Both online and offline, the thoughts I have expressed on the status of the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper have been subject to dispute. People have said that there is no such thing as consecration, and instead have urged what is often termed (dynamic) receptionism. I maintain, however, that my view is not in conflict with receptionism, and that it is entirely Reformed in principle, having nothing popish or superstitious.
First, since the matter of which I treat pertains to ceremonies connected with holy communion, I must address the role played by ceremonial in public worship. The Prayer Book orders, for example, that communicants receive the signs of bread and wine kneeling. This is a ceremonial support that persons of good breeding will recognize as properly reverent. As Xunzi says about ceremonies,
Rites trim what is too long and stretch out what is too short, eliminate surplus and repair deficiency, extend the forms of love and reverence, and step by step bring to fulfillment the beauties of proper conduct.
In the context of the worship of God, rites shape what Anglican divines often call the beauty of holiness. In Christian worship, after all, it is most of all in holiness that proper conduct consists. What is decent, then, depends on what is true: propriety, the child of true doctrine, is meaningful only under that head. For due proportion in liturgy can be known only in relation to theology. Therefore it is on theological grounds that I must continue to defend or alter my position.
Some receptionists are concerned that the idea of consecration reifies the bread and wine as the locus of Christ’s sacramental presence. I, too, abhor such reification, because the whole action is important, and not just the objects. With the receptionists I hold that the locus of the real presence of Christ’s body and blood (the res of the sacramentum) is not the bread and wine but, by the power of the Holy Ghost, the person receiving with faith. In this we are entirely agreed.
John Cosin, who certainly believed in a qualitative difference between bread and wine consecrated and not consecrated, was nevertheless highly critical of the questions that arose among theologians who reified the grace God exhibited in the sacrament. ‘These men’, he said, ‘tired their brains (as we have said) about unheard-of questions touching transubstantiation, such as pious ears would abhor to hear.’ Here is one example:
Whether the mice (who sometimes feast upon the hosts, when they are not well shut up) eat the Body of Christ itself? or, if a dog or a hog should swallow down the consecrated host whole, whether the Lord’s Body should pass into their belly together with the accidents? Some indeed answer (other some being otherwise minded) that, ‘though the Body of Christ enters not into the brute’s mouth as corporal meat, yet it enters together with the appearances, by reason that they are inseparable one from the other,’ (mere nonsense;) ‘for, as long as the accidents of bread’ (i.e., the shape, and taste, and colour, &c.) ‘remain in their proper being, so long is the Body of Christ inseparably joined with with them; wherefore, if the accidents in their nature pass into the belly, or are cast out by vomiting, the Body of Christ itself must of necessity go along with them: and for this cause pious souls’ (I repeat their own words) ‘do frequently eat again with great reverence the parts of the host cast out by vomiting.’
Such questions are indeed offensive to pious ears, savouring of blasphemy, and are rightly censured. The sacrament is intended for humans and offered to them only, and by faith, and so it is nothing but foolish talk to speak of the Lord’s body entering any belly, let alone the belly of a dog or a hog. Likewise, since the intention of the outward rite ends with eating and drinking, vomiting is of no moment.
But it does not follow that the bread and wine of the sacrament are theologically unimportant except for calling certain promises to mind. Indeed, it is well known that many of the best Reformed divines (including Calvin and Vermigli) have believed in not merely a parallel between physical and spiritual eating but, further, an instrumental relation. They have held that the body and blood of Christ were truly given in the sacrament, and that the spiritual eating and drinking was (at least ordinarily) mediated by the physical signs that signified the spiritual things.
I add that the sacramental act of receiving bread and wine is a response to a prior ritual and ceremonial signification. The receiving with faith, though necessary, is insufficient. It is also necessary that the bread and wine be truly made in ritual and ceremony to be such as will clearly signify, not only to the understanding of the recipients but also in some objective manner, the body and blood of our Lord. So, as regards the sacramental use of bread and wine, Daniel Brevint focuses on the divine institution of their signification:
For since the proper essence of sacred signs or sacraments consists not in what they are in their nature, but in what they signify by divine institution, hence it happens infallibly that when the sacraments are abused, the injury must needs light not upon them in their own natural being, bread, wine, and water, which upon this account are not at all considerable, but upon the holy mysteries, the body and blood of Christ himself who is the main object of their formal being, that is, their signification.
Although the bread and wine are not changed, it is necessary that the promise of spiritual grace be joined to them objectively, that any who receive them with faith as effectual signs within the rite of God’s appointment may through them receive the body and blood of Christ, not by force of their own wills but by the ordinance and the sovereign and faithful will of God. This appointment one may call consecration, and this consecration is not to be abused with any uses that are contrary to it.
Nor can the consecration of the sacrament be negatived simply by the name of dynamic receptionism. Daniel Waterland, whose Review of the Doctrine of the Eucharist is a classic text of what later became known as receptionism, says this:
It must be owned, that it depends upon the disposition of every communicant, to render the previous consecration either salutary or noxious to himself: and if any man has a mind to call a worthy reception of the elements, a consecration of them to himself, a secondary consecration, he may; for it would not be worth while to hold a dispute about words. But strictly speaking, it is not within the power or choice of a communicant, either to consecrate or to desecrate the symbols, to make the sacrament a common meal, or otherwise: it is a religious and sacred meal even to the most unworthy; and that is the reason why such are liable to the judgment of God for abusing it: for if it were really a common meal to them it would do them no more hurt, than any other ordinary entertainment.
The symbols, in other words, are holy as part of the sacramental meal, and this holiness depends not on the one receiving those symbols. It is God whose word makes the meal holy, and the bread and wine in it ordered to holy uses. So while I affirm that the body and blood of Christ are really present only to the worthy receiver, because the promise is only to that effect, yet I cannot deny that this happens only through the bread and wine consecrated. Otherwise, any bread and wine taken in a public assembly after the words of institution had been read, even in the second lesson at Evening Prayer, would be valid for the sacrament. Such is not a sacrament at all, however, but only a mockery of it. The bread and wine taken for this purpose is not only wrongly taken but unable to confer the body and blood of Christ, for these single Christians, or even several Christians, cannot thus make the bread and wine sacramental no matter how they will it. The bread and wine they are taking does not present the sure promise of Christ, and so it gives them nothing but the taste and nutrition of bread and wine, and they are crazed who imagine otherwise. For that part of the sacrament which can be given and then taken is precisely the bread and the wine that partake of the priestly act of prayer, and none other; and by this means the bread and wine that are ordered to sacramental use – or, as Thorndike says, ‘are deputed to become this Sacrament’ (more precisely, by God’s covenant to become that part of the sacrament which can be received by God’s command) – do present the promise and the thing promised.
In this way, though my view may fairly be called a kind of receptionism – and so I think the sign of the Cross is better made by the communicants as they receive than by the priest as he prays – I hold that there is a true consecration of bread and wine, by the words of institution and by prayer (‘hear us, O merciful Father &c.’). My opinion is stated admirably by John Davenant, who is careful and balanced:
For the virtue which attaches to the sacramental signs, in consequence of the institution and consecration, is not inherent to the elements themselves, which are not capable of receiving spiritual grace, but for man’s sake is, in way of a contract, annexed to the sacraments. The virtue of the Eucharist therefore manifests itself, and puts forth its strength, not merely in the circumstance, that the bread and wine are consecrated, nor inasmuch as they are viewed, carried about in procession, or preserved in vessels, but because being consecrated, and prepared for the spiritual use of believers, they are participated in by them according to the institution of Christ. It is not from the sacramental signs themselves that the virtue of them is derived, but by those communicating; and there is consequently more regard to be had to the disposition in partaking, than to the consecration. Nor does this opinion detract anything from the honour due to the sacraments; for it is on this account that they are held in the greatest veneration, namely, that they are applied to, and received by the faithful, in accordance with the institution of Christ, and are as it were vehicles and channels through which the streams of spiritual grace may descend on men.
Indeed, he says that ‘great respect is due, even to the visible signs, because they represent and shew to us spiritually his living flesh and precious blood.’ Thus has God deputed bread and wine to be used in a spiritual way from prayer even to faithful reception.
This divine deputation human ritual and ceremony must affirm, by treating the elements as different from common bread and wine in their signification and their ordered end: for our Lord promises through them to confer upon all faithful receivers the things they signify, to wit, his own body and blood. Therefore, unlike bread and wine outside the sacrament, they must be held to the use instituted by Christ, to be eaten and drunk with the reverence due to something that, faithfully received, imparts union with Christ, pardon of sins, and the power to love and serve God. For thus the bread and wine are duly used, and not otherwise. In short, because of what they now signify by the will of God, they must be consumed, and with faith; and they are not instead to be paraded about or prayed before or waved over the people or held aloft for adoration or given to pagans, but only to be consumed, that the rite may be perfected in the complete consumption of the elements given.
This consumption on our part is the human expression that regulates our piety toward sacred things:
Therefore the ancient kings established certain forms so that the duty of honoring those who deserve honor and demonstrating affection for those who deserve affection might be fulfilled. Therefore I say that the sacrificial rites give expression to the feelings of remembrance and longing.
Since our Lord is ascended, we express our remembrance of his death and our longing for his kingdom. The simple ceremony which adorns the sacrament, of ensuring immediately after the blessing that all the bread and wine are reverently consumed, helps serves this purpose for us. Completed with reverence and understanding, it is to our benefit. Though the purpose of the sacrament is already fulfilled when all who desired have eaten the body and drunk the blood of Christ, it is sound piety to show our reverence for God’s showing forth of his gift by in turn using the signs thoroughly. Whereas the first sacrament calls for a complete washing by the water designated for it, the second sacrament calls for a complete eating and drinking of the bread and wine.
Now, I am not so scrupulous as to think it necessary to make ablutions (though ablutions have clearly been ruled legal in the Church of England). But the rubric’s calling for the consecrated bread and wine that remains to be consumed has an exact reason: just as the rite of baptism is fuller in dipping or pouring than in sprinkling (though God is no less gracious in baptism by sprinkling), so the action of the Lord’s Supper, according to its institution, is perfected in the consumption of all the bread and wine. Therefore, though I think ablutions are a matter of indifference, able to be either used or disused, for the sake of charity and thoroughness I might think them a commendable practice for cathedrals, so long as the clergy firmly opposed the notion of Christ’s body and blood being locally present in the bread and wine.
In writing the above I hope to have explained my position more clearly, or at least more fully, and showed it to be free of superstitious attachment to any sacredness inhering in the bread and wine of the sacrament. Despite insisting that the presence of Christ is actually in the faithful receiver and not in the bread and wine, I also maintain that the presence of his body and blood is exhibited effectually only by bread and wine that have been consecrated for the purpose, and not simply by an act of imagination. This, I argue, is the theological basis of the Prayer Book rubric ordering that the bread and wine of the sacrament be all consumed, agreeable to the institution of Christ.