When You Can’t do The Red

A Typical Altar Missal

In the third century, the Christian apologist and theologian Tertullian wrote: “We feel pained should any wine or bread, even though our own, be cast upon the ground” (The Chaplet, or De Corona, ch. 3).

On the blog What Does the Prayer Really Say? Father Z introduced to the world the mantra, “Say the black. Do the red.” It was a word to his fellow priests to address the perpetual problem of liturgical abuses so prevalent in the Church of Rome since the changing of rites after the Second Vatican Council. Don’t do things the way you think best. Don’t ad lib. Say the words of the liturgical rites printed in black on the page, and carry out the instructions printed in red. Follow the mind of the Church and her law. Just say the black, and do the red.

In 2018, I was appointed to the ACNA committee to prepare the official traditional language adaptation of the 2019 BCP. I’m happy to say that the work is mostly done and it will be published about the middle of 2020. To begin our work, the committee members received an advanced digital copy in February of 2019 that was the result of the bishops’ final approval that January.

Each of us took sections of the book to work on. My sections are the collects and the Easter Vigil, but I began looking over the rest of the book as well. Overall, I was very impressed by what I saw. To summarize, it skillfully weaves together some of the best of the 1928 and 1979 editions and leaves out some of the worst of both. While no Prayer Book will satisfy everyone, this came about as close to perfect as I could have expected.

But when I got to page 141, I was horrified at what I found there. It is the additional directions section of rubrics for the Eucharistic rite. It noted that apart from what sacrament is to be reserved, the remaining consecrated hosts are consumed. So far, so good. Everything normal.

But my heart sank at the closing sentence: “The wine shall likewise be consumed or reverently poured in a place set aside for that purpose.” To begin with, it was a very odd statement since the only place ever set aside for that purpose in all of Christian history is the throat of a baptized person. I didn’t remember this being in the draft liturgy put out several years ago. I went back and checked. It wasn’t. The rubric was fully orthodox and in line with all previous Prayer Books—what is not reserved is consumed.

But then I discovered a revised version issued later. That turned out to be even worse than the final version. It said, “The Wine shall likewise be consumed or reverently poured upon untrodden ground.” That history of revision means the final version had the piscina in mind.

What is the piscina (also called a sacrarium)? It is a sink in the sacristy that empties onto the ground rather than in the sewer. To be absolutely clear, the precious Blood should never be poured in the piscina. That is only for blessed salt, holy water, and for the washing of linens. Pouring the precious Blood down the piscina is a sacrilege. To demonstrate the seriousness of the matter, in the Roman Catholic Church you are automatically excommunicated for doing such a thing, and only the pope can lift that kind of excommunication. If a cleric, you can also be defrocked. So this is extremely serious.

As an aside, I realize “sacrilege” is a heavy word to employ. What does it mean exactly, and why is it the right word? Sacrilege is the objective mistreatment of sacred things. It is a sin by thwarting the virtue of religion. Using holy things in a profane or common way is central to the act of sacrilege. Part of the way of determining how such holy things ought to be handled is to consider them teleologically, that is, with their end purpose in mind. 

The bread and wine are consecrated with the end purpose of eating and drinking them. The reservation of the Sacrament, for example, simply delays that end. To deliberately put them to another ultimate purpose would be mistreating them, that is, not using them in accordance with their end purpose (“take and eat”, “drink ye all of this”). To call this action a sacrilege is merely a statement that such holy things are not being handled properly and does not necessarily mean that it was done with any malice.

What to do? Since the bishops had already approved the final draft, I figured the fate of the book was in the hands of the Provincial Assembly of the ACNA, meeting in June of 2019. So I made a video explaining the issue to help explain the issue and raise awareness and wrote letters to as many bishops and delegates as I could find. You can still find the video on my Youtube channel, titled: “What’s Wrong with the 2019 BCP?” My retired assistant at the parish joined in his own letter writing campaign. I’m also grateful to Bishop Iker who gave me some helpful advice on improving my first version of the video.

I found out later that the Prayer Book was not brought up for a vote at the Assembly. Probably because of lingering animosity about being forced to use the ’79 book, rather than being adopted by canon, it was simply offered by the bishops to anyone who wants to make use of it. In a sense you could say that the ACNA has no official Prayer Book. What you have is a resource the bishops made available to themselves to authorize (or not) in their dioceses. In fitting with the Anglican approach to so many things, the liturgy is more in the domain of custom than of law. And as far as getting the rubric changed, it’s all about the bishops. 

This worked out in my favor. I didn’t have to convince hundreds of delegates to vote against it, just a dozen or so bishops to take action. Several wrote me back indicating their support, and the archbishop said he would put it on the agenda for that June house of bishops meeting. It also probably fortuitous that the book had a few typos that needed fixing anyway.

I want to express my gratitude to the bishop-elect (at the time) of Fort Worth, Ryan Reed for enthusiastically taking up the cause and arguing the case with the bishops. He was uniquely positioned as both the leader of our diocesan delegation as well as being invited as a guest to the college of bishops meeting.

I’m pleased to say that the bishops did take up the issue I raised and that the rubric has been changed, starting in the second printing (the first was already printed and distributed at the Assembly). In a note card distributed with the first edition, a number of typo corrections were listed under “Errata” and under “Text Revision,” an alteration to the rubric made by resolution orf the College of Bishops on June 14, 2019. The note explains, “P. 141 – In place of the sentence beginning, ‘The wine shall likewise be consumed…’ it shall read, ‘The consecrated Wine shall likewise be consumed, except as authorized and directed by the Bishop.’”

I will not give a detailed analysis of the new version, except to say that it is an improvement, though not entirely satisfactory. The issue is left more in the domain of custom rather than law, and again, it is all about the bishops. We clearly have a growing edge of maintaining our tradition and growing in our sacramental understanding as a province which (glory to God!) includes many people who have only recently joined us on the Anglican Way and are continuing to absorb the ancient tradition of the Church.

After all the hubbub, I’m still left asking the question, Why? How could we have erred so badly?
How did we so nearly enshrine in our Prayer Book a practice that other Christians who share our Eucharistic doctrines rightly condemn as a sacrilege?

It is true that mishandling the consecrated Wine is a common liturgical abuse, both in Anglican and in Roman Catholic churches, but the proper way to handle it is with awareness, training, and discipline, rather than by changing the liturgical law to accommodate the abuse.

As St Leo the Great expressed it in his famous Ascension Day sermon, “Our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments” (Sermo 2 de Ascensione 1-4: PL 54,397-399). It is no wonder that the Christians of the early centuries had a great love of our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. Some, like St Tarcisius, were even martyred to protect it, just as so many of them also laid down their lives to protect the holy Scriptures. They grasped the importance of the Word written and the sacramental Word incarnate.

We wouldn’t let our Bibles or other holy objects be cast upon the ground. Such tactics are often used by those who violently persecute the Church. We wouldn’t let our neighbor’s Koran touch the ground. Nor do we properly allow the US flag to touch the ground. How could we in good conscience treat the Holy Eucharist this way?

Consider the “Homily on the Worthy Receiving and Reverend Esteeming of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ” in the Second Book of Homilies. Think of the devotional writings on the Holy Communion of our own great Anglican divines like Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, John Cosin, Herbert Thorndike, Richard Hooker, and more. I can’t imagine any one of them ever pouring the Precious Blood of Christ upon the ground.

In considering “Why?” some might point to a decline in belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Surely that must be at least part of the explanation. And if St Paul told us in 1 Corinthians that we eat and drink judgment if we do so not recognizing the Lord’s body, should be expect to be found guiltless if we treat the sacrament in a way that does not recognize the Lord’s body and blood?

Frankly, when I discovered the problem with the rubric, I was moved to action especially because I fear the judgment of God. I feared it for myself, if I did not take action for what I know to be right, and for our church, to ever condone such a sacrilege.

There is no doubt that we have a lot of work to do regarding the Real Presence—the truth that Jesus Christ (body, soul, and divinity) is present under the forms of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist. We need to constantly teach Catholic doctrine on this matter.

But I don’t think that’s all that’s going on here. After all, an ecumenical theological study called Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry from the group Churches Together in England specifically pointed out: “This provision for reverent consumption dates back to the 1662 BCP and has helped to hold in unity worshippers with a variety of understandings of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.”

I think another part of the problem is our disconnect of body and spirit. It is the old heresy of Gnosticism resurfacing in a new way. One might ask, If you pour it out reverently, how can it still be a sacrilege? But reverence is not just about feeling, nor even primarily about feeling. It is about the fittingness of our actions. The idea that the moral reality of a situation is governed by our feelings stems from the logical fallacy called solipsism. 

For example, when the Ark of the Covenant was being brought back from captivity by the Philistines to be returned to Jerusalem in 2 Samuel 6:6-7, the oxen stumbled along the road and to keep it from falling off the cart, Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the Ark. He was immediately struck dead by God. 

According to Numbers 4:15, whenever the Ark was being transported, this special class of priest Uzzah belonged to were instructed not to touch any of the sacred objects on pain of death. Undoubtedly, Uzzah reached out with love and devotion, not wanting any harm to come to the sacred vessel. However, he acted in defiance of the clear commandment given directly by God and recorded in the Bible. In his special elite group of servants, that commandment must have been drilled into his head again and again. Yet with when the time came, he reached out, feeling that he knew better in that situation. So while he may have felt reverent, his action was not.

We are explicitly told that the anger of the Lord was kindled against him because of this disobedience. He was not willing to learn from the Lord how to properly handle holy things. He was carefree about it, and it cost him his life.

When St Paul chided some of the Corinthians for receiving communion improperly, not recognizing the Lord’s body, he added, “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” (1 Corinthians 11:29)

God demands that we be good stewards of his gifts, and the more holy and precious the gift, the greater the responsibility in making us of it properly. Not just with pious feelings, but also in reverent actions. When it comes to handing the blessed Sacrament with fitting devotion, may our prayer be always the prayer of the Church: 

“Grant us, we beseech thee O Lord, so to venerate the sacred mysteries of thy Body and Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of thy redemption.”

Forward in Christ

Proclaiming the Faith and Order of the Church, given to us by Christ.