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Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 3

If you haven’t read them, start here:

Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 1 (3 minutes reading time)
Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 2 (5 minutes reading time)

So far, I’ve been reflecting on churches moving to online mission and ministry, and the different styles churches are using. This post looks at the canonical agreements – do they apply in our digital context? [If you’re not a regular on this site, and have arrived here with a prejudice that liturgy is a pharisaical obsession with rules, and do not read the above two posts preparing for this one – you may very well have that unhelpful, mistaken prejudice reinforced in this post!]

In the next post I’ll kick off some theological reflections – especially the need to discuss the possibility (or not) of remote eucharistic consecration.

Let me stress as I begin this post: I plead that we not, especially at this time, encourage a litigious culture. Liturgy rules, in my mind, are like grammar rules (I have written and spoken about this often). The rules help us to run services well, to have quality services. Liturgy rules are also our agreements; they safeguard where there are power differentials – laity are protected from clericalism; we are reminded that we are episcopally led, and synodically governed.

In this Covid-19 context, canonical debate has mostly been around priests or bishops presiding at the Eucharist with no one else there, and whether or not remote consecration is a canonical option.

NB. I am no canon lawyer.

Roman Catholicism requires that normally the priest or bishop presiding at the Eucharist has at least one other person present: “Except for a just and reasonable cause, a priest is not to celebrate the eucharistic sacrifice without the participation of at least some member of the faithful” (Canon 906).

Anglicanism has similar agreements. The Book of Common Prayer, foundational to Anglicanism, has:

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.

The Order of the Administration of the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion

In The Church of England, on 31 March, the London College of Bishops issued a paper, The Eucharist in a time of Physical Distancing. It is worth reading in full as it expresses well our experiences. However, for the purposes of this post, I wish to highlight that in this document the bishops purport to grant permission for clergy to preside at Holy Communion with no other person present. I say “purport” because it is not at all clear that bishops have such authority.

The Church of England’s official website (thank you to the person who sent me this – you know who you are) also says:

Bishops may wish to give authorisation to those priests who seek it to celebrate services of Holy Communion at which other participants are not physically present. It should be made clear that such authorisation will not extend beyond the period of the current Corona-virus related restrictions.

The Church of England

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps Church of England bishops do have the authority to change teaching and practice in this manner – but if not, great care needs to be taken that clericalism is not increased by bishops usurping power that is not theirs.

Clarity and precision of approach is also sorely needed when we come to discussing remote consecration.

In the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the agreement of the Church is clear:

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 page 517

Again, I have seen people indicate that “my bishop has forbidden me from celebrating Eucharist alone”. According to me, the bishop does not have the power to either forbid or condone such a celebration – this is a synodical decision as binding on the bishop as it is on the rest of the Church. The most a bishop can do is indicate that (what I started with for this post) this bishop would not allow a complaint against a priest to proceed in our current situation (Title D Part C 6.4.1). Such a determination (as the canon indicates) may be appealed.

But wait! There’s more!

This being the Anglican Church of Or, there is a 2016 alteration to our Constitution [Part G2]  (a change I was against) which means that services can be “authorised” by a bishop if such a service is not contrary to our Formularies (synodically agreed teaching and practice). Now, as I have stressed often, it is unclear whether this allows bishops to authorise a service for which there is already a Formulary, or whether they can only authorise a service for which there is no Formulary.

Some would say that bishops cannot, for example, authorise a different Ordination rite as there already is such a Formulary. Others would say a bishop is allowed to by our Constitution.

I have (too) often stressed that the liturgical agreements of the Anglican Church of Or are difficult to find, confused, and confusing. If a bishop can authorise then…

A bishop could possibly authorise the celebration of Eucharist by a priest who is alone (that might need some agile wording to sidestep the Prayer Book page 517 Formulary quoted above). Perhaps of more interest, a bishop could possibly authorise a priest to remotely consecrate (good luck to finding a Formulary that this is clearly against!) Remote consecration will be part of my next blogpost in this series. See you there.

For further reading:
Bishop’s Policy on Eucharist during Lockdown

Similar Posts:

6 thoughts on “Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 3”

  1. These are interesting questions, Bosco. I imagine that Church of England is in some ways unrepresentative of the wider Communion, because liturgically “deviant” clergy can appeal to lots of practices “contra legem” that were historically tolerated by (or immune to interference from) bishops. I don’t know whether this was particularly because “Parson’s Freehold” (which has been progressively disappearing since 2005) rendered bishops largely impotent to discipline the holders of benefices. A century ago, it was very common for Anglo-Catholic parishes to have an 11:00am High Mass at which the presiding priest alone would communicate, despite the presence of numerous eligible communicants!

    E. L. Mascall’s book “Corpus Christi” includes a very interesting essay on “Private Masses”. He argues that a sound Eucharistic theology will recognize that celebration by a priest who is the sole communicant (assisted by a non-communicating server) is, in some circumstances, both legitimate and desirable. But he doesn’t address the question of whether it was already “legal” for a Church of England priest to do so, or whether a Church of England bishop had the authority to declare it to be legal.

    Here in Canada, our agreement is the same as that in “A New Zealand Prayer Book”. Our 1962 BCP (p. 67) says: “There shall be no Celebration of the Lord’s Supper, except there be at least one person present to communicate with the Priest.”

    But the other day, a priest friend opened my eyes to a perplexing ambiguity. The previous Canadian Prayer Book (1918) retained the 1662 rubric that said, “So many as intend to be partakers of the holy Communion shall signify their names to the Curate, at least some time the day before.” Although this rubric was widely ignored, it meant that, in theory at least, the priest could confirm that those who had signified their intent to communicate were indeed present before the liturgy began.

    In our 1962 revision, however, this rubric disappeared. I don’t doubt that the deletion was partly just an acknowledgement that the rubric was a dead letter in practice. But it meant that there was no longer a theoretical guarantee that a sufficient number of communicants would be present. It was entirely possible that the priest might reach the end of the Eucharistic Prayer and receive the sacrament himself (sic: no women till 1976) only to turn round and discover that no one had come to the rail to communicate. And this has actually happened to my friend at a sparsely attended weekday Eucharist. As he put it to me, “Was I supposed to take a poll of the congregation before we started?”

    Therefore, when the rubric currently in force says “except there be at least one person present to communicate with the Priest,” the only thing it can actually mean in practice is “except there be at least one person present who, so far as the priest knows, *could* communicate with the Priest.” So a priest could proceed with the Eucharist with a congregation consisting of just one server, and there would be no obligation (according to our “agreements”) for the priest first to make sure that the server was intending to communicate too. With the right unspoken understanding between priest and server, there would be nothing in the Canadian formularies to forbid “Private Mass” (or what the Roman Catholic Church today calls “Missa cuius unus tantum minister participat,” i.e., Mass with priest and one non-communicating server).

    Is this the procedure that the American military used to call “Don’t ask, don’t tell”?

    1. Thanks, as always, Jesse.
      To help others be “on the same page” as this discussion: the General Instruction of the Roman Missal has, under Chapter IV, The Different Forms of Celebrating Mass, after I) Mass with a congregation, and II) Concelebrated Mass, III) Mass at Which Only One Minister Participates which you refer to in Latin in your comment.
      I have a passion for Charles de Foucauld, a hermit priest in the Sahara, devoted to the Eucharist. For a long time, he could not celebrate Mass because he had no server.
      You may not be surprised, Jesse – I thought of your very point, though I hadn’t connected it with the tradition requiring registration of one’s intention to communicate. Brilliant!
      What of the priest, in good faith presiding at the Eucharist as there was at least one person in the congregation at the start – but that person, for some reason, ended up not receiving communion… Then there’s the practice I’ve seen: those coming into the church building put a wafer to be brought up at the Offertory if they are going to receive…
      Blessings.

  2. Charles de Foucauld is indeed a helpful example to ponder in this respect, and you have inspired me to learn more about his situation!

    I see that he was ordained a priest in 1901 and went to the Algerian Sahara, where he attracted no companions. Canon law at that time forbade a priest to celebrate Mass without a server to say the responses. (If no male were available, for a “just cause” this could be done by a woman, so long as she remained at a distance from the altar.)* Charles was able to celebrate Mass occasionally, when Catholic soldiers were present. But he went very long stretches without being able to celebrate.

    He says in his diary entry for January 1, 1908: “Unite me to all the sacrifices being offered this day. No mass, for I am alone.”

    But at the end of that month, on January 31, he received the dispensation he had long since requested from the Vatican to say Mass without another person present: “Deo Gratias! Deo Gratias! Deo Gratias! My God, how good you are! For tomorrow, I shall be able to celebrate the Mass. Noel! Noel! Thank you, my God!”**

    (I find it interesting that his cry was “Noel!” “Christmas!” A late Christmas present? Or the incarnate Christ now able always to be present in his hermitage?)

    The rule forbidding solitary celebration was later relaxed. Code of Canon Law (1983), canon 906: “A priest may not celebrate the eucharistic Sacrifice without the participation of at least one of the faithful, unless there is a good and reasonable cause for doing so.” (“Nisi iusta et rationabili de causa, sacerdos Sacrificium eucharisticum ne celebret sine participatione alicuius saltem fidelis.”)

    I assume that Charles de Foucauld’s desire to celebrate the Eucharist at his hermitage, without access to a Catholic server or even a laywoman to make the responses, would have counted as a “good and reasonable cause.”

    It might seem perplexing that this relaxation in the law followed after Vatican II’s emphasis on the “active participation” of the faithful in the Eucharist, which was (quite rightly) rediscovered as the work of the whole People of God. But the 1983 Code of Canon Law includes what seems to me its own explanation in canon 904: “Remembering always that in the mystery of the eucharistic sacrifice the work of redemption is exercised continually, priests are to celebrate frequently; indeed, daily celebration is recommended earnestly since, even if the faithful cannot be present, it is the act of Christ and the Church in which priests fulfill their principal function.”

    * Codex iuris canonici (1917), canon 813. The annotated edition by Pietro Gasparri (Rome: Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1918, p. 234) gives references in a footnote to the equivalent laws and rubrics that were in force before 1917: https://archive.org/details/codexiuriscanoni00cath/page/234/mode/2up

    ** Quoted in René Pottier, Charles de Foucauld et Marie de Magdala (Paris: Nouvelles Éditions Latines, 1950), p. 153: “1908. 1er Janvier. — Unissez-moi à tous les sacrivices offerts en ce jour. Pas the de messe car je suis seul.” … “Deo Gratias! Deo Gratias! Deo Gratias! Mon Dieu que vous êtes bon! Demain, je pourrai donc célébrer la messe. Noël! Noël! Merci mon Dieu!”

    1. Thanks, Jesse. I journeyed a lot with Charles de Foucauld when I was in the Sahara (and since) – including going to his tomb and spending time in his various hermitages. Another one who now springs to mind isPierre Teilhard de Chardin. Maybe I will to quote him in a future post. Easter Season blessings.

  3. Belinda Stanley

    I wonder whether, in England, in the Church of England, Canon B 5A might allow (if a form of service had hastily been prepared for subsequent approval by General Synod under Canon B 2 1.b) for the archbishops after discussion with the house of bishops to authorise a form of service for an experimental period?
    (I am not a canon lawyer either – just writing an essay and came across your various blogs)

    1. Nice to e-meet you, Belinda. I hope you pop in regularly now. I would have to spend time with those CofE Canons, so cannot really comment 🙂 I hope your essay goes well. Easter Season Blessings.

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