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Place of the ablutions

09 November 2012

Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or would like to add to the answers below.


Why has it become today the almost universal custom, at the eucharist, to take the ablutions immediately after the communion, instead of after the blessing? This is done even in the Prayer Book service, in spite of the rubrics in both 1662 and 1928, which direct that the sacrament shall remain on the altar till after the blessing. Do other readers agree with me that it is disruptive, keeping the people choir, and organist on edge as to when the service is to continue, and tends to make the priest hurry, even sometimes to the loss of reverence?

In the 1662 rite, the eucharistic action continues after the com­munion of the people, the Prayer of Oblation having originally been part of the Prayer of Consecration; so any ablutions before the blessing would be premature.

TARPing - taking the ablutions in the right place, i.e. immediately after the communion - was encouraged by the Catholic wing of the Church because it has been the Roman Catholic practice since the 16th century, and because it shortened the length of time during which the celebrant kept thumb and forefinger joined for fear of dropping consecrated particles.

It is also convenient if the priest wants to disrobe in the vestry during the last hymn so as to catch people on their way out or hurry to another service in another church.

It has become customary in some churches to leave the ablutions until long after the eucharist has finished (which has ancient precedent, as has the 1662 rubric prescribing the ablutions to be taken after the blessing); but there are churches where wafers are returned to the wafer box, and wine is poured back into the bottle. I would, therefore, much rather that the ablutions are done "in the right place" as a public witness to belief in the Real Presence.

This need not be disruptive if it gives the congregation a time for reflection, or a devotional hymn before the final prayers and blessing.

Derek Jay (Reader)
Clifton, Bristol

It was Anglo-Catholics who reintroduced the medieval and modern Roman practice of taking the ablutions immediately after communion, and this is now general in the Church of England. But there was once a bishop who insisted on taking the ablutions at the end, claiming that having the thanksgiving prayer and the Gloria while the Sacrament was still on the altar was the BCP justification for the service of Benediction.

(The Revd) J. D. Wright
Whitehawk, Brighton

We do not wash up until the whole meal is finished. In the BCP rite, the eucharistic action does not conclude until the Peace and blessing. This is really, however, because this rite has its own rich rationale - often not understood. For example, the Sanctus is followed immediately by the Prayer of Humble Access, following the pattern of Isaiah

The words "Do this" in the consecration prayer are followed immediately by an obeying of that command, the receiving of communion - in the midst, as it were, of the Prayer Book canon.

Any remaining consecrated elements are covered, and only then do we join in the Lord's Prayer and say Amen to one or other of the post-communion prayers, in both of which we offer ourselves to do those good works God has prepared for us to walk in. The Agnus is incorporated in the Gloria - here "a splendid finale of praise, penitence, and thanksgiving" (Georgina Battiscombe, in Theology, Vol. LXXI, No. 572).

The Pax in the BCP rite is well represented by words in the short exhortation commending "love and charity", and by the scriptural words of the Peace which precede the blessing; and only then follows the reverent consumption of consecrated elements that remain.

Canon Max Warren, the great CMS leader, wrote that "it is fundamental to the true Evangelical appreciation of the Holy Communion to realise that the solemn words do not by themselves alone constitute the Sacrament." It is "fulfilled only with the act of Communion and with the prayer of oblation which follows".

This is equally true for the "Prayer Book Catholic".

(The Revd) John Bunyan
Campbelltown, NSW

In the Alternative Service Book 1980, 31 October was kept as Saints and Martyrs of the Reformation Era. Why was this dropped in Common Worship? A. M.

When the Church in China was forcibly united by the Communist authorities, did it retain the apo­s­tolic succession of bishops and the threefold Catholic orders of ministers? G. S.

Address for answers and more questions: Out of the Question, Church Times, 3rd floor, Invicta House, 108-114 Golden Lane, London EC1Y 0TG.


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