Liturgy and the Faculty Jurisdiction

by Philip Jones

St. Thomas, Pennywell (1995) Family 50

Public worship in the Church of England is now regulated by the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974 and the canons promulged under the authority of that Measure.  Church courts have no jurisdiction under the 1974 regime.  They have no say in the authorisation of forms of service, or in the regulation of their use. 

However, the permission of the Church courts is still required for most dealings with the physical items used in connection with worship, and with the buildings in which public worship takes place, under the faculty jurisdiction.  The 1974 regime makes no reference to the faculty jurisdiction.  Thus the relationship between the 1974 regime and the faculty jurisdiction may be anomalous.

The apparent anomaly confused the chancellor who decided St. John’s Chopwell (1995) 3 Weekly Law Reports 606, a faculty case.  The chancellor held that ‘the final arbiter of the legality of any … variation or service used pursuant to canon B5 … is the ecclesiastical court’ (p.61).  This may be true if a clergyman is subject to disciplinary proceedings for contravening canon B5, but it is not true of faculty proceedings.

The same chancellor also decided the Pennywell case.  A faculty was sought for the introduction of a ‘sacrament house’ in which to reserve the Sacrament.  Yet the chancellor seemed to forget that he was being asked to approve a piece of furniture, and not a form of service.

The chancellor noted that the holy communion service in the 1662 Prayer Book (‘the BCP’) requires immediate consumption of the consecrated elements (which suggests that a sacrament house would be superfluous), but the modern form of service does not (which suggests that there may be some use for a sacrament house). 

However, the chancellor concluded that ‘if immediate consumption [of the consecrated elements] is not required … in [the modern] rite, it cannot be a matter of ‘substantial importance’ in [the BCP rite]’ (p.67).  Reservation of the Sacrament after the service was therefore not a matter of ‘substantial importance’ and so was within the discretion conferred by canon B5(1).  The sacrament house was allowed.

This reasoning is deeply confused.  The chancellor permitted the sacrament house, not because it would be useful, but because its use was unimportant.  It seems strange to permit a sacrament house on the ground that reservation of the Sacrament is unimportant.  If reservation is unimportant that ought to be a reason for refusing a sacrament house, not permitting one.

The chancellor also misinterpreted canon B5(1).  This provides that ‘The minister who is to conduct the service may in his discretion make and use variations which are not of substantial importance in any [authorised] form of service …’. 

Thus Canon B5(1) is addressed to the clergy who officiate at services, not to the ecclesiastical court which has no responsibility for services.  Moreover, canon B5(1) refers to unimportant variations of a particular form of service.  The chancellor was discussing the difference or contrast between two different forms of service.

However, as mentioned, the chancellor’s principal confusion was treating the sacrament house as if it was a form of service.  Obviously it was not.  Canon B5(1) was therefore not relevant.  The 1974 regime of public worship would only be relevant if it laid down a clear rule that reservation of the Sacrament was compulsory, permitted or forbidden.  However, no such rule is to be found in the 1974 Measure and canons.

There is, of course, a connection between public worship and the buildings in which it takes place.  If a sacrament house or other item would facilitate the performance of worship, that is a reason to permit it.  It it would impede worship, that is a reason to refuse it.  But this is a question of fact, not law.

It is important not to confuse worship and doctrine.  Reservation of the Sacrament is a liturgical practice, not a religious doctrine.  However, there is a connection between the liturgical practice of reservation and the Church’s doctrine of the Eucharist. 

The question therefore remains whether the Church’s doctrine forbids reservation, or whether the practice of reservation undermines or embarrasses the doctrine in some way.  If it does, a sacrament house ought not to be permitted.  However, this question engages the law of doctrine, not the law of worship.

The 1974 Measure provides that the Church’s doctrine ‘is grounded in the holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.  In particular such doctrine is to be found in the 39 Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal’ (s.5(1), also canon A5).

Thus the 1662 Prayer Book (the whole Book, not just the rubrics) remains a part, though only a part, of the source material identified by canon A5, from which the answer to the doctrinal question must be found.