On Replenishing the Blessed Sacrament at the Altar if it be Spent
(This is taken from a larger essay in the rubrics and the BCP and dispensations.)
by The Rev. Canon Glenn Spencer
Rector, All Saints Anglican Church
Our last example is the incontrovertible rubric on page 83 of the BCP that declares, “If the consecrated Bread or Wine be spent before all have communicated, the priest is to consecrate more according to the Form before prescribed; beginning at All glory be to Thee, Almighty God, and ending with these words, partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood.” This rubric directs the priest on how to deal with the problem if it turns out that he has not consecrated enough of the Blessed Sacrament for everyone present. He is to begin with what we know as our Lord’s Words of Institution, followed by the Oblation, and concluding with the Invocation. The directions literally require the priest to consecrate in both kinds, that is both Bread and Wine, regardless if only one was depleted. That is significant because in the western Church, generally speaking, when something was discovered to be askew in the Mass with one of the elements, it was required by canon law that the remedy was to consecrate more in both kinds, since that is the manner in which our Lord instituted the sacrament. The 1662 book also directs the priest to consecrate in both kinds except it only requires the Words of Institution. Given that the Holy Communion (along with Baptism) is a sacrament universally necessary for salvation, the theologians and priests who framed our Book of Common Prayer took utmost care to see that no occasion for doubt arise concerning the consecration of the elements that were depleted. The Church of God requires not probability, not even high probability, but absolute certainty when it comes to the validity of the sacraments.
However, various shortcuts have been invented and occasionally practiced, such as pouring either unconsecrated water or unconsecrated wine into a chalice containing the sacrament of Christ’s blood with the assumption that mingling the two will automatically “consecrate” the wine; or that one may place a consecrated host into a chalice of unconsecrated wine and the host will automatically consecrate the wine. Such shortcuts are theological and liturgical errors and they most certainly do not replenish the sacrament. Thomas Aquinas, representative of the general understanding and practice of the western Church, states that adding either unconsecrated water or wine to a chalice containing the sacrament of Christ’s blood absolutely does not increase the volume of Christ’s blood but in fact such an action corrupts the sacrament and if enough unconsecrated water or wine were added to the depleting chalice “the blood of Christ will remain there no longer.” (Summa Theologiae, Question 77: Article 4) That is, of course, what a priest assumes to be the case when he purifies the chalice after the Holy Communion and if it were not the case the priest would be in a state of perpetually consecrating any water and wine that was poured into the chalice.
So here we have a rubric that is incontrovertible, which means the aberrations mentioned above are strictly forbidden. The Church of God requires not probability, not even high probability, but absolute certainty when it comes to the validity of the sacraments and it is the duty of the Ordinary and his assisting bishops, as well as the priests, to superintend and secure the integrity of the sacraments of the APA. But there is, in my opinion, an opportunity for the Ordinary to moderate, by dispensation, the action required by the rubric in question, while maintaining the intention to guarantee the absolute certainty of validity. Such a dispensation would require the priest to consecrate more in both kinds, while permitting a restrained abbreviation of the Form prescribed (similar to the 1662 rubric) beginning at, “All glory be to thee, Almighty God,” and ending with these words, “do this as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me.” There are three advantages to this sober refinement of required words: first of all it is the general consensus in the western Church that the moment of consecration is with the Words of Institution. Secondly, it keeps both the Bread and the Wine together at the moment of consecration as our Lord did at the institution of the sacrament. And thirdly, it shortens the time needed to complete a valid consecration within an ongoing Holy Communion.
All that being said, priests do not have the authority to sidestep the rubric on page 83 and engage in probabilities and speculations like those mentioned above. Moreover, priests do not have the authority to truncate the rubric in the manner that I have suggested may be appropriate, inasmuch as only the Ordinary may declare so radical a dispensation of a sacrament necessary for salvation and then only after much study. And we would all do well to keep in mind that there is a limit to the Ordinary’s authority as well, for he cannot undo the theology of sacramental consecration which absolutely requires the Words of Institution. When it comes to the salvation of our parishioners absolute certainty is required.
Such is an example of how the rubrics may help us order our common life in the Body of Christ and specifically how we may do so in this portion of the Catholic Church we know as the Anglican Province of America.