Reverently Eating and Drinking the Remainder

‘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.


5 responses to “Reverently Eating and Drinking the Remainder

  1. I think the problem with the concept of “consecration” is that the line between “common bread” and “consecration bread” is often quite blurred. In a Presbyterian Church which I used to attend, it is often the case that the bread and wine will be distributed to each individual in the pews before the Words of the Institution is completely pronounced. Thus, does the “consecration” of the bread occur “at” the table or “at” the pews?

    Suppose in addition to the wafer distributed by the elders I add my own bread/biscuits together with it, and then as the celebrant completes the words of the institution, does my own bread/biscuits become a part of the “consecrated” elements? Who’s to say?

    I think it is these considerations which drives me to a strongly receptionist view of the Lord’s Supper, that is, the denial that there is any “act of consecration” at all. The Body of Christ is given when the command of Christ is fulfilled, that is, eaten, all other breads, biscuits and wafer simply remain what they are, only those which is consumed is of spiritual significance. There is no “moment of consecration” in this conception and no need to indulge in idle scholastic disputes concerning the distinction between common and consecrated bread.


    • Thanks for the comment, Dommy. Other people have said similar things to me.

      I’m still trying to figure out what exactly I think is going on. Broadly I think I’m a receptionist of some kind, which is why I’m unconvinced the sacrament is even valid without the word, and certainly no sacrament is even complete without reception. At the same time, I do think there is a crucial difference between bread and wine as used in the rite and bread and wine the happens to be in the same room, regardless of where we decide (or don’t decide) to draw the lines. In fact, since I’m unwilling to say bread and wine actually become supernatural bread and supernatural wine, and I’m reluctant to focus too much on bread and wine (something Romanists and Memorialists alike seem to do, in different ways), it’s really my insistence on ritual fulness that leads me to think it out of order to add or substitute random bread and wine as if it represents, with any authority, the Body and Blood of our Lord. For the same reason, as I’ve mentioned in my earlier post on reservation, it doesn’t seem right to me to just bring bread and wine to people wrapped up in a corporas and expect them, even without the word given intelligibly in their hearing, to take it as effectually delivering the Body and Blood of Christ.

      With the proposition that only the elements that are consumed are of any spiritual significance, I agree completely; only I expect the elements as part of the sacramental act to be treated with reverence until they are in fact consumed, given that they will be consumed. I have seen Guy Dietrich, private secretary to Luther, quoted as saying,

      Here we do not dispute whether such reserved Hosts and chalice were the Body and Blood of Christ. And the reason is that it stayed in its use and was distributed to the Church, and those to whom it was distributed received the Body of Christ in the bread and drank His Blood in the chalice. Here there is no doubt at all, for the institution of Christ remained in its entirety and inviolate.

      Maybe my instrumentalism, with Calvin et al., is stronger than my receptionism because I want to establish what validly and rightly shows forth what God intends the sacrament to exhibit, and it appears to me that enforcing a distinction – before men, not in the eyes of God, for who knows how God will act? – is the only way to deal safely with the matter.


  2. With the proposition that only the elements that are consumed are of any spiritual significance, I agree completely; only I expect the elements as part of the sacramental act to be treated with reverence until they are in fact consumed, given that they will be consumed.

    I think I may have misspoke here, to clarify myself, I don’t think the elements or bread and wine has any spiritual significance at all, at least not in themselves. What I would contend is that it is the human acts in obedience to God’s command, the communal eating and drinking themselves, which actions has been consecrated by God’s command, not so much the bread and the wine itself, which is of prime spiritual significance and the locus of the “holiness” of the Lord’s Supper.

    To use an analogy, to give cups of cold water to the thirsty or alms and money to the poor are holy acts because they fulfill the divine command of charity, but simply because the money or cups of cold water are part of the holy actions does not mean that the money or cups of cold water somehow become “consecrated” or “sacred” to be treated reverently, etc. That’s just absurd and a category confusion. In the New dispensation as opposed to the Old, it is the heart and good works in obedience to God’s command which alone are sacred, there are no longer any sacred objects or elements.

    Thus, what is “Holy” about the Lord’s Supper is the eating and drinking of bread and wine in obedience to God’s command, not the bread and wine themselves. Thus, any left over bread and wine from the feast can simply be thrown to the dustbin or fed to the birds because they were never the locus of divine communication of God’s grace and promises anyway. We who obey the command of the Lord’s Supper to eat and drink the bread and wine are the locus of the holy bodily presence of Christ’s body and blood, not the bread and wine itself. To treat pieces of bread and wine reverently simply because they are part of a holy act is as superstitious as treating pieces of money and coins reverently simply because they are part of the holy act of charity.

    To give another hypothetical situation to clarify my explanation. Suppose after eating the sacrament someone becomes sick and throw up the bread and wine. Is that bread and wine the Body and Blood of Christ to be treated reverently and to be re-consumed because it has been “consecrated” by eating? The Romans actually considered this question which they answer yes, but according to the conception outlined above, the answer is no. The bread and the wine is never the locus of the divine communication of Christ’s body and blood, it is the obedience, the human actions of eating and drinking the bread and wine, which is. Thus, the pieces of bread and wine regurgitated can simply be discarded without much ado.


  3. Pingback: What Is Deputed for the Sacrament | Cogito, Credo, Petam

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