Single Communion

I received a fascinating question recently: if a lay person is licensed by the bishop to lead communion from the Reserved Sacrament, can they have a service of communion alone, by themselves? I have never thought about this – and I suspect that the question never entered the minds of many who prepared the rites of “extended communion” (nor those who authorised these).

[For first-timers landing here, I am writing within the context of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia].

A couple of rubrics spring immediately to mind:

And there shall be no Celebration of the Lord’s Supper, except there be a convenient number to communicate with the Priest, according to his discretion. And if there be not above twenty persons in the Parish of discretion to receive the Communion: yet there shall be no Communion, except four (or three at the least) communicate with the Priest. (Book of Common Prayer 1662)


In accordance with Anglican tradition there shall be no celebration of the Eucharist unless at least one other person is present to receive communion with the presiding priest. (A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa [ANZPB/HKMA] page 517)

NB 1. in BCP1662, the rubric goes almost Monty-Python-like: a convenient number… above twenty persons … four…three at the least… By the time of the NZ Prayer Book, it has become, “In accordance with Anglican tradition …at least one other person…”!!!

NB 2. In the ranking of strength of rubrics (shall… should… does… may…), both Prayer Books have this at the strongest level of instructions: “shall”.

NB 3. This post is not about those priests (or bishops) who do celebrate the Eucharist alone – some see the desire to celebrate/ importance of celebrating Eucharist daily as trumping that rubric. This post (and this site) is not a liturgical (or otherwise) court!

NB 4. In Roman Catholicism, until relatively recently, being able to celebrate Eucharist alone was impossible or needed Vatican permission. Although celebrating Eucharist alone is still not encouraged, the RC rules have, in this regard, freed somewhat.

NB 5. In the early church, there are records of individuals having the Reserved Sacrament at home, and receiving from that individually.

To return to the rubrics for extended communion, there are two rites in ANZPB/HKMA:

A Service of the Word with Holy Communion
The bishop may authorise a deacon or a lay person to distribute Holy Communion to a congregation from the Sacrament consecrated elsewhere. (ANZPB/HKMA p518)

NB. The rite is intended “to distribute Holy Communion to a congregation”. The second rite for extended communion is

A Service of Holy Communion
For use with individuals or small groups to meet special pastoral needs

It is the joy, right and responsibility of all who have been admitted to the Holy Communion to receive the sacrament regularly.

When members of the Christian community are prevented by frailty or sickness from taking part in the common worship of the Church, they should be able to continue to receive the sacrament.

Under such circumstances, it is the responsibility of the priest either to attend personally, or to ensure that such faithful receive Communion from another duly authorised person.

A Service of Holy Communion makes provision for the above, either by a celebration of the Eucharist in the place where the person or persons are able to be present, or by use of the sacrament which has been consecrated elsewhere. (ANZPBHKMA p729)

The question this throws up is: what if the authorised lay minister is him/herself the one who is “prevented by frailty or sickness from taking part in the common worship of the Church” – can s/he receive alone from the Reserved Sacrament?

If the issue is that the authorised lay minister has “placed the consecrated bread and wine on the holy table” (page 518), and then finds no one turns up, and consuming (especially in the case of the consecrated wine) seems the only reverent way forward, that is relatively easily solved: don’t place the consecrated bread and wine on the holy table until you are sure that there is someone else present to receive communion.

What do you think?

Future posts could explore the reasoning behind having others present with the bishop or priest; reasoning behind celebrating Eucharist alone; changes to the RC rules in this regard;…

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