could save the situation. But the life of England suddenly burst its bonds. All precedents have vanished. A minister alive to the need of the hour, to the cry for efficiency, and for the mobilization of every available energy,

a minister awake to the supreme issues lying before the nation, and a King equally responsive, have set us forward with a new inspiration of hope, born of life. The best men are at last called to put forth their best and freest effort, and just there, where their capacity qualifies them. The great heads of departments—or is it their staffs under them?—have their work to do, but they can no longer strangle, with their red tape and their sacred traditions, the vigour and desire of the nation; they find themselves just left in their offices, and somewhere else, as in an aeroplane overhead, decisions are made and new impulses given. We have broken with the past and adapted ourselves to the present. The Constitution has added a new chapter to its record, and there has been no revolution. Only advance, adaptation, life.


Is not this the need of the Church? Face to face with unexampled need, with human souls stripped bare at last of all illusion, with religion searched through and through, as by X-rays, for substance and reality, the foundations of the Church’s life are reached; technicalities can no longer stand in the way. The Church is greater than her written laws; the Divine constitution of the Church has not yet exhausted the expression of itself. Any organization ceases to grow if it ceases to adapt itself to its environment. There is no need of revolution, but there is need of a mind and heart and will alive to the opportunity and to the necessity of the hour—as in the nation, in minister and people and king, so in the Church, in priest and people and bishop. What we need is to keep our legal friends to their legal work, and our official army to its official work, but to give now the right of way to spiritual issues, to give them freedom, to let life live, to get the best out of every atom of faith, of love, of loyalty, of enthusiasm, and of devotion that is in our midst. That is why it is not enough to ask what was settled three hundred and fifty years ago. We have to inquire what inherent powers are in the Church of England as a living part of the Catholic Church. We have to ask not what has been the practice of three hundred and fifty years, but what does the necessity of this day require. We have to seek, not for some justification in some legislation called forth by conditions of ages past. So far as these conditions are repeated now, such legislation stands still—but we seek now how we may use the treasures of the Church in the best way to meet the conditions of the day we live in.

And amongst these treasures the Blessed Sacrament stands supreme.

As the years of the revival of the Church’s Catholic life pass on, the proportions of her faith stand out more clearly. It was at first a frequent reproach that every Tractarian sermon contained an assertion of Baptismal Regeneration. It was a necessary foundation. It has sometimes been a later reproach that every sermon of an ardent Catholic was an invitation to Confession. It has been an excusable iteration. But gradually, as we begin to wear a more settled attitude, and cease to be pioneers and explorers in regions hitherto shut off from us, the Blessed Sacrament—as we speak of it par excellence—comes to its own and finds its central position, the fresh spring of our life, the best summary of our faith, the innermost shrine of our worship, the surest bulwark of our Catholicity. What we thus confess with our lips, we need to set forth in our practice. Only gradually is it becoming evident that this is our great treasure.

A daily Mass recovers for us the substance of our need. A daily Communion is becoming more and more a possibility of religious life amongst ourselves. But with this comes also a double demand. We realize more intensely the necessity of proper and sufficient provision of the Viaticum for the dying, and for the communion of the sick. And we desire to bring within reach of the whole, at all times, the vivifying influence of the Sacramental Presence. We ask for Perpetual Reservation, with fitting honour and free access for the faithful. I do not desire myself to ask for more, but less than this seems to me inconsistent with the faith which we have learned.


This is the Church’s provision for the sick and dying—"a laudable practice of the whole Catholic Church of Christ"—in the eyes of her true children at least from the middle of the third century. "Not by Christ’s ordinance," as the Articles assert, even as the presence of god-parents, or the sign of the Cross, is not by Christ’s ordinance in Holy Baptism, or the renewing of vows in Confirmation. But consonant with Christ’s ordinance, for its end is Communion.

It fell out, as roods were knocked down, vestments stolen, unction disused; and it fell out not by any prohibition or act of legislation, but because those in authority disbelieved. When they no longer believed that Consecration had any effect, or rather believed that there was no Consecration at all; when Peter Martyr, Regius Professor of Divinity here at Oxford, could write in criticism of the Reservation allowed under the Prayer Book of 1549, that "The words of the supper belong rather to men than to bread and wine," and objected to the "uselessness" of a repetition of the words of Consecration, if more of the sacred elements should be required at a Communion; it was no wonder that Calvin’s opinion prevailed—that "it was absurd" that the bread should be carried forth from the church "as if sacred." It fell out by unbelief and it comes back, as roods have come back, and vestments and unction, because we believe.

It fell out—but in the First Prayer Book of Edward VI, 1549, some provision was made. Priests were to be allowed to celebrate in private houses, on days when there was no open Communion, "upon convenient warning given" and "afore noon," "in a convenient place in the sick man’s house, where he may reverently celebrate." But on days of open Communion Reservation was to be made and the sick person communicated "so soon as he conveniently may." But in 1552, in the Second Prayer Book, all provision for any kind of Reservation was omitted. Instead there was only the private Celebration, and "a good number to receive the Communion with the sick person. And so it has remained, with the exception that in 1662 the absolutely necessary number of company to receive with the sick person was reduced to two. No special provision for Reservation was restored, but the faith was restored. The unbelief that swept away all provision was rejected.

A remarkable instance is recorded in which, in 1573, a priest named Robert Johnson was charged before the High Commission with not repeating the words of institution when more wine was brought. He pleaded that there was no direction to do so, as was true in the Prayer Books of 1549, 1552, and 1569, and in his defence he used Peter Martyr’s expression. "I pray you tell me one thing," he said to his judges, "whether be the words of institution spoken for the bread, or for the receivers?" But the court condemned him. The doctrine of Martyr was rejected. In 1662 the direction, which had always been acted on by believers, and by the Church officially (Can. 21 of 1604 enforces it), though unwritten in the Prayer Book itself, was explicitly set down, and the manual acts, which also had been dropped in 1552 through unbelief, were restored at the same time—restored as a direction, though we may well believe never wholly omitted. Faith in the necessity of Consecration was restored. But Reservation remained unrestored.

Yet it was not absent from the minds of the Catholic. Here is a remarkable quotation from Thorndike, in his defence of the Reformation of the Church of England. Thorndike was one of those who took a part in the revision of the Prayer Book in 1661, and wrote this treatise in the last two years of his life

"The Church is to endeavour the celebrating of it (the Eucharist) so frequently that it may be reserved to the next Communion. For in the meantime it ought to be so ready for them that pass into another world, that they need not stay for the consecrating of it on purpose for every one. The reason of the necessity of it for all which hath been delivered, aggravates it very much in danger of death. And the practice of the Church attests it to the uttermost."

In other words the absence of explicit provision for Reservation was no bar to the revival of the Catholic custom, to his mind. It was the infrequency of Celebrations which alone made it impossible. It was unbelief, and then disloyalty in practice to the instructions of the Prayer Book as to a weekly Celebration at the least, which robbed us of it, and made it impracticable to restore it. It is faith and faithful practice which once more make it possible.


For here is the argument. The need of the sick remains; the Catholic practice is undisputed; the inheritance of the Church of England in the Catholic Church is claimed. In the absence, then, of any special provision the ancient practice of all the ages is at our disposal. Some provision the Church has always made—in the absence of any other prescribed use the ancient provision holds the field. Just as the Church went behind the Prayer Book of 1549, to the order of Communion set out in 1548, for a direction as to what to do in the case of a further Consecration at the same service, until positive directions were introduced into the Prayer Book of 1662, so the Church now must go back to that which was in existence till 1549 (and might still have continued even then to supply cases, not then provided for by direct Communion from the altar) to supply her need, until such time as the damage done by unbelief may be properly repaired.

For that need is not adequately supplied by the Celebration in the sick man’s house—less and less is that found practicable as medical science grows more careful, and as populations herd themselves into flats and tenements; it might be added also as the faithful become ever more and more scattered in the midst of the unbelieving. And the approach of death will not await our convenience. The more also are we driven back on the ancient custom when we reflect that in 1549 such Celebration was only intended for days when there was no open Communion. The priest may not needlessly say Mass twice.

Nor does the rubric concerning the consumption of that which remains of the Blessed Sacrament interpose any barriers. This is only the incorporation in 1662 into the Prayer Book of a similar direction which existed in the pre-Reformation days, when Reservation was habitual, and it does not concern itself with that which might be reserved for communicating the sick. It only concerns itself with that which remains, with no further use for it in respect of Communion, and we know it was inserted to ensure reverence towards the Blessed Sacrament, and to correct the abuse, which the unbelieving rubric of 1552 gave rise to of the priest carrying away all that remained of the Bread and Wine, consecrated or unconsecrated, to his own house for common use. This is "the carrying out of the Church" which is forbidden.

The argument that separates the Prayer Book from its setting in Catholic custom, that treats it as an absolutely sufficient and exclusively sufficient guide in itself, so that all is ruled out which cannot quote a direct rubric, or prayer, or service, kills the Church as the interpreter to us of the Catholic Church, and contradicts at once her claim of Catholic continuity and her perpetual appeal to the consent of antiquity. It may be true that a large number of people in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries wished to make a clean sweep of all that was Catholic, and did in many particulars. But for a long time past we have been fishing up from the deep belongings which they threw overboard, and refurnishing our ship. The positive directions of the Prayer Book we endeavour to observe, though I suppose there is in fact no one who can actually try to wear that coat of more than four hundred years age without a split here and there—but its negative implications born of Protestant controversy we refuse. Instead of regarding the Prayer Book services as a maximum, we work from them as a minimum, and we believe we thus best serve Christ in His Church. That omission is prohibition, knowing the history of the Prayer Book, we refuse to acknowledge; the argument that would thus dismiss the right of Reservation would have made unlawful the Consecration of a further supply of Bread and Wine if needed for Communion, for more than one hundred years; as to-day it would make unlawful the Sacrament of Unction.


The right of Reservation being thus asserted, its method becomes an important matter, and there is no doubt the bishops have power to regulate such details. But this power, as any other episcopal power, is not an autocratic, arbitrary, personal power. It is a power to regulate, so that all due precautions of faith and reverence may be observed, and the Blessed Sacrament itself guarded from harm. If the regulations are based on acknowledged disbelief; the counter duty of witness to the Faith makes it impossible to obey. If the King should visit Oxford, the police would undoubtedly have power to regulate the traffic. But if the police order should be that every one must stay at home, and blinds must be drawn down all along the route, the citizens of a free, and loyal city would refuse. In ordinary times they would refuse in numbers. In extraordinary times such as the present they would refuse universally and insistently.

The danger we fear is this—that a regulation may be made by the bishops, meeting privately at Lambeth, and without consultation beforehand with their respective clergy, allowing Reservation, but forbidding any possible access on the part of the faithful, and forbidding any outward sign of reverence towards the Blessed Sacrament, and forbidding these things not because there is danger of irreverence on the part of unbelievers, nor because there has been superstitious use made of the Sacrament, but because a large number of people, priests, and bishops disbelieve in the perpetual Sacramental Presence, and will not agree to any Reservation which acknowledges any honour due to the Blessed Sacrament. There is indeed a considerable number of people, who fear an abuse of Reservation into such a localization of our Lord’s Presence, as would deny practically our heavenly union with Him at all times. And this is an objection which should receive the most careful consideration. But this is not the real difficulty of those who desire to legislate. It is really the unbelief of the Sacramental Presence of our LORD in the Sacrament itself; which is so widely prevalent, which causes so great a hedge to be made around a possible allowance of Reservation. The result is the compromise which runs, that Reservation is to be allowed for the Communion of the sick, "and for no other purpose whatsoever," and this is interpreted as forbidding Reservation in any part of the church open to the people; which means practically neither in church, nor in any chapel, but in what is a separate building. This is a regulation which, if made, would in fact, and before the Church generally, suggest a denial of the Faith.

For the case is not with us as it is with the Eastern Church. With us there is disagreement. The Blessed Sacrament is a matter of deep controversy. If there were no disagreement, if all were united in the Faith, the regulation would not have the implication I suggest. But as things are, I fear it would be inevitable. It is precisely those who believe the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence who ask for Reservation, and Reservation with regulations based on faith. Those who demand entire privacy are for the most part those who do not accept the Catholic doctrine, and who do not ask for Reservation at all. They are satisfied with the Prayer Book provision as it stands, and with a spiritual communion, but they demand that, if any are allowed to reserve, there must be no acknowledgement of adoration due. A regulation that is a concession to disbelief in so grave a matter cannot command obedience.

An individual bishop’s behests for the time being, offered for the present distress, offered as a purely personal ruling, may meet with compliance. But such a regulation put forth as the pronouncement of the whole Bench of Bishops commits the Church so far as the outward world is concerned, and requires protest. GOD grant we may be spared this necessity of open disunion.


It is very attractive to ask for a corporate pronouncement on a ritual practice. But if there is no corporate faith prevalent in the Church, a corporate pronouncement is premature; it can but work injury and create rebellion. At best, if a harmless compromise, it damps all ardour. We are not ready for a corporate ruling which should demand uniformity of practice. There is not uniformity of belief. We are ready for a corporate ruling which is a frank acceptance of the

principle of freedom, which leaves the truth by its own inward force and life to prevail. Discipline in the matter of such services as Benediction, or Procession, I believe the vast majority of the clergy concerned will accept. But discipline based ultimately and widely on a denial of the Sacramental Presence, that vast majority, I believe, will not accept.


I end with a few words on the value of the Blessed Sacrament, reserved perpetually, and open to the visits of the faithful. The presence of the Blessed Sacrament is the continuous bringing home to people of the truth of the Incarnation, of the love of God, of His good hand laid upon us when He took our nature, of His redeeming Presence in our midst, of the all-prevailing Sacrifice, and the ever open gate. Souls are now in darkness that once walked in light. The strong have become weak. God is hidden from many a suffering, sorrowing heart. Can we not realize that the Blessed Sacrament may be the strength, the comfort, the healing they need?

It is the succour of distressed faith, the permanent evidence of the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Without any one of these the Presence would be impossible. To the intellectual difficulties and theoretical criticism of any one of these articles of the Faith, the fact of the Sacramental Presence is the surest answer.

It is the opportunity of a constant renewal of spiritual Communion in its most vivid form. There are those who can climb the spiritual heights unaided, and keep their life hidden with Christ in G6D. They are Alpine climbers who need but an alpenstock and a pair of good boots. But there are others, the greater part, who in the higher regions need to be roped together, need steps cut in the rock, and now and again a rail to hold fast to. Such may be the effect of a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. Such a soul leaves the church, reunited to its LORD, with its love in heaven.

It is the occasion of most powerful Intercession. We are in the presence of the Lamb of GOD, "as it had been slain."

It is the assurance of the Catholic life of the Church, the declaration of the Catholic Faith, the summary of the Catholic worship.

And therefore it is the true hope of unity. We shall not advance to unity merely by discussions of the Procession of the HOLY GHOST with the East, or of the Papal claims with the West. The arguments will ever tend to overlay our hearts. The bed will be shorter than that a man can stretch himself thereon. But the Blessed Sacrament, received, honoured, wholly believed in, evidently the centre of life and worship, is a fact at last which silences argument, and unites all its lovers.


I plead for freedom for loyal men. For seventy years we have had compromise, or attempt at suppression. Doctrines have been tolerated, but their expression forbidden. Let all, at this solemn crisis, at last be allowed to give their best and do their best. Let the weak in faith be allowed every support. Let the strong in faith be encouraged in ardent devotion. It is Jesus Christ that alone matters now. He is found in His own glorious Sacrament.

Bishop Weston writes in his book, The Fullness of Christ, p. 265, "There is every sign that English Churchmen, since they have at last recovered belief in the Presence (of our Lord) under its two modes (in the Blessed Sacrament, and in His Mystical Body), are determined to express themselves towards Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament as do the Latins, and towards Jesus in the saints as do the Easterns. How far the official Church in England will venture in an ill-advised attempt to stem this development we do not know, nor do we care to guess. For where Jesus is, with souls hungry for His knowledge and His love, the Holy Spirit will always find a way. Our prayer is that the English bishops will not make one law of devotion for all souls alike, but will rather gladly permit what great provinces of the Church approve, lest haply they be found to have closed a path along which the Lord Jesus had desired to meet not a few of His children."

Note.—For several interesting historical references, and a part of the argument, I am indebted to the Rev. T. A. Lacey’s Open Letter on Reservation, published 1899.

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