THE Consistory Court of the diocese of Leicester reflected on the legality of the reservation of the sacraments when dealing with a petition for a faculty for the installation of an aumbry, which is a small locked cupboard or safe whose principal purpose is the reservation of the sacraments.
The petition was brought by the minister and churchwardens of St Paul’s, Woodhouse Eaves, a well-kept, high quality Grade II* listed Victorian church. They sought a faculty for the installation of an aumbry in the south wall of the chancel, very near the altar, which was the usual place for an aumbry.
The proposal was approved by the PCC and the DAC. The difficulty that arose was the long-held view that the reservation of the sacraments was illegal and that consequently the existence of an aumbry within the church was highly questionable.
The accepted modern view was that there must always be an express authorisation in writing by the diocesan bishop. At the time of the petition no bishop of Leicester had taken office in succession to the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, who resigned in July 2015. There was no suggestion that he or any other bishop ever gave specific authorisation for either the practice of the reservation of the sacraments in St Paul’s Church or the installation of the aumbry.
The question therefore arose as to whether, in the absence of any express approval from the bishop, the Diocesan Chancellor should grant a faculty that specifically approved an aumbry and implicitly approved the practice of the reservation of the sacraments.
The reservation of the sacraments is a common practice in the Church of Rome both before and after the Reformation and was closely associated with the adoration of the sacraments in the pre-Reformation mass, so detested by Protestants.
Article XXV of the Articles of Religion 1562 states : “The sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them.” Article XXVIII states: “The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up or worshipped.”
A rubric of the Service of Holy Communion in the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 states: “If any of the Bread and Wine remained . . . it shall not be carried out of the Church, but the Priest, and such other of the Communicants whom he shall then call unto him shall, immediately after the Blessing, reverently eat and drink the same.”
As a consequence, ecclesiastical law reflected in opinions delivered by Archbishop Temple in May 1900 was to the effect that “the Church of England does not at present allow reservation in any form.” The position became more complicated when, in 1928, the revisers of the Prayer Book prepared the Alternative Order for the Communion of the Sick, which allowed for the taking of consecrated bread and wine to sick persons. It also provided for continuous reservation in cases where the bishop thought it necessary, with a licence from him.
The 1928 revisions were never approved by Parliament, but two convocations of the Church resolved, in effect, that “certain deviations from and additions to the Book of 1662” might be permitted. One such variation was to allow the reservation of the sacraments and the use of an aumbry.
Chancellor Mark Blackett-Ord said that he was not strictly being asked to decide whether the reservation of the sacraments was permissible in St Paul’s, but only whether the aumbry should be permitted, and he was entitled to assume that the reservation of the sacraments was lawful. No one had argued that it was not. Evidently it was the practice of the church, and the Chancellor was entitled to assume that the practice was lawful.
The law today was that the reservation of the sacraments was not illegal, the Chancellor said, and the incumbent had a wide discretion to conduct services and make use of the church in any manner permitted by law and supported by the churchwardens and PCC when necessary. There was no reason why any bishop’s licence was required.
Granting the faculty, the Chancellor said that the times had changed since the early 20th century and no “thinking Christian today could call the use of an aumbry illegal”.