Saturday, July 22, 2006

Clarification of Article 28

An excerpt from A Theological Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England by E. J. Bicknell, 3rd. ed. revised by H. J. Carpenter. pp. 400-403. First published 1919, this edition 1955. This article represents the views of the author and not necessarily those of Whitehall or any of its contributors. :)

The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up or worshipped. This last section of the Article is carefully worded. It is based on a sound and intelligible principle. The Holy Communion was given to us by Christ for a definite purpose. We can only be secure of its blessings so long as we respect the limits of that purpose. [Bicknell goes on to explain how Christ's presence in the Eucharist is a spiritual, and therefore uncontrollable, presence, and that we can't predict with certainty where or when He will be present in the Eucharistic elements except in the context of their use in the Lord's Supper.] We cannot be certain that that Presence abides when we use the consecrated bread and wine for a new and entirely different purpose, a purpose not ordained by Christ, but prompted by the fallible logic of human devotion. . . . We cannot, as it were, bind Him to earth by our treatment of the elements. Such thoughts lie behind the very cautious statements of the Article. The practices mentioned are not condemned as sinful. No anathema is leveled at those who retain them. All that is asserted is that they are precarious, as going outside the ordinance of Christ. . . .

Reservation purely for the communion of the sick or absent is thoroughly primitive and natural. It is in full accord with the spirit of Scripture and the revealed purpose of Christ and was the custom of the primitive church. . . . [There follows a long list of patristic sources that mention reservation for this reason.] In the second Prayer-Book this permission [to reserve for the sick or absent, so long as they communicated on the same day as the congregation] was withdrawn: there was a very real danger of conveying the sacrament away and using it for superstitious purposes. In 1662 the present rubric was added enjoining the consumption in church of all the consecrated elements at the close of the service. The primary object of this was to forbid not reservation but the irreverent carrying of the elements out of church for ordinary consumption, which the Puritans were quite capable of doing. But indirectly the rubric forbids all reservation . . . This is a real loss. . . .

The Article is aimed at reservation when practiced not only for purposes of communion, but in order to provide a localized object of worship. This is a comparatively modern and entirely distinct practice. It is a use of the sacrament that diverges widely from the declared intention of Christ. It arose in the dark ages and received a great impulse through the assertion of Transubstantiation. . . .

Carrying about the Host in procession is only an extension of the same practice. . . .

The lifting or elevation of the Host after consecration in order to be adored by the people . . . Is on a level with the previous practices. This elevation must not be confused with the manual acts during the prayer of consecration, when the priest solemnly reproduces the action of Christ at the Last Supper and takes up the bread and the cup. . . .

If Christ is present in the Eucharist, most certainly He is then as always to be adored. But this, as we have seen, is quite different from adoration of the Blessed Sacrament divorced from Eucharistic worship. We have no ground for believing that He gave us the Eucharist in order to dwell among us to-day by an abiding external presence as during His earthly life or to afford a visible object of adoration. Nor, again, are we justified in that absolute identification of our Lord with the outward sign that is implied in modern Roman devotions.

Finally, let us gladly admit that in these practices as allowed by the Church of Rome to-day we do find the expression of very deep and real devotion to our Lord. But we maintain that that devotion is purchased at a great cost.


father wb said...

"Nor, again, are we justified in that absolute identification of our Lord with the outward sign. . ."


"He took bread... and said 'This is my Body... Do this [i.e. what I just did]..."

When our Lord expressly and explicitly identifies the bread with his Body, and tells us to do the same thing, how then are we not justified in doing so? The question to me is how could we be justified in doing ANYTHING ELSE?

I'd rather not say said...

I for one am quite happy to, in some sense, "identify" the eucharistic bread with Christ's body—but the text cited (the words of institution in the canon of the mass or anaphora) do not in themselves indicate that the bread remains such anywhere outside of the eucharistic action itself—and it is within the eucharist that devotion to the bread per se should be centered.

The point is (and I entirely agree with Bicknell) that devotions such as Benediction are an innovation.

Richard Bourbon said...

Benediction is an innovation? Since when? According to whom? And what does innovation mean in this context?

I would second Father WB's question: how could we be justified in doing anything else? Meaning, how could we not genuflect at the Lord's presence in the tabernacle, even though we may not come into the presence of the tabernacle during the celebration of the Eucharist? And if one were to genuflect during a time not "within the Eucharist", how would this be different than genuflecting during a time that the Host was exposed in the monstrance?

I'd rather not say said...

"Benediction is an innovation? Since when?"

According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Benediction is a "comparatively late form of worship."

Again, I have no objections to devotions to the reserved sacrament. I have objections to a rite that uses the sacrament on the one hand, but in which by design no on receives or can receive.

father thorpus said...

I have to go with Imbroglio and WB: how can do anything but worship in the presence of Christ, no matter when or where that Presence comes to us? The argument that we can't be sure the Presence is there outside the context of the Eucharist, and the argument that there's nothing in the scriptures that explicitly speaks of the practice of benediction, hold both the same error -- namely, a lower view of the Sacramental act than the institutions give us the right to hold. Is means Is; This IS my body. The normal state of existence is to continue, not pop in and out of reality like some cosmic anomaly. It's like doubting whether the Eucharist is efficatious in other dimensions. Yes, I suppose there's nothing explicit in scripture about this, but it's left to our common sense and the sensus fidelium of the whole Church. The argument from silence does not trump, for me, the long-held teaching of Catholic Christianity. Can I PROVE that Jesus doesn't hop in and out of the elements at any time He chooses? Of course not. But why ask, when the Church is consistant about this? The scripture says as little about Christ remaining in the elements outside the context of worship as it does about Him leaving them outside that context. The argument from silence cuts both ways.

As to the question of innovation, I suppose that's an historical question. The real meat of the issue is whether it's a valuable innovation, consistant with Catholic doctrine and practice over the centuries. On the basis of decisions about icons, I think we can rule out the worry that this worship is misplaced. At the very least, worshipping the Host is worshipping Christ through the icon of the Host -- and if you make this jump and have any kind of sense of Real Presence, you might as well just allow Benediction for what it claims to be.

DDX said...

This will be viewed as sacrilege by some...but here goes:

It is not clear whether or not Jesus intended for his followers to understand that he would be present in bread or in wine. He WAS clear, however, that he would be present in THEM and that he would be present whenever two or three (or more?) are gathered in(to) his name. There's been a lot of fuss and fighting about that bread and wine through the centuries with very little reverencing of each other by those in whom Jesus clearly promised to be present.

What if Jesus was simply saying, "What I'm about to do is what this passover bread is about. Since Moses day it's always been about me. So from now on, whenever you do this (observe Passover) do it remembering it's about me?

What if he just meant the ceremonial breaking of the Passover bread and pouring out the wine always foretold the breaking of his body and pouring out of his blood and henceforth they should do it in remembrance therefore of him as the fulfillment and meaning of it? Isn't that what we proclaim when we say "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us..."
Yes, there is the pascha, the passover lamb that clearly foreshows Jesus, but before the lamb there's the unleavened bread and the wine that do the same.

Jesus is Jewish. His followers were Jewish. Whatever understanding he intended was in a totally Jewish context. Jews would never reverence, genuflect, bow or kneel before bread or wine. They offer it. They eat it. But they neither blessed nor reverenced it nor understood it to be anything but bread.

I wonder how accurate our eucharistic traditions and understandings are in the larger context of God's redemptive history. We've come a long way from the bread and wine Abraham brought forth for Melchizedek to the temple bread and wine offerings to the "last supper" of Jesus' to the bread and wine
referenced by Paul to our many views of it today.

There's been a lot of fuss and fighting about that bread and wine.

I don't know. I wonder...

father wb said...


I agree with all that. But I think there's more to it. Pretty much all of the writings we have form the Fathers witness to a very robust understanding of the Eucharist as a sacrifice. They understood the Ecucharist to be the fulfillment of Malachi 1.11f, of the nations everywhere offering a pure offering, pleasing to the Lord. And the reason its pure is because it is the offering of the spotless Lamb of God, of which the Passover was only the shadow.

There is also remarkable consistency among the Fathers, from the earliest (1st century) onwards, that they understood the elements in the Eucharist, through prayer, actually to become the Body and blood of the Lord. And that understanding makes more sense, to me, in light of what the Lord himself saying about the Elements, and about not having life in you without eating his flesh and drinking his blood, and about the Bread from Heaven that we will eat for eternal life being his flesh. I mean, you don't have to have some figurative interpretation of those passages that doesn't mesh with the plain meaning, if you accept the pretty consistent and universal witness of the Fathers... up until after the Reformation anyway.

Here is a site that has collected a lot of quotes from the Fathers:

DDX said...

Thx FWB. Well said.

As you know, I DON'T know. I merely wonder. Some of my friends are for this and some are for that. I'm for my friends.