‘And if any of the Bread and Wine remain unconsecrated, the Curate shall have it to his own use: but if any remain of that which was consecrated, it shall not be carried out of the Church, but the Priest, and such other of the Communicants as he shall then call unto him, shall, immediately after the Blessing, reverently eat and drink the same.’ This is what the 1662 Book of Common Prayer directs, the part after the colon having been added in 1662 to the 1559 text. It may strike some as a strange practice, more fitting for Rome than for a Protestant church, but it can be accounted for by entirely Reformed principles.
Let me begin with an analogous example that no one can contest: the water of the other sacrament. After water had been set aside for use in baptism, surely one would not ordinarily then use it for drinking or for watering the garden plants. Likewise it would be at least odd to use the elements of the Lord’s Table for common food or to throw them to the birds. These uses would be akin to using the Table to throw coats over or the Font to wash our eyeglasses in. In fact, being more of the essence of the sacraments than the Table or the Font, the water of baptism and the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper are even less to be used for common purposes.
Even for those who are unconvinced that inanimate things should or can be consecrated – who take an entirely functional view of money that is korban, for instance – it is in keeping with Christian charity to yield on an opinion that, unlike transubstantiation, is not at all impious. It is an unnecessary offence to the Church for a congregation to partake of the Lord’s Supper and fail to handle the remnants reverently.
But that is not the strongest argument. When the awful mysteries of our Lord’s Body and Blood are celebrated, it is not the substance of bread and wine as such that are set apart to be used in the sacrament, but it is a certain portion that is so designated. If I have a hunk of bread in my pocket when I attend the Lord’s Supper, it is certain that I am not to eat this bread for the purposes of the sacrament, nor am I to fancy that any imagination of mine, even when the words of institution are recited, will make it proper to consume my own bread as representing and offering and exhibiting the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Even if I were a Baptist, I should know instinctively that there was a difference, and that ignoring this difference would be impious, indeed an act of sacrilege.
If it be alleged that there is no difference in fact, but only in outward order and appearance (the reverse, I suppose, of the Roman doctrine), then I ask what it is that makes it disorderly to consume for the sacrament what has not been laid out before the minister proclaiming Christ’s institution of that sacrament. More likely than not, the answer is that there must be a common portion of bread and a common portion of wine. But, if the bread is in pieces, perhaps even from more than one loaf, is the fact of consequence not that the loaves have lain before the minister as he read the Scriptures and acknowledged the grace of God in the death of Christ?
Yes, and this fact establishes a difference between common bread and bread consecrated for the sacrament, and between wine for common use and wine set apart to show forth the New Testament in the Blood of Christ. For the promise of God, which is what in truth creates the sacrament, applies only potentially to any bread and wine; but it applies actually to bread and wine for which God’s blessing has been entreated, that he might bless the sacramental use, honouring it with what he has promised: his blessed, holy, life-giving Body and Blood.
For this reverend estimation of the bread and wine, not in themselves but by the faithful promise of God, we honour their difference from common bread and wine for the sake of what the Lord has pledged thereby to give us who receive it rightly, with faith. What we revere, then, is not a power inhering in the elements but the Word of God’s power, by which he upholds all things, even his elect Church. We do not, then, bow down before bread and wine, even bread and wine consecrated as instruments by which God gives us the Body and Blood of his Son; but we look upon the seals of his favour with trepidation, determined to use them rightly, so that even what is left over we suffer not to pass into the hands of pagans or the claws of birds, but consume reverently like the rest. It is an act of reverent love.