ecclesiasticallaw

Ecclesiastical law

Category: Holy Communion

Holy Communion: Consecration and Consumption

The English law of Holy Communion may be conveniently studied under 3 headings

(1) Who may administer Holy Communion

(2) to whom and

(3) how, when and where?

However, to understand the relevant law, it is important not to confuse the Communion with the Eucharist.

Who?

Canon B12(1) of the revised canons provides that ‘No person shall consecrate and administer the Holy Sacrament … unless he shall been ordained priest by episcopal ordination’.  This echoes s.10 of the Act of Uniformity 1662 (now repealed).  The words ‘consecrate and administer’ may mean that the priest must not only consecrate the bread and wine, but must also control and preside over the whole Communion Service, including the distribution of the consecrated elements to the communicants.

The Prayer Book (Further Provisions) Measure 1968 permitted authorised laypeople to assist the priest by distributing Holy Communion to communicants.  This lay assistance is now regulated by canon B12(3) and the Admission to Holy Communion Regulations 2015.

Canon B44 allows that a minister of a non-episcopal Church may celebrate Holy Communion in a Church of England church where a local ecumenical partnership has been established ((1)(f)).  This provision makes clear that episcopal ordination is, as Paul Avis described it, merely the ‘house rule’ of the Church of England, a rule of discipline, not religious belief.  Article 19 confirms that one particular ministerial structure is not essential in the Church, just so long as ‘the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance’.  However, canon B44 requires that the Anglican faithful be warned of the officiating minister’s lack of episcopal ordination (cf 4(3)(a)(b)).

To Whom?

Baptism alone does not qualify a person to receive Holy Communion.  Reception requires

(1) commitment to Baptism

(2) instruction in the faith and

(3) repentance.

The Book of Common Prayer 1662 required that communicants should be ‘[episcopally] confirmed … or … ready and desirous to be so confirmed’ (rubric).  Confirmation candidates ‘being now come to the years of discretion, and having learned what their godfathers and godmothers promised for them in Baptism … with their own mouth and consent … ratify and confirm the same; and also promise that … they will evermore endeavour themselves faithfully to observe such things …’.

Confirmation is therefore

(1) confirmation by the candidate of his baptismal promises and

(2) the assurance of Divine Grace to support the candidate’s commitment to these promises ‘that he may continue Thine for ever; and daily increase in the Holy Spirit more and more …’.

There is no reference to Holy Communion in the 1662 Confirmation rite itself, only in the rubric.  Confirmation is concerned with Baptism rather than Holy Communion.  The phrase ‘ready and desirous’ makes clear that Confirmation is not essential to Holy Communion.  (In the old days, bishops were often absent from their dioceses, indeed never even visited them, so a candidate might have to wait a long time to be confirmed.)

Canon B27(3), again echoing the 1662 rubrics, provides that ‘The minister shall present none to the bishop [for Confirmation] but such as are come to the years of discretion and can say the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments, and can also render an account of their faith according to the … Catechism’.  Canon B27(2) requires the minister to use his best endeavour to instruct [Confirmation candidates] in the Christian faith and life’.

The modern canon B15A, which now regulates admission to Holy Communion, repeats the 1662 rubric about Confirmation, but allows that other persons may receive Holy Communion too, viz

(1) (b)  baptized persons who are communicant members of other Churches which subscribe to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and who are in good standing in their own Church

(c)  any other baptized persons authorized to be admitted under regulations of the General Synod; and

(d)  any baptized person in immediate danger of death.

Thus practising Christians from Churches which lack episcopal ministry and Confirmation may now be admitted to the Anglican Sacrament.  This rule, like canon B44, is consistent with Article 19.  It is also consistent with Article 25, which teaches that Confirmation is not a Sacrament ‘ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel’.  ‘Good standing’ is not defined, but suggests an assumption that such persons will have received sufficient instruction in their own Churches.

The Admission of Baptised Children to Holy Communion Regulations 2006 were made under the authority of Canon B15A(1)(c) above.  Young children who are not confirmed, or even ready to be confirmed, may now receive Holy Communion.  However, this is subject to the bishop’s discretion.  Regulation 5 provides that ‘the bishop must first satisfy himself … that the [child’s] parish … has made adequate provision for preparation and continuing nurture in the Christian life and will encourage any child admitted to Holy Communion … to be confirmed at the appropriate time’.  So commitment and instruction are still required.

Although canon B15A may have lowered the bar to Holy Communion somewhat, canon B15(2) requires that ‘The minister shall teach the people … that they come to this Holy Sacrament with such preparation as is required by the Book of Common Prayer’.

The 1662 Prayer Book does indeed insist on careful preparation to receive the Sacrament.  Prospective communicants are sternly exhorted ‘to consider the dignity of that holy mystery, and the great peril of the unworthy receiving thereof; and so to search and examine your own consciences … and that not lightly …’.

The minister must also invite a penitent prospective communicant ‘who … cannot quiet his own conscience … [to] come to me, or to some other … minister … and open his grief; that … he may receive the benefit of absolution …’.  Private confession and absolution are therefore at the option of the penitent, a concession to human weakness, not an obligation.

The Prayer Book rubric indicates that the invitation in the Communion Service to ‘make your humble confession to Almighty God, meekly kneeling upon your knees’ is specifically addressed ‘to them that come to receive the Holy Communion’, not to any other persons present.

Cathedral clergy are expected to set an example to everybody else, both fellow clergy and laypeople, by receiving the Sacrament ‘every Sunday at the least’ (canon B13(2)).  The lay faithful are expected to receive ‘regularly, and especially at … Christmas, Easter and Whitsun’ (canon B15(1)).  This rule follows the canons of 1603, which enjoined reception of the Sacrament ‘oftentimes’ (canon 21) and ‘at least thrice in a year’ (canon 23).

The bishop has power (virtually never used) to order the exclusion of ‘notorious offenders’ from Holy Communion (canon B16).  This power is discussed in a separate post, filed below.

How, When and Where?

The provision of bread and wine for Holy Communion is governed by canon B17.  The bread may be leavened or unleavened.  The vestments to be worn are prescribed by canon B8(2) and (3).  The ‘table of the Lord’ (i.e the altar) must be covered with ‘a fair white linen cloth’ (canon F2(2)).  The provision and cleaning of communion vessels and linen are dealt with by canons F3 and F4 respectively.

All incumbents, or ‘priests having a cure of souls’, must ‘celebrate, or cause to be celebrated, the Holy Communion on all Sundays and other greater Feast Days and on Ash Wednesday’ (canon C24(2)).  Canon B14 confirms that Holy Communion should be celebrated ‘at least’ on those days in parish churches.  However, canon B14A permits some variation of this general rule.  In cathedrals, Holy Communion should be celebrated ‘as often as may be convenient’ (canon B13(1)), which is usually every day.

Holy Communion must normally be administered in a consecrated or licensed place of worship.  It can be administered in any place where there is a sick person who cannot go to church.  Other venues require the bishop’s permission (canon B40).  Holy Communion may be administered in a private chapel, but ‘seldom upon Sundays and other greater Feast Days, so that the residents … may resort to their parish church and there attend divine service’ (canon B41).  This rule stresses the communal character of the Sacrament.

The Eucharist and the Communion

This survey indicates that the sole purpose of Holy Communion in English law is the reception of the consecrated bread and wine by the  communicants.  The terminology used (Communion, Lord’s Supper) also carries this implication.  The Sacrament is never described as the Eucharist.

In Anglican parlance the words ‘Eucharist’ and ‘Communion’ are often used interchangeably, but they are distinct liturgical rites. The word Eucharist means Thanksgiving.  The Eucharistic Prayer is the prayer of thanksgiving which includes the Words of Institution by which the bread and wine are consecrated.  The Communion rite comes later.  Thus, in English law, the purpose of the Eucharist is the Communion which follows it.

Canon 21 of 1603 suggests that some contemporary clergy failed to appreciate the connection between Eucharist and Communion.  It ordered that ‘no bread or wine … shall be used; but first the Words of Institution shall be rehearsed, when the said bread and wine be present upon the Communion-table’.  Evidently the bread and wine were sometimes administered without being consecrated first.

The modern canon B12 affirms that Eucharist and Communion, though distinct, are inseparable, by requiring the officiating priest always to receive Holy Communion himself.

The English and Roman Catholic laws concerning the administration of Holy Communion are on similar lines (though they are far from  identical).  However, there is virtually no English law concerning the Eucharist.  This is the great difference between the two laws.  The Roman Catholic law concerning Holy Communion is but a part of its law concerning the Eucharist: see the Code of Canon Law 1983, canons 897 to 958, entitled ‘The Most Holy Eucharist’.  In English law, it is the other way around.  The law concerning the Eucharist (such as it is) is part of the law of Holy Communion.

In the Church of England, canon B6 enjoins ‘attendance at Divine Service‘ every Sunday, but not specifically attendance at Holy Communion.  Attendance at Morning or Evening Prayer will do just as well.  For a long time in England, weekly attendance at Holy Communion was impossible for most people, because the Sacrament was only celebrated once a month (‘Sacrament Sunday’).

In the Roman Catholic Church, by contrast, the faithful are obliged to attend the Eucharist (Mass) every Sunday and on other important Holy Days (1983 Code, canon 1247).  Attendance at another act of worship will not fulfill this obligation.  However, the obligation to receive Holy Communion is limited to just once a year (canon 920.1).  The severe Eucharistic fast from midnight, without even a glass of water, which was only modified as recently as the 1950s, made frequent communion difficult.  (Sometimes Catholics would receive Communion at an early service before attending the Eucharist.)

The 1662 rubrics made clear that ‘there shall be no celebration of the Lord’s Supper, except there be convenient number to communicate with the priest … 4 communicants (or 3 at the least)’ are the absolute minimum required.

This requirement does not appear in the modern canons of the Church of England.  However, canon C24(2) makes clear that the duty to ‘celebrate, or cause to be celebrated’ the Holy Communion is owed to parishioner-communicants.  Priests without a cure of souls have no duty to celebrate the Eucharist / Holy Communion, nor indeed any right to do so.

This is another difference from the Roman Catholic law, which states that ‘priests [i.e all priests] are … earnestly invited to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice daily …’ (1983 Code, canon 276(1)).

The English legal emphasis on reception of Holy Communion has its basis in religious belief, of course.  The 1662 Catechism teaches that ‘the Lord hath commanded [the Sacrament] to be received‘.  Hence the emphasis on relatively frequent Communion.  Also that ‘The Body and Blood of Christ … are verily and indeed taken and received by the faithful in the Lord’s Supper’.

Article 25 affirms that ‘in such only as worthily receive the [Sacraments] they have a whole effect or operation’.  Article 28 draws the Catechism and Article 25 together: ‘to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread … is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup … is a partaking of the Blood of Christ’.  It adds that ‘The Body of Christ is … eaten only after an heavenly and spiritual manner.  And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is faith’.

2 actions are therefore required for a communicant to receive the Body and Blood of Christ

(1) consecration of the bread and wine and

(2) worthy and faithful consumption thereof

The teaching in Article 29 is critical: ‘The wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth … the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ: yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing’.

This makes clear that the effect of consecration is that the bread and wine have ceased to be ordinary food.  They are now a sign and Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.  Any irreverent use of them will incur Divine condemnation.  (Hence the great importance of instruction and repentance prior to Communion.)  However, they are not the Body and Blood of Christ per se.  

This in turn means that, while irreverent use incurs condemnation, it is also wrong to venerate or worship the consecrated bread and wine, since they are a mere sign and Sacrament.  The communicant receives the Body and Blood of Christ only by worthy consumption.

This teaching on the Eucharist is in contrast to that of the Roman Catholic Church, which holds that

(1) consecration alone does constitute the bread and wine as the Body and Blood of Christ.  ‘In [the Eucharist] Christ the Lord, through the ministry of the priest … [is] substantially present under the appearance of bread and wine’ (1983 Code, canon 899.1).

(2) reception of communion is not the only purpose of consecration.  Canon 901 affirms that ‘A priest is entitled to offer Mass for anyone, living or dead’.  Indeed bishops and pastors must apply the Eucharist pro populo, i.e for the people of their dioceses and parishes, every Sunday and Holy Day of obligation (canons 388(1) and 534(1)).

The 39 Articles oppose 2 purposes of the Eucharist affirmed by the Roman Catholic Church

(1) application of the Eucharist for a metaphysical purpose, known as an intention.  Article 31 strongly condemns ‘Masses in the which it was commonly said that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt’ as ‘blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits’.

(2) worship of the consecrated elements.  Article 28 provides that ‘the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up or worshipped’.  Article 25 observes that ‘The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them’.

It will be noted that the condemnation of (1) is much stronger than (2) in the Articles.  Purported applications of the Eucharist other than for Communion are dangerous and blasphemous.  However, the Prayer Book rubric warns that ‘the sacramental [i.e consecrated] bread and wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored (for that were idolatry …)’.

The ceremonial of modern Communion Services is very similar to that of the modern Catholic Mass.  This may obscure the difference of Eucharistic action.  Canon B8 permits the ‘customary vestments’, i.e the Catholic Eucharistic vestments, but also makes clear that ‘the vesture worn by the minister … is not to be understood as implying any doctrines other than those now contained in the [historic] formularies’.

Intention

In the case of Bourne v Keane (1919) Appeal Cases 815, Lord Chancellor Birkenhead suggested that the application of the Eucharist for a metaphysical intention is the essential difference between the Catholic Mass and the Communion Service (cf p.837).  (Nothing to do with ‘smells and bells’ ritualism.)  Bl John Henry Newman (a Catholic convert, of course) suggested that ‘the doctrine of intention … viewed in all its parts, constitute[s] a new religion’ (Loss and Gain, 1848).

The belief that the Eucharist can be applied for a metaphysical purpose derives in turn from the belief that the Eucharist is a sacrifice (not just a sacrament) ‘in which the Sacrifice of the Cross is for ever perpetuated’ (1983 Code, canon 897).  This is discussed in another post ‘In Persona Christi: Eucharistic Sacrifices’, filed below.

As every schoolboy knows, the Protestant reformers complained (with some justice no doubt) that the metaphysical ministrations of the mediaeval Church, including Mass intentions, were exploited for material gain.  (The sale of indulgences etc.)

Modern Roman Catholic law addresses this concern by seeking to prevent ‘even the semblance of trafficking or trading’ in Eucharistic applications / intentions.  Multiple Masses are not allowed (canons 905, 953).  A priest should not celebrate the Eucharist without a congregation of at least 1 person (an altar-server), though solitary celebration is permitted for ‘a good and reasonable cause’.

Nevertheless the payment of a stipend or offering for a Eucharistic intention is not only lawful, but positively encouraged.  Such offerings ‘contribute to the good of the Church’ (canon 946).  ‘Any priest … may accept an offering to apply the Mass for a specific intention’ (canon 945(1)).  He may not demand a larger sum than that prescribed by local law, but may still accept ‘an offering voluntarily made’, even if it exceeds the local rate (canon 952(1)).  Intentions, and the offerings therefor, must be recorded (canons 955, 958).  The bishop must see to it that all Mass obligations are fulfilled (canon 957).

In Bourne v Keane, the House of Lords ecumenically held (by a majority) that a fund for the saying of Roman Catholic Masses was a valid and lawful trust in English law.  The Lord Chancellor traced the dichotomy between the mediaeval Mass and the reformed Communion Service to the ‘Protestant’ Prayer Book of 1552.  The first, ‘Catholic’ Prayer Book of 1549 did not make a complete break between the two, because ‘the name Mass was retained [in that Book]’ (p.836).

The 1552 Book was unambiguous, however.  There could be ‘no doubt that this [1552] service was a Communion Service pure and simple, and that Mass had disappeared … from the Book of Common Prayer’ (p.837).

The Elizabethan Act of Uniformity 1559 completed the work of 1552.  ‘[Its] effect was to render the celebration of Mass illegal’.  By a later Elizabethan statute ‘the saying or singing of Masses was expressly declared to be a criminal offence’ (p.838).  (A crime punished by death in some cases.)  The result of the 16th century legislation, of course, was that Mass trusts could not be lawful, because ‘such trusts were pernicious and dangerous to the state’ (p.846).

Mass was not decriminalised till the first Roman Catholic Relief Act 1778.  Then at last the Relief Act of 1829 was passed, as a result of which ‘the Roman Catholic religion was recognised as one which could be practised without any penal consequences or breach of the law’ (p.852).  Thus the law forbidding Mass trusts ‘perished as a consequence of [the Relief Acts]’ (p.857).

In the modern Church of England, ‘catholic’ vicars apply, or purport to apply, the Eucharist for particular intentions, and publicise this in parish newsletters etc, notwithstanding Article 31.  It could be argued that this constitutes a ‘reserved’ offence against doctrine under s.14(1) of the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963: ‘maintaining doctrines repugnant to the 39 Articles’ (Halsbury’s Laws, vol 14, para 1354).

However, no prosecution for any reserved offence has ever been brought since 1963.  Mass intentions are evidently uncontroversial nowadays, no longer considered blasphemous and dangerous.

It would be a different case if a vicar considered the authorised Eucharistic Prayers inadequate vehicles for his intentions, and used a Roman Catholic prayer instead.  This would constitute misconduct rather than a doctrinal offence, cognisable under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003, ‘doing [an] act in contravention of the laws ecclesiastical’ (s.8(1)(a)).  (It would also infringe the Catholic Church’s copyright).  Canon B1(2) is clear that ‘Every minister shall use only the forms of service authorised …’.  All clergy are required to make a Declaration ‘[to] use only the forms of service which are authorised or allowed by canon’ (canon C15.1(1)).  But again, there is no legally reported case of a vicar being disciplined for using the Roman rite.

A vicar who accepted or solicited payments for his intentions should also be liable to discipline, since he has no right to such payments, and his intentions are not recognised by law.  Any trust fund similar to that in Bourne v Keane, but for Anglican Eucharistic intentions instead, would arguably fail for the same reasons.

Reservation

It is argued that Article 28 need not preclude custody of the Sacrament where there is an unavoidable delay between consecration and communion, for example to bring the Sacrament to the sick, or to a congregation which lacks a priest.  Christ did not ordain the practice of reservation, but neither did He positively forbid it.  Nor, on its plain wording, does Article 28.  As discussed earlier, the religious difficulty is not reservation per se, but the danger that it may encourage ‘idolatrous’ adoration or worship of the Sacrament.

It is true, however, that the Book of Common Prayer allows no scope for reservation.  The post-Communion rubric provides that leftover consecrated elements ‘shall not be carried out of the church, but the priest and such other of the communicants as he shall then call unto him shall, immediately after the Blessing, reverently eat and drink the same’.

It has been suggested that this rubric was aimed at preventing, not superstitious veneration, but profane consumption, i.e as part of the vicar’s Sunday lunch.  The 1552 Prayer Book had sacrilegiously provided that ‘if any of the bread or wine remain [whether consecrated or unconsecrated], the curate [the vicar] shall have it to his own use’.  (See Moore’s Introduction to English Canon Law, ed T Briden, 4th ed 2013, p.93).  But the 1662 rubric still provides no authority for reservation.

The 1662 Prayer Book provides a special service for ‘Communion of the Sick’, but this clearly requires the priest to consecrate the bread and wine ‘[at] a convenient place in the sick man’s house’, and to receive the Sacrament himself.  It does not authorise him to bring pre-consecrated bread and wine.

In 1899 the 2 Archbishops jointly opined that reservation was unlawful, even for sick Communion.  The combination of

(1) Article 28

(2) the Prayer Book’s requirement of immediate consumption and

(3) lack of any evidence that reservation was practised after the Reformation

all pointed to this conclusion.

The Revised Prayer Book of 1927 proposed that, ‘to secure that any sick person in his last hour may not lack the benefit of the … Sacrament, … the priest, if the Bishop shall so permit, may … reserve so much of the consecrated bread and wine as is needed for the purpose’.  The 1927 rubrics were careful to make clear that the Sacrament ‘shall be reserved only for the Communion of the Sick … and … for no other purpose whatever’, i.e not for adoration.

A supporter of the Revised Prayer Book made the reasonable point that ‘at the present time the whole [Communion] service has to be read [to the sick person] and that the priest has to communicate himself.  No one can think it right that a priest should be forced to communicate 30 or 40 times a week’ (House of Commons Official Record, volume 218, column 1222).

However, Parliament was unmoved by the difficulty and rejected the Revised Book.  Protestant prejudice against reservation was apparently a major cause of this.

For their part, the ecclesiastical courts held that a tabernacle (a receptacle in which the Sacrament is reserved) was forbidden by the famous Ornaments Rubric.  In St. Mary, Tyne Dock (1954) Probate 369, the Chancellor correctly held that ‘If [a tabernacle] is not [authorised by the Ornaments Rubric] then the bishop’s sanction cannot save it, for the consent of the bishop cannot render an illegal church ornament legal’ (p.371).

In Lapford Church (1954) Probate 416, the Chancellor suggested that the Ornaments Rubric could be circumnavigated by reserving the Sacrament in an aumbry (a receptacle discreetly cut into the church wall, less showy than a tabernacle, and less suggestive of adoration).  He explained that ‘for a long time now, an aumbry has been treated as not constituting an ornament at all, but as part of the furnishings of the church’, and therefore permissible.

The Lapford case actually concerned the introduction of a tabernacle, not an aumbry, so the Chancellor refused a faculty.  However, the Court of the Arches granted the faculty on appeal, confidently asserting that its ratio decidendi was ‘common sense’: (1955) Probate 205, at p.214.  The Court accepted that ‘All the deviations and additions contained in the [Revised Prayer] Book remained, strictly speaking, illegal’ (p.213), but also observed, no doubt correctly, that ‘the [1662] law as it stood was evidently too rigid … the power of enforcing compliance with the law rested with the bishops’ (p.213-14).

So, if the bishops declined to enforce the law on their clergy on account of its rigidity, and indeed positively approved unlawful practices, then this was nothing to do with the ecclesiastical courts.  On the contrary

‘The duty of a diocesan chancellor … is ancillary.  He is not responsible for reservation: but if he finds that reservation is in fact practised with the sanction of the bishop … it is his duty to see that the provision [illegally] made for keeping the consecrated bread and wine is both safe and seemly’ (p.214).

On this view, the protection of the illegally reserved Sacrament is more important than adhering to the law.  Casuistry rather than common sense.

The modern canon regulating sick Communion, canon B37(2), is ambiguous.  It provides that, if a sick or housebound person ‘is desirous of receiving the most comfortable Sacrament … the priest … shall … visit him, and … reverently minister the same’.  This wording, of course, allows scope for holding an entire Communion Service where the sick person is, or administering pre-consecrated bread and wine.

The 1662 regime of public worship was finally brought to an end by the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974.  The Ornaments Rubric and the rubric requiring immediate consumption ceased to have the force of law.  Meanwhile reservation has ceased to be controversial, and now seems to be practised universally.  It is impossible to imagine Parliament objecting to it today.  And with the 1662 regime gone, the General Synod can legislate by canon, which does not require Parliamentary approval.

Yet reservation is still unregulated by ecclesiastical law.  No Measure or canon provides for it.  It remains a matter for the discretion of the ecclesiastical courts and bishops on a case by case basis.

There are a number of possible explanations for this.  Perhaps there is concern that any legislative recognition of reservation would contradict the Church’s doctrine, or appear to do so.  The practice should therefore be managed on an informal, unwritten basis (like remarriage after divorce).

There may be a mistaken belief that the Ornaments Rubric still is part of the law, notwithstanding the Worship and Doctrine Measure.  In St Thomas, Pennywell (1995) Family 30, Chancellor Bursell seemed to labour under this misapprehension.  He granted a faculty for a ‘Sacrament house’, not on the basis that the Ornaments Rubric was no longer law, but on the basis that the law no longer interpreted the Rubric with its previous rigour.  (This case is discussed in ‘Liturgy and the Faculty Jurisdiction’, filed below, under category ‘Liturgy and the Law’).

Or maybe the Church is simply content leave the practice of reservation to the ecclesiastical courts.  Certainly this does not seem to have caused any significant practical difficulty since 1974.  However, it is arguable that care and custody of ‘the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing’ demand formal legal recognition and regulation.

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In Persona Christi: Eucharistic Sacrifices

The author of this blog recently attended, for the first time, a service of Mass in the Extraordinary Form, also known as the Tridentine Mass or the Mass of Ages – i.e the traditional Latin Mass.  It was organised by the Latin Mass Society, with the permission of the genial local priest.  ‘Come along out of nostalgia!’, he winkingly encouraged his parishioners when announcing the event.  Almost none did.  There were only about six in the congregation.  The parish priest himself gave the Mass a miss.

As an aesthetic experience, the Mass was disappointing.  It was quickly over.  The sublime Latin of the Roman Canon was inaudible, as the celebrant dropped his voice to a near-whisper, ‘the blessed mutter of the Mass’.  It was only possible to follow the action by the elevation of the Host and the Chalice and the ringing of the bell.

And yet, from the 6th century (or even earlier) until as recently as the 1960s, this was the Mass of the Latin Church.  Untold millions of Catholics down the centuries knew no other.  Compared to it, the new Mass, which was only introduced in 1970, is a mere blink of the eye.  It inspired the Elizabethan martyrs of England and Wales to suffer hideous torture and death (and their fellow countrymen to inflict this on them).

Today the Eucharist is generally regarded as an ecumenical success story.  The Church of England has always agreed with the Catholic Church that the Eucharist is a sacrament ‘ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel’ (Article 25), by means of which ‘the Body and Blood of Christ … are verily and indeed taken and received by the faithful’ (Catechism).  The Holy See acknowledged that, of all ecumenical issues, ‘it is in respect of Eucharistic doctrine that the [Anglican-Roman Catholic] Commission were able to achieve the most notable progress towards a consensus’ (Response to Final Report, 1991).

The principal ecumenical difficulty concerns the Eucharist as sacrifice rather than sacrament.  English ecclesiastical law at first seemed to reject any belief in a Eucharistic sacrifice.  Article 31 holds that ‘the sacrifices of Masses … were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits’.  All mediaeval references to the priest as sacrificer were removed from the reformed ordination rite.  (This was one reason why Anglican orders were held invalid by Pope Leo XIII in Apostolicae Curae (1896).)

Liturgical practices that suggested sacrifice were also suppressed.  Altars were replaced by ‘convenient and decent tables’ (canon 82 of 1603) placed in the chancel or in the centre of the church.  The east end, where Mass was formerly celebrated, was used to display the Ten Commandments instead.  Unleavened bread was replaced by ‘bread such as is usual to be eaten’.  And, of course, the Eucharist was celebrated in English, not Latin.

The case of Faulkner v Litchfield and Stearn(1845) 163 English Reports 1007 may be the first legally reported ritual case.  The Court of the Arches refused a faculty for a stone altar, described as a ‘table’, on the grounds that it was not a communion table within the meaning of the Prayer Book rubric and the 1603 canon.  In later cases the Privy Council held that Eucharistic vestments, unleavened bread and the eastward position were all unlawful (Hebbert v Purchas(1871) Law Reports 3 Privy Council 605), as were candles on the communion table ‘when [they] were not wanted for the purpose of giving light’ (Martin v Mackonochie (1868) Law Reports 2 Privy Council 365).  The Court of the Arches also held in Mackonochie that the elevation of paten and chalice was unlawful ((1868) 2 Admiralty and Ecclesiastical 116).

However, the Book of Common Prayer retained one phrase from the Latin Mass which describes the Eucharist as a ‘sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving’.  Citing this rather slender authority, the Bishop of Chichester, Eric Kemp, held in St Stephen’s Walbrook (1987) 2 All England Reports 578 that ‘a doctrine of the Eurcharistic sacrifice which is not that of a repetition of the sacrifice of Calvary can lawfully be held in the Church of England …’ (p.583).

The old regime of public worship was finally abolished by the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974.  Liturgical practices that were formerly unlawful are now permitted, and many have indeed become almost universal.  Canon F2 of the revised canons continues to refer to the ‘holy table’ rather than the ‘altar’, but allows that a communion table may be made of stone, and hence indistinguishable from an altar.  In St Stephen’s Walbrook, the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved permitted the introduction of a stone altar by Henry Moore.  Bishop Kemp, who was one of the judges, held that ‘an altar falls within the wide bounds of what can reasonably be called a holy table’ (p.581)

Just as the Church of England began to rediscover the Eucharistic sacrifice, so the Catholic Church seemed to move towards the Anglican conception of the Eucharist as a communal celebration, a sacrament of unity and charity rather than a sacrifice.  The new Mass is almost always celebrated in the vernacular, it provides for active participation by the laity and it disdains the eastward position.  In this country, at least, High Mass now usually begins and ends with the singing of rousing Protestant hymns.

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed 1998) noted that the Anglican-Roman Catholic ‘Agreed Statement’ on the Eucharist in 1971 (just after the introduction of the new Mass) ‘relegat[ed] the term transubstantiation to a footnote’.  Canon law also softened the emphasis on sacrifice.  A commentator relates that the original Code of Canon Law 1917 treated the sacrifice and the sacrament of the Eucharist in separate chapters.  The modern Code, promulgated in 1983, presents a more ‘integral’ treatment of the Eucharistic action (The Code of Canon Law. A Text and Commentary eds Coriden, Green and Heintschel 1985, Paulist Press, New York, p.643).  The author of this blog recalls a bright young Anglican theologian asserting, in 1985 or 1986, that the Catholic Church no longer believed in transubstantiation.

However, the 1983 Code is clear that ‘the Eucharistic Sacrifice [is] the memorial of the death and Resurrection of the Lord, in which the Sacrifice of the Cross is for ever perpetuated’ (canon 897).  The Code also provides explicitly that the priest (described as sacerdos in the definitive Latin text), acting in persona Christi, ‘bring[s] into being (conficere valet) the Sacrament of the Eucharist’ (900).

These provisions explain the Catholic Eucharistic Sacrifice.  As Bishop Kemp recognised in the Walbrook case, the Catholic sacrifice is not a repetition of Christ’s sacrifice (as the reformers may have erroneously concluded).  On the contrary, the sacrifice offered by the priest is one and the same as the sacrifice of Christ.  Hence the priest is acting, as the canon says, in persona Christi.

Today the structure and ceremonial of the Eucharist qua sacrament may be almost identical in the Catholic and Anglican Churches.  However, the Eucharistic sacrifices offered by the two Churches remain radically different.

Article 31 is entitled ‘the one oblation of Christ finished upon the Cross’. It asserts that ‘The offering of Christ once made, is that perfect redemption, propitiation and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world … and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone’. Hence its rejection of ‘the sacrifices of Masses’.  The Prayer Book liturgy follows Article 31 by asserting Christ’s ‘one oblation of himself once offered … a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice’.

Therefore, while the Catholic sacrifice is one and indivisible,  the Anglican Eucharist is concerned with 2 separate sacrifices:

(1) the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ offered in Palestine 2000 years ago and

(2) the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving offered by the Church in response to Christ’s sacrifice.

Modern Anglican liturgies may perhaps move (1) and (2) closer together than they are in the Prayer Book, but the distinction between them never disappears.

There is a metaphysical link or bridge between (1) and (2).  This enables those who receive the bread and wine in (2) thereby to receive the Body and Blood of Christ given in (1).  However, this is subject to the recipient’s piety of disposition.  Article 28 affirms that ‘The Body of Christ is given, taken and eaten … only after an heavenly and spiritual manner.  And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten … is faith’.  Article 29 makes clear that ‘The wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press [the bread and wine] with their teeth … yet in nowise are they partakers of Christ’.

On this doctrine, the priest cannot act in persona Christi, because Christ’s sacrifice is once for all, finished.  Christ is the only true sacerdos.  So far from acting in persona Christi, the priest acts in persona ecclesiae.  He, or she, offers the Church’s sacrifice to Christ, but not vice versa.

The Anglican Eucharist, freed at last from all the restrictions imposed by the Privy Council, is often richly clothed in elaborate and colourful ritual that was originally inspired by the Catholic Eucharistic sacrifice.  This may serve to obscure the difference between the two.  The folksy informality of some modern Catholic worship may have the same effect, of course.  But the effect is superficial, not a truly ecumenical convergence.

Even though it was reduced to a footnote, the discussion of transubstantiation in the 1971 Agreed Statement is helpful: ‘The term [transubstantiation] should be seen as affirming the fact of Christ’s presence and of the mysterious and radical change which takes place … not … as explaining how the change takes place’.

The doctrine of transubstantiation is often associated with St. Thomas Aquinas and with mediaeval scholastic philosophy.  However, Aquinas and his colleagues were merely offering a rational explanation, or model, of how bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.  They were not defining any religious belief.  As this footnote makes clear, the Catholic Church believes, and has always believed, that transubstantiation does occur, but it does not require acceptance of the Thomist explanation (or any other explanation) of how it occurs.

Exclusion from Holy Communion

The only remnant of ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the laity to survive the reforms of the 19th century is the power to exclude, or ‘repel’, a person from holy communion.

This power is now regulated by Canon B16, which provides that

‘if a minister be persuaded that anyone of his cure who presents himself to be a partaker of the Holy Communion ought not to be admitted thereunto by reason of malicious and open contention with his neighbours, or other grave and open sin without repentance, he shall give an account of the same to the bishop … and therein obey his order and direction …’.

Canon B16 makes clear that the bishop alone may order that a person be excluded from the Sacrament.  The minister’s function is merely to inform the bishop and obey him.

It is true that Canon B16 confers an emergency power on the minister ‘in case of grave and immediate scandal to the congregation’.  However, in these (rather unlikely) circumstances, the minister is required to report all to the bishop ‘within 7 days after at the furthest and therein obey his order and direction’.

Natural justice must be observed.  Before making any order the bishop must ‘afford to [the sinner] an opportunity for interview’, to hear his side of the story.  If the bishop orders exclusion from the Sacrament the sinner must first be advised of this by the minister and warned ‘that in any wise he presume not to come to the Lord’s Table’.

Canon B16 does not oblige the bishop to order exclusion, now matter how grave the sin.  The bishop may confine himself to exhorting or rebuking the sinner.  The wording of Canon B16 also suggests that any order excluding a person from the Sacrament must be confined to one church, or at most the area of one benefice.  It starts by saying that ‘If a minister be persuaded that anyone of his cure etc’.  A person excluded from the Sacrament within that cure may still be admitted to it elsewhere.

The grounds on which a person may be excluded from the Sacrament were examined by Sir Lewis Dibdin, Dean of the Arches, in Banister v Thompson (1908) Probate 362. 

This case was decided before Canon B16 was promulged.  The power to exclude was then conferred by the rubric of the Book of Common Prayer, which had the statutory authority of the Act of Uniformity 1662, and by the canons of 1603.

The rubric was differently worded from Canon B16.  It provided that if any would-be communicant was ‘an open and notorious evil liver, so that the congregation by him is offended … the Curate having knowledge thereof shall warn him and advertise him … not to presume to come to the Lord’s Table until he have openly … repented’.  It did not expressly require the minister to refer the matter to the bishop.

Mr Banister was a parishioner of Canon Thompson.  He was a widower.  He married his deceased wife’s sister in Canada, because such a marriage was illegal in England.  Shortly afterwards, English law was changed to permit such marriages and retrospectively to legalise those already contracted.

This did not impress Canon Thompson, who refused to admit Mr Banister and his new wife to holy communion. Mr Banister complained to the ecclesiastical court.  Canon Thompson’s defence was that he had a lawful cause of refusal, because Mr Banister’s marriage conflicted with the Church’s teaching on marriage.

The case did indeed expose a tension between the Church’s teaching and the secular law.  Canon Thompson was correct that marriage with a deceased wife’s sister is contrary to the Church’s teaching.  The secular law acknowledged this by permitting a clergyman to refuse to solemnise such a marriage, and by making clear that it would not protect a clergyman who married his own deceased wife’s sister from ecclesiastical discipline.

The Court of the Arches admitted the difficulty: ‘the recent Act seems to recognise a distinction between the civil and ecclesiastical aspects of marriage, and to alter the law as to the one without purporting to affect the law as to the other … This … creates some difficulty for those who are concerned with its administration’ (p.700).

Nevertheless the Court rejected Mr Thompson’s defence.  It ruled that a priest has no inherent, ex officio power to exclude sinners from holy communion ‘in the absence of a judicial sentence of excommunication’ (p.383).  Canon B16 now makes this clear.

The priest’s function is limited to exhortation.  He ‘has authority to reprove, rebuke, exhort … He is to rebuke sin and to give warning of … ‘unworthy receiving’ of holy communion’ (p.387). 

The normal rule is therefore that ‘the responsibility of separating a man from communion is thus left … to the voluntary action of the man himself, whose conscience is to be informed … by the exhortations of the clergy’ (p.383).

However, the Court acknowledged that there was a power in the Church to refuse the Sacrament to an ‘open and notorious evil liver’.  It specified the conditions on which this power might be exercised:

(1) ‘By an evil liver is intended a person whose course of life, as distinguished from some particular action, is seen to conflict with the moral code of Christendom’ (p.385).  This suggests that one sin alone, however grave, does not warrant exclusion.  An objectionable course of conduct or lifestyle is required.

(2) ‘Open and notorious’ means ‘that the facts … of the evil living are so conspicuous and well known as to be indubitable’ (p.386).  Mere suspicion is not enough.  The wrongdoing must either be admitted by the sinner or be proved by incontrovertible evidence.

(3) ‘The evil living … must cause offence to the public conscience’ (p.387).  The sinful conduct must be offensive to the sinner’s fellow communicants.  Exclusion from holy communion will therefore be heavily influenced by cultural value judgement.  The same sin may justify exclusion in one parish, if it shocks the congregation there, but not in a neighbouring parish, if the congregation is not shocked.

The purpose of exclusion is the public order of the Church, not the reformation of the sinner: ‘the clergyman in repelling any one is not … exercising godly discipline on the person repelled, but he is acting as a public officer for the protection of the whole community’ (p.385). 

Applying this law to the facts of Canon Thompson’s case, the Court held that it was ‘impossible to say that [Mr and Mrs Banister], lawfully married … can … be so described [as evil livers] merely because they are living together as man and wife’ (p.390).

It might have added that Canon Thompson had not, apparently, produced any evidence that Mr Banister’s marriage had caused offence to the local congregation, as required by condition (3).

The Court of the Arches’ decision was supported by the secular courts in the subsequent Dibdin litigation, which is discussed elsewhere.  The case also clearly influenced the drafting of Canon B16.

However, Canon B16 does not have statutory authority.  Following the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974, the rubric of the Book of Common Prayer no longer has statutory authority either.  This raises the question whether the Church’s right to repel from holy communion has survived.

Mr Banister founded his right to receive holy communion on an ancient statute, the Sacrament Act 1547.  This Act provides that the minister ‘shall not without lawful cause deny the [Sacrament] to any person that would devoutly and humbly desire it’.

However, the reference in the 1547 Act to a ‘lawful cause’ of refusal clearly implies that persons may lawfully be denied the Sacrament.  There is overwhelming historical evidence that the Church has, from the earliest times, claimed and exercised the right exclude grave sinners from holy communion.  The Church courts continued to excommunicate offenders, with the support of the secular courts, until the 19th century.  Article 33 also affirms the Church’s right.

Refusal of the Sacrament was briefly discussed in Blunt v Park Lane Hotel (1942) 2 All England Reports 187.  A litigant in an action for slander sought unsuccessfully to avoid embarrassing questions about her sex life by pleading privilege against self-incrimination. 

Lord Goddard (then Lord Justice Goddard) acknowledged that a known adulteress might be liable to be repelled from holy communion, but held that this did not constitute a criminal penalty, and so could not attract the privilege.

The Sacrament Act provides that persons must ‘devoutly and humbly’ desire the Sacrament to qualify for admission.  This suggests that a priest is within his rights to refuse the Sacrament to someone who is drunk or disorderly (a fairly common occurrence at Christmas midnight masses) without first requiring the bishop’s decision.

Swine Flu and the Sacrament Act 1547

Section 8 of this ancient statute (1 Edw 6, c.1, therefore the very first Act of Parliament passed during the reign of King Edward VI) provides that holy communion shall ‘be hereafter delivered and ministered unto the people … under both the kinds … of bread and wine, except necessity otherwise require’.  The word ‘necessity’ is rendered ‘necessitie’ in the original spelling.

This reference to ‘necessitie’ was suggested as the legal justification for refusing to administer the wine during a ‘swine flu’ pandemic in 2009.  However, it is argued that this is a superficial and flawed interpretation of the 1547 Act.

It is true that the ‘necessitie’ provision remains in force, but it is questionable whether it applies to any form of service now in use.  The first Book of Common Prayer (‘BCP’) was authorised by the Act of Uniformity 1548 (2 & 3 Edw 6, c.1).  The 1547 Act was, of course, enacted the previous year or so.  It could not therefore apply to the BCP, which was not then in use.  It could only apply to the mediaeval liturgies (Sarum, York, Bangor etc).  However, these mediaeval liturgies were all abolished by the 1548 Act.  Thus the ‘necessitie’ provision was not repealed, but it could have no application after 1548, since the liturgies to which it applied were no longer in use.

The 1547 and the 1548 Acts were both repealed under the Catholic Queen Mary I.  The 1547 Act, including s.8, was then revived under Elizabeth I, by the Act of Supremacy 1558 (1 Eliz 1, c.1, the first Elizabethan Act of Parliament).  The BCP was then amended and authorised by the later Act of Uniformity 1558 (1 Eliz 1, c.2, the second Elizabethan Act of Parliament).

Thus the chronology repeated itself.  When revived, the 1547 Act applied to the liturgy favoured by Queen Mary, which was then in use.  That liturgy was abolished by the Elizabethan Act of Uniformity and replaced by the amended BCP, so the ‘necessitie’ provision could, again, have no further application.

It is also unlikely that the ‘necessitie’ provision was intended to apply to a public health scare.  It probably referred only to cases of material want, that is, where there was no wine to be had, or not enough wine for all communicants, or where the communicant was in danger of death and there was no time to obtain wine.

Canon 71 of 1603 provides that no clergyman should officiate in a private house ‘except it be in times of necessity, when any being … so impotent as he cannot go to the Church, or very dangerously sick’.  Canon 71 was, of course, written more than half a century after the 1547 Act.  Also, the ‘necessity’ to which it refers is that of administering holy communion outside the church building.  It does not equate necessity with public health.

People in the 16th and 17th centuries were far more familiar with deadly infections and pandemics than we are, and the BCP rubrics refer to ‘the Plague, Sweat, or such other like contagious times of sickness or disease’.  It is therefore significant that the rubrics make no provision of refusing the wine on such occasions.  Nor did the abortive revised Prayer Book in the 1920s, even though this was compiled just after the influenza pandemic that followed the first world war (and apparently killed more people).

Even if the ‘necessitie’ provision does apply to the BCP and authorised modern liturgies and to public health scares, it certainly does not empower Archbishops and bishops to order communion under one kind only.  S.8 is addressed directly to all the clergy as ministers of the sacrament, not to bishops or Church courts.  If there is a necessity justifying refusal of the communion cup, this is for the officiating clergyman to decide.

Moreover, as a matter of law, necessity is a defence, not a basis of authority.  It is a shield, not a sword.  The courts may accept necessity as a defence to an otherwise illegal act.  However, it cannot order the commission of an illegal act on ground of necessity.  Thus the Church authorities cannot order a clergyman to refuse to administer the wine.  They can, at most, accept the clergyman’s defence of necessity if a disciplinary complaint is made against him. 

It is argued that a clergyman could not rely on the 1547 Act as a defence.  The relevant, post-1548 law is contained in Article 30, and in the regime of public worship established by the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974.  Article 30 provides that ‘both the parts of the Lord’s sacrament, by Christ’s ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike’.  This wording suggests that communion under both kinds is a matter of divine law, not merely of liturgical discipline, in which case no human authority may dispense from it.  All authorised forms of service are clear that communion should be administered under both kinds.

Canon B5(1) permits individual clergy to ‘make and use variations which are not of substantial importance’ in forms of service, but refusal of the communion cup cannot be considered unimportant, in light of Article 30.  Nor does canon B5 empower bishops to order their clergy to make variations in services.  The wording of canon B5 is clear that minor variations are at the ‘discretion’ of the individual clergyman.

Refusal to administer the wine at holy communion, and any direction by bishops to their clergy not to administer the wine, therefore amounts to misconduct under s.8 of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003.  Refusal is both a failure to do an act required by ecclesiastical law and neglect of the performance of the duties of office, since administration of the communion cup is a duty of office.  Any purported direction by the bishops to withhold the communion cup is also misconduct, being an act in contravention of ecclesiastical law.

The concern for public health may be understandable.  However, it cannot override the clergy’s duty to administer, and the communicant’s right to receive, communion under both the kinds.  Nor should the 1547 Act be used as a ‘figleaf’ to cover an arbitrary, illegal suspension of this fundamental duty and right.  If the communion cup is really a threat to public health, the proper course is to amend the law.

The Canons of 1603: Holy communion

The 1603 canons generally encourage the reception of holy communion. The faithful should receive the sacrament ‘oftentimes’ (canon 13). They are bound to receive it ‘at least thrice in a year’ (canon 21). Clergy should remind them of this duty (canon 23). Moreover, the incumbent of a benefice should not delegate all the responsibility to his curate, but should administer communion at least twice a year (canon 56). Members of the universities and cathedral foundations should receive at least four times a year (canons 23 and 24) or even weekly (BCP rubric of 1558).

The wording of the canons suggests that the evil they were intended to cure was popular neglect of communion, rather than excessive enthusiasm for it. It was noted that ‘many … do not receive that sacrament [even] once in a year’ (canon 22), let alone the required three occasions. The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) prescribes an exhortation for use by a priest whose parishioners are ‘negligent to come to the holy communion’. Those who neglected to receive communion at Easter were subject to ecclesiastical discipline (canon 112).

The canons follow the 39 Articles. The Articles deprecate as superstitious and unscriptural the adoration of the consecrated bread, but urge its consumption (cf. Articles 25 and 28).

Catholics refused to receive communion in the Church of England: ‘being popishly given … they come to the church, yet do refuse to receive the communion’ (canon 114). Strict protestants were also reluctant to receive it. Protestantism tended to emphasise word over sacrament. There was a reluctance to receive holy communion from non-preaching ‘dumb dog’ clergy (canon 57). (People may have thought that, if a clergyman was incapable of administering the word of God by preaching, he must also be incapable of administering the sacrament effectively.)

The device of occasional conformity, whereby dissenters received holy communion annually in order to comply with their legal obligations but otherwise practised their religion separately, may already have begun (cf canon 27). Thus catholics were prepared to hear the word of the Church of England, but refused its sacrament. With protestant dissenters it was the other way around.

The canons encourage the reception of holy communion, but only in the context of a strict discipline. ‘Notorious offenders’ were excluded, pending their repentance and reconciliation (canon 26). Communicants were required to kneel, a controversial practice in the Reformation era (canon 27). The link between word and sacrament was insisted on, hence communion was denied ‘to any that refuse to be present at Public Prayers according to the Orders of the Church of England’ (canon 27), a reference to dissent and occasional conformity.

There was a strong emphasis on holy communion as a collective, corporate act.  Communicants were expected to receive the sacrament in their parish church, and nowhere else. ‘Strangers’ were not to be admitted, but ‘[sent] home to their own parish churches and ministers there to receive the Communion with the rest of their own neighbours’ (canon 28). The sacrament was not to be administered in any private house ‘except it be in times of necessity’, that is, where a communicant was gravely ill (canon 71). The occupants of grand houses with their own private chapels were still expected to receive holy communion in the parish church at least once a year.

The general rule of communion in the communicant’s own parish church was reinforced by the rule that the priest should not administer communion alone, only in the company of lay communicants (BCP rubric). Private masses were not allowed. Again, the canons follow the 39 Articles, which insist that communion should be administered to priest and people alike (Article 30) and that word and sacrament should be administered in ‘a tongue … understanded of the people’ (Article 24).

If there was a rule of mediaeval canon law limiting reception of holy communion to once a day, it did not survive the Reformation. There would have been scant opportunity for receiving the sacrament more than once a day in the post-Reformation era. The monasteries had been dissolved, private masses forbidden and the sacrament was generally allowed only in the parish church.

The homilies are commended for their ‘godly and wholesome doctrine … to be read in Churches by the ministers’ (Article 35). Thus even if one of the homilies contained a ‘rule’ limiting the number of times for receiving holy communion, this would be a mere exhortation, without any binding effect.