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The Bishop’s Limit?


In the last few weeks, I’ve been pastorally alongside people who have been shocked and distressed by some Anglican clergy throwing out consecrated wine. As am I. In catholic understanding, this is sacrilege.

Some clergy who do this turn it into a joke. Others say their bishop gave them permission. I’ve also had people attack me that this is a gnat-swallowing concern of mine, and that I’m the sort of pharisaical obsessor that Jesus came to save us from…

It is worth thinking through the second and third points.

The Bishop Let Me Do It

What are the limits to the Bishop’s authority?

Using this particular example to start us thinking, the formulary (Church’s binding agreement) says:

Any remaining consecrated bread and wine, unless required for the communion of persons not present, is consumed at the end of the distribution, or immediately after The Dismissal of the Community.

A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa page 516

I am convinced that it is not within the bishop’s authority to override such a clear teaching of our Church.

This brings me to a wider issue in our Church. It is unclear what the bishop can authorise.

In 2016, we changed our Constitution [Part G2] so that services can be “authorised” by a bishop if such a service is not contrary to our Formularies. I was against the alteration to our Constitution. I think our Anglican Church of Or has more-than-sufficient flexibility, and no one has yet been able to suggest a specific example of a service that is not allowed by our various Forms but would be allowed by this newly created episcopal authorisation.

All the change to our Constitution has done is generate even more confusion in our Anglican Church of Or. Including amongst the bishops themselves. Can a bishop, for example, authorise a new baptismal rite? Some say they cannot authorise a service for which a Formulary already exists? Others say they can. What about the Ordination rite? That’s just two examples.

Once again, I repeat what I have often said: our Church seriously needs a comprehensive review leading to clarification of what is required, what is allowed, and what is forbidden. And that includes clarifying what the authority of a bishop includes and what it does not.

Gnats and Camels

My focus, in this post, is on the limits of the bishop’s authority. But I think the accusation of liturgical pharisaism is worth at least acknowledgement – if only because some will be thinking this…

The rubrics (instructions) in our Prayer Book are intentionally sparse in the extreme. The rubrics are deliberate in the choice of weight of the verb used: “shall”, “should”, “is”, “does”. These give some idea of the relative imperativeness of the instruction. When the rubric has, “The presiding priest at the Eucharist should wear a cassock and surplice with stole or scarf, or an alb with the customary vestments,” (page 515), the “should” indicates that not doing so is not sacrilege. At an informal house communion, I would wear a stole if presiding.

When we come to baptism, for example, the rubrics are not that the one baptising “should” use water; the instructions to use water are in the simple present tense: “The bishop or priest baptises each candidate for baptism, either by immersion in the water, or by pouring water on the candidate” (page 386).

Similarly, “Any remaining consecrated bread and wine …IS consumed” is in quite a different category to “It is appropriate…” and other levels of instruction.

I have, for many years now, written and spoken about a “liturgical grammar”. In ordinary linguistic grammar, arguing about whether to include a comma is one thing; omitting subject and verb, so that there is no coherent understanding conveyed, is quite another.

Anglicanism is a hybrid tradition, and for people with different acceptable positions to experience inclusion we have agreements that mean, for example, that those who think nothing really happens to the bread and wine in our sacramental actions and those who do believe that God effects real change can remain together and worship together.

What to do with remaining Consecrated Elements

As with my previous section adding to the primary point of the bishop’s limits, we need a postscript for those thinking: but what do we do with the remaining consecrated elements? If you are not reserving, you presumably consecrated more than was consumed because of a very large gathering of people. People grow in experience in judging numbers, communicants, and concomitant amounts to consecrate. If that experience isn’t there yet, some of the large number of people present can be asked to help consume “immediately after The Dismissal of the Community.” To this suggestion, I have received the response that people are driving – and certainly I am absolutely against driving under the influence of alcohol. But it is beyond my belief that, in such a large congregation, everyone has arrived driving themselves as the sole occupant of a vehicle!

image source: MichaelMaggs

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11 thoughts on “The Bishop’s Limit?”

  1. I am not, on a blog, going to give an episcopal view on episcopal variations to rules and rubrics; and I am not going to offer any variation myself in writing.
    But I would like to observe, relevant to your post, the following:
    – guidance (e.g. from a vicar to a curate) to reverently dispose of surplus wine “under a rose bush” rather than “down the sink” has been around for quite a while;
    – I personally, from the days of my curacy, have lacked fortitude to drink surplus wine when (so to speak) suplus material has been added to the wine (e.g. saliva, snot);
    – while generally your advice about seeking congregational assistance with consumption of surplus is good, that, in my experience, is not always possible, notably after a service in a rest home;
    – we are much, much more sensitive to drink driving, to spread of disease via common cup than we were in 1989 when the rubrics you cite were agreed to;
    – it is something of a mystery why (given that GS has changed a few things in NZPB over the years) that particular rubric is not more conformed to what appears to be widespread practice in the church.

    1. Thanks, Peter. Yes, that rubric is a particular tree that I chose to help clarify which forest we are in. I appreciate a discussion of the tree; but I also don’t want to lose sight of the forest: what are the limits of the bishop’s authority? The other examples I brought up are other trees that could equally be chosen to help clarify which forest we are in: bishops creating their own ordinal, as just another example of such a tree. This discussion, you will appreciate, is part of my bigger concern. To me the real mystery is why General Synod has by now not produced a clearer document indicating what is required, what is allowed, and what is forbidden. As time has progressed, rather than improving such clarity, General Synod decisions have tended to increase this lack of clarity incrementally. Blessings.

    2. Your Grace,

      Your second point has now given me pause as to whether I could ever help consume any surplus wine!

      Thanks for that image.

      Aside to Fr B –
      The reason I haven’t visited in such a long while is that I no longer can find an accurate RSS address for my Reader app. Also, now that I’m here, I find this new website incredibly difficult to read or even look at with the stark whiteness and the many small fonts in light colors, such as this light gray font color on an even lighter gray background for the comments! I can’t imagine how the visually impaired would function here! This is very unlike you in the past Bosco.

      1. Thanks, David, in response to your points to me.
        Yes, there have been major online changes by Google and others – a lot of them in response to the terrorist attack so close to where I minister. Feedburner has had major issues; I have only recently established a new feed: http://feeds.feedburner.com/co/rvPG
        Google would have removed my site from searchable ones if I did not do certain updates and make certain changes which required financial outlays and much time. Certainly, the look of the site is not what I would like it to be.
        But with huge increase in workload because of the terrorist attack on top of a significant increase of workload as our church goes up a gear in reconstructing after the destruction of the earthquakes, on top of increased pastoral load because of people affected by both of those, I have not had the considerable time it takes to learn how to improve the look of the site with the new software that is now at least regarded (by Google) as making this a safe site.

  2. I fully support you in your concerns Fr Bosco. ! have ve seen left over bread but in the rubbish bin. Hosts put down the waste disposal unit Anything seems to go these days in the Anglican Church. Could say more but better not.

  3. Ok – so, the limits of a bishop’s authority:
    – It is a bold and/or brave bishop who ever issues an instruction in writing which is directly against a clear rule or rubric of the church;
    – It appears that clergy (when consulting their bishop for advice) can offer instances of verbal guidance which may or may not be – three chancellors in the room with four liturgists are still in deep discussion – contrary to the clear or is it only ambiguous wording of church law;
    – Three clergy in the room with four churchwardens could likely come up with instances when they didn’t know whether the bishop had authority to declare X or initiate Y, but everyone went along with it, so it seems like the limit of authority is “what people offer no resistance to”!!

    Speaking for myself, after nearly one year in the role, I have great clarity that there is very little authority to spend money unless a committee or Board, as mandated by canon or statute, so resolves.

    Should liturgical variations (on matters such as surplus bread and wine, when consumption is difficult or impossible) which a bishop wishes to promote be subject to (say) the decision of Standing Committee (of Diocese, of Tikanga, of ACANZP)?

    Without getting into whether or not there is even room for variation, if in a diocese this one disposes in a rubbish tin and that one feeds the sparrows whom God numbers, might there be room for some common approach as determined by appropriate collective authority?

    1. Thanks, Peter.

      I do not think we can get to agreement on all this 🙂 The agreements we currently have are our formularies. If our formularies are unclear then it behoves General Synod to do the work required to clarify.

      As is often the case, there is much more discussion around this on the Liturgy facebook page (and elsewhere on social media). Intinction has become part of that discussion.

      The formulary says, “Communion may be received by intinction.” (NZPB p517). A bishop overruled this practice. People left the Church because they thought the bishop overstepped their authority – the topic of this thread. One of those lay persons, who always received by intinction for their own reason, was suddenly refused it by their vicar; they walked out the door never to return. This person had long experience in church governance and understood church agreements as assuring a partnership between lay and ordained, all the way to bishops. In the rationale, repeated to this day (including in the discussions currently) intinction was seen as less healthy than your description of the common cup.

      And another example, modelled on your previous comment, is the widespread use in the church of reciting 1 Cor 11:23-26, instead of a Eucharistic Prayer, to “consecrate” the bread and wine. Is it something of a mystery why (given that GS has changed a few things in NZPB over the years) the particular rubric (to use a Eucharistic Prayer) is not more conformed to what appears to be widespread practice? And, in the line of this thread, can a bishop authorise using 1 Cor 11:23-26 instead of a Eucharistic Prayer, or is that outside of the bishop’s authority?

      I certainly feel for you. Maybe it is best said in the words of the ordination of a bishop:
      “People look to us as bishops to make decisions and to speak with authority, whether or not we can do so,” (NZPB p919)

      Prayers that you and I both “have the same mind as Christ Jesus”.


      1. It is at least possible that those who (say) use 1 Corinthians 11:23-27, do not think that they might be able to start a chain reaction all the way up to twice round GS approval.

        Intriguingly, focusing on that one aspect of your reply, while noting others worthy of comment, there was a time when I myself used such a passage, for a fairly informal eucharist in evenings, in a parish where we were “by the book” for two morning services.

        What did I think I was doing? Offering a reasonable approach consistent to the character of that particular evening service. Did I think of myself as breaking rules? No. But I was in a different period re my own knowledge of what the rules were and whether or not they applied to every service! And when I mentioned it to a learned bishop, At a national church council, he made useful comments, but didn’t invoke the discipline of the church!

        But also, intriguingly, now ten years in the same diocese as yourself, I have not personally come across an instance of this passage being so used!

        1. Yes, Peter, I’m sure there are (hopefully very rare) occasions when the discipline of the church should (and/or must) be invoked. But I totally agree that the stress be on quality teaching, training, and formation. In that trinity, I would see the rubrics, rules, and formularies [returning to my grammar analogy/paradigm] as having an important teaching role. There is value in something being able to be viewed in different ways – that is part of the treasure of Anglicanism – but it is quite another thing, then, if the intention is to be clear, and the result is not. Blessings.

  4. May I please ask for help? There is no Christmas Day Services in my Rural Areaand I need to attend a home service.

    Advent blessings

    1. Ruth Hendry-Rennie

      Thanks Bosco. A Bishops limit is not to become a dictator. This person gives the vicars the respect and responsibility to made the calls that this person, sees in the community they serve. A vicar told me in tales 10years to find out what your community needs are. The rural cultural experience will frighten any city dwellers
      They run!! The men and women can be pretty rough and ready , but In my experience they have good hearts. Stay a bit longer . Advent Blessings.

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