By Drew Keane

“Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is weird and wonderful,” Andrew Petiprin wrote on Covenant in September 2016. “It is good for your soul and part of our Anglican heritage. Be not afraid.” Paul Nesta went further in the same year, explaining that the whole of our Christian vocation in the world can be understood in terms through Benediction.

I have continued to ponder these essays and the topic of Benediction. My own fear is that Benediction is a practice that risks confusion and implies things that appear to run contrary to our profession. I am, despite that, usually hesitant to say anything about it, as it is precious to a good many Anglicans. Perhaps this is merely adiaphora, an indifferent matter on which we need not waste our time arguing. Nevertheless, it remains true that, in my reading, the historic formularies proscribe it and that from the time of the Reformation down to the late 19th century almost all Anglicans opposed practices like it in the strongest possible terms. For me this raises the question, Why? Considering this, I think that, whether or not one ultimately agrees with it, the classical Anglican position warrants a fair hearing.

I turn first to the Articles of Religion and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. This approach requires some explanation. I maintain that these are the common ground for Anglicans. The Church of England aimed to be a comprehensive church; differing parties have existed within her from the beginning; the 1662 prayer book and Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion  served as instruments of unity within a comprehensive church. Wherever the Church of England planted daughter churches throughout the world, the 1662 Prayer Book and the Articles were constitutive expressions of their identity. Although Anglican bodies throughout the world have since diverged in various ways, and different kinds of Anglicanisms have emerged, I think it fair to look to the 1662 prayer book and Articles in order to describe classical Anglicanism, recognizing of course that this is not exhaustive of Anglicanism. Therefore, to understand the classical Anglican position on Eucharistic Adoration, I turn first to Article XXV (Of the Sacraments), which states:


The Sacraments are not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith.

Article XXVIII (Of the Lord’s Supper) uses similar language: “to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ” and “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten … only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith.”

I have marked the subjective or active language to highlight (A) the focus on reception, toward acts of faith; (B) that the article defines the sacrament as the whole activity, not the consecrated elements in isolation; (C) that it flatly denies — with the word only— that the body and blood can be received at all apart from the “lively faith“ of those doing the acts of giving, taking, and eating.

The proscription concluding this same article echoes Article XXV and follows from the way the sacrament is defined. The consecrated bread and wine — the holy signs — are not to be “carried about, lifted up, or worshipped” because the sacrament of Communion in Christ’sbody and blooddoes not consist simply of the consecrated objects but necessarily involves the faithful subject who receives them, in obedience to his institution, “Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

To argue along the lines of Tract 90 that the article leaves a loophole by saying merely that the sacrament was “not ordained of Christ to be” rather than “it must not be” misses the point: “that we should duly use them,” i.e., in accordance with the dominical institution. That approach separates a clause from the whole argument of the article. The proscription against elevation, procession, and reservation of the consecrated bread makes clear that this focus on receiving — on doing what the Verba Domini enjoin — is the whole point. Faithful reception is so much the focus that replacing that drama — “give, take, eat” — with some other kind of drama — “carried about, lifted up, or worshipped” — must be explicitly proscribed.

The article does not, however, suggest that the consecrated elements are not to be handled with reverence. Article XXIX (Of the Wicked, which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord’s Supper) warns that the unfaithful “to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing”; i.e., what the unfaithful eat and drink is able to harm them regardless of whether they perceive it as capable of doing so. They profane the holy, i.e., that set apart by prayer and the Holy Ghost for a specific divine purpose. But, the Article continues, “in no wise are they partakers of Christ,” meaning that only those who perceive with “lively faith” will receive the body and blood of Christ through the vehicle of the consecrated bread and wine.

The 1662 Order for Holy Communion aligns with the Articles; the language of the prayer of consecration matches the Article: “grant that we receiving these thy creatures of bread and wine, according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood.” It does not say that the bread and wine are simply made into the body and blood as such, but that we, by the action of receiving them, in obedience to the Verba Domini (“take, eat”) thereby (i.e., by duly receiving them) partake in his most holy body and blood.

As Hooker, in agreement with the Articles and 1662 prayer book, so aptly put the matter, “The bread and cup are his body and blood because they are causes instrumental upon the receipt whereof the participation of his body and blood ensueth” and “The real presence of Christ’s most blessed body and blood is not therefore to be sought for in the sacrament, but in the worthy receiver of the sacrament” (Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity V.67.5).

The historic formularies are not an attempt to define the mystery, to box it in, or limit the ways in which the Lord Almighty in his absolute sovereignty can work in and through the material world, which he created for his pleasure. They are neither anti-incarnational nor anti-sacramental. Rather, the Articles and prayer book seek to handle the mysteries of our faith carefully and with reverence, to both affirm what the Scriptures reveal and to avoid saying anything about the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper that conflicts with other parts of Holy Scripture and the well-established doctrines of the Church. Thus, as Bishop Cosin explains,

Protestants dare not to be so curious, or presume to know more than is delivered by Scripture and antiquity: they, firmly believing the words of Christ, make the form of this sacrament to consist in the union of the thing signified with the sign, that is, the exhibition of the Body of Christ with the consecrated bread, still remaining bread: by divine appointment the two are made one; and, though this union be not natural, substantial, personal, or local, by their being one with one another, yet it is so straight and so true, that in eating the blessed bread, the true Body of Christ is given to us, and the names of the sign and thing signified are reciprocally changed,–what is proper to the Body is attributed to the bread, and what belongs only to the bread is affirmed of the Body, and both are united in time, though not in place. (Works, Vol. IV, p. 173).

What potential errors do the Articles and prayer book seek to avoid in how they teach us to talk about and practice the Lord’s Supper? I think they are these:

(I) to avoid sacrilege:

a. by denying Christ’s presence in the sacrament, as St. Paul said: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”;

b. by doing with things we have consecrated something other than that for which they were consecrated unto God; for in the consecration the petition is “grant that we receiving these thy creatures of bread and wine, according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood”;

c. by disobedience in doing with the sacramental bread and wine something other than what Christ commanded; for the Sacrament is such only “according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution,” and, he commanded us, “Take, eat … Do this in remembrance of me”; as Hooker explains:

Sacraments serve as the instruments of God to that end and purpose, moral instruments, the use whereof is in our hands, the effect in his; for the use we have his express commandment, for the effect his conditional promise: so that without our obedience to the one, there is of the other no apparent assurance. (Laws V.57.5)

Bishop Lancelot Andrewes presses this point further, maintaining:

The carrying about of the sacrament is contrary to the precept of Christ, nor does Scripture anywhere support it. It is contrary to the institution, for as the sacrifice was instituted that it should be consumed, so the sacrament that it should be received and eaten, not that it should be reserved and carried about. Beyond the design of the sacrament, beyond the force of the command no use of it exists. Let that be done which Christ willed to be done when He said, ‘Do this’; let nothing remain which the priest may exhibit out of the pyx, and the people adore. (Quoted in John Dowden, Outlines of the History of the Theological Literature of the Church of England from the Reformation to the Close of the 18th Century, p. 91)

(II) to avoid blasphemy by making a liar of Christ and his apostles:

a. by denying his words at the Institution (“this is my Body which is given for you”);

b. by denying his further words and the witness of his apostles that Christ “ascended into Heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty” and that he told them he would not be with them again until his return in glory, except through the Holy Ghost, the Comforter. Jeremy Taylor draws out the implication of this,

Christ’s natural body is now in heaven definitively, and no where else; and that he is in the sacrament as he can be in a sacrament, in the hearts of faithful receivers, as he hath promised to be there; that is, in the sacrament mystically, operatively, as in a moral and divine instrument, in the hearts of receivers by faith and blessing; this is the truth and the faith of which we are to give a reason and account to them that disagree. (Works IX, p. 481).

(III) to avoid heresy:

a. by denying the truth of Christ’s human nature;

b. or mixing it with his Divine nature;

c. or severing his Divine and Human nature from each other;

(IV) to avoid idolatry by confusing the holy signs with the Divine Person signified by them: as Article XXV puts it,

Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him…

Therefore, to show reverence for the witness when it is among us, for it is among us in obedience to divine institution is surely right (thus, kneeling to receive Communion, as the Black Rubric explains); to adore the witness, on the other hand, is to risk confusion. Perhaps a comparison to another, lesser degree of witness in the Scriptures could be helpful. Angels are witnesses and often in the scriptures serves as the messengers of the divine Word and the instruments of grace; nevertheless, despite appearing in awful splendor, the angel said to St. John when he prostrated himself before him in holy fear, “See thou do it not!”

Bishop Jewel, in his Apology of the Church of England, calls eucharistic adoration “Idolatrous and Blasphemous.” Though these are very strong words, they are not unrepresentative. Bishop Beveridge, in his Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles, elaborates on this charge more fully and with greater generosity:

[N]o person or thing, under any pretense whatsoever, ought to be worshiped besides God. I know it is not bare bread our adversaries say they worship, but Christ in the bread, or the bread in the name of Christ. But I wish them to consider what Gregory Nyssen long ago said, ‘He that worshippeth a creature, though he do it in the name of Christ, is an idolater, giving the name of Christ to an idol.’ And therefore, let them not be angry at us for concluding them to be idolaters… and for asserting that the sacrament ought not to be reserved, carried about, or worshipped. (1830 reprint, pp. 512-513)

I do not deny that varying views of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper have prevailed among Anglicans. But the historic formularies — the 1662 prayer book most especially — are not the property of low churchmen meant to hang as an anchor against the billowing sails of high churchmen. Rather, they are the common ground for Anglicans, the ample space of the generous spirit of our beloved tradition, which does not seek to compel anything in public worship beyond what the Scriptures authorize and most ancient Fathers confirm. Prior to the late 19th-century Ritualist movement, eucharistic adoration was not a dividing line between parties. The old High Church party did not advocate the practice of eucharistic adoration; as shown above, Andrewes, Taylor, and Beveridge alike opposed it.

The Oxford Movement, of course, reopened old controversies about the doctrine of the Eucharist. Many Anglo-Catholics today now openly embrace the practice and present it as a soundly Anglican one. In this, however, they stray far from the caution of the irenic cofounder of the movement, E.B. Pusey.

Pusey sincerely subscribed to the Articles of Religion and never strayed beyond the language of the Book of Common Prayer in describing the sacrament or leading public worship. The second phase of the Anglo-Catholic movement advocated rituals unknown to the Prayer Book. Pusey thought it best to follow the advice of Bishop Beveridge:

Keep close to the words [our church] uses in her Articles and common prayers; by this means you will have a right judgment in all things, and hold fast the form of sound words indeed. By this means you will be secure from heresy, and entertain no doctrine but what is Catholic and Orthodox.

This advice, I contend, could continue to be an instrument of unity among Anglicans today.

There is nothing more holy in the worship of the Church than to come to the Lord’s Table to duly receive the holy mysteries. We who are compelled to adore the Lord, who long to enjoy the sweetness of communion with him, and seek assurance that he evermore dwells in us and we in him, let us come to the Table, as he has bidden us, to take and eat. As Bishop Lancelot Andrewes said,

How shall we receive Him? Who shall give Him us? That shall One that will say unto us within a while, Accipite, “Take, this is My body,” “by the offering whereof ye are sanctified,” “Take, this is My blood,” by the shedding whereof ye are saved. Both in the holy mysteries ordained by God as pledges to assure us and as conduit pipes to convey into us this and all other the benefits that come by this our Saviour. (Works I, 83).

That which our Lord has ordained for his disciples to do in perpetual memory of him is more than sufficient for us to savor the sweetness of his most holy presence.

Drew Nathaniel Keane is a lecturer in the Department of Writing and Linguistics at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.

7 Responses

  1. Neil Dhingra

    Thanks for this well-researched and well-written contribution.

    I worry, however, about “constitutive expressions” that are condemnations of ideas and rituals because that would seem to depend on those condemnations adequately describing really-existing beliefs and practices that are then rendered incapable of significant variance, development, or reinterpretation.

    Also, more specifically, I worry that, despite the praise of Pusey, this article neglects some of the distinctions (not necessarily loopholes) in Pusey’s 1857 The Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ…, namely that 1) Article xxv defines the “end” of the Eucharist as reception, not that immediate reception must be the exclusive use, otherwise all forms of reservation, including for the sick, would be condemned, and 2) there is a clear difference between worship “of the Sacrament” and “of Christ present there.”

    Obviously, one can argue that adoration, by its very nature, shifts the “end” of the Eucharist through its abstraction from the eucharistic action and the congregation, and one can argue that one can’t worship “Christ present there” without worshiping bread and wine. But those would be arguments that aren’t present here.

    Therefore, the article seems to freeze Anglican practice in a 16th century context as forever posed against an equally icebound Roman Catholicism.

    Thanks again.

    • Drew Nathaniel Keane

      Thanks for these thoughtful comments. You’ve rightly pointed out the limits of the scope of this examination. What I have tried to do is simply to sketch or outline the classical Anglican view on the topic and the reasons for it. In order to do that, I start with the Articles and Prayer Book, then explored how a variety of prominent Anglican divines from the 16th through the 18th Century, who disagreed on a number of important questions, dealt with this particular issue, in order to try to extract from them a consensus that could be fairly described as a “classical” Anglican view.

      My aim in adding the bit from Pusey wasn’t to attempt engage with his eucharistic theology, but to point out the interesting way in which he looked at the prayer book and articles as a sort of common ground for Anglicans despite the ways in which many were sharply disagreeing and diverging in his time. Far from seeming annoyed with the prayer book and articles for being either outdated or overly-Reformed, he seems to have recommended the usefulness of being reigned in by them — which, incidentally, probably helps to account for his reluctance towards the Ritualist Movement, despite the Ritualists viewing their aims with regards to ceremonial, vesture, and architecture as fueled by the approach to theology for which Pusey advocated.

      In any case, you rightly highlight the persistent identity problem with which any attempt at description of Anglicanism has to come to terms. Generally speaking, my sense of the Restoration is that the decision to closely follow the Elizabethan Settlement — the 1662 prayer book as a very restrained revision of the 1559 prayer book, the adoption of the 1571 articles, the reinstitution of the 1604 canons, etc. — is part of an intentional project of comprehensiveness, just as the Elizabethan Settlement was itself an attempt to do something like that following the reign of Mary I. I think the Articles and Prayer Book aim to provide a common ground more than to absolutely settle the questions that divided up English Protestants into parties (and, indeed, fueled a civil war).

      That, of course, certainly leaves plenty of remaining questions. My hope was to provide a useful overview of the classical Anglican consensus regarding eucharistic adoration — not their conclusions so much as the sort of reasoning that they employed — in order to contribute to the wider, ongoing conversation.

  2. Kofi Wing

    I agree with what Neil Dhingra wrote in response to the article. It seems like a sound defense of Benediction and Eucharistic Adoration. However, there is one part of the liturgy for Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament that still gives me pause. It is the phrase “Let us forever adore the Most Holy Sacrament.” I have a hard time seeing how this does not cross the border from worshipping Christ present in and through the sacrament to worshipping the sacrament (the “outward and visible sign”) itself. If anyone wants to suggest to me how this difficulty might be dealt with, I would welcome it.

  3. Eugene Schlesinger

    I really enjoyed this clear statement of what we might call a “classically Anglican” approach the these questions, but I wonder to what extent the classical Anglican take is applicable in the contemporary setting.

    When I read the Articles and “classic” Anglican sources, I’m increasingly struck by the way that they are responding to a decadent late-medieval situation, rather than to either the best of what scholasticism had to offer or what the Catholic Church has definitively taught.

    This is especially evident, I think, when it comes to eucharistic practice.

    I’ll start by noting that apart from a doctrine of transubstantiation (or something rather like it), eucharistic adoration probably is idolatrous. If what is offered adoration is not Jesus Christ himself: body and blood, soul and divinity, then to adore it is a grave offense.

    This, of course, brings us to the classical Anglican rejection of transubstantiation.
    Transubstantiation is attacked as an overreaching attempt at explaining a mystery. But if you look at conciliar texts, it seems that transubstantiation functions as an affirmation of real presence, rather than an explanation. The Councils never appeal to any particular speculative or metaphysical framework. Even if the bishops at Trent thought that Aquinas’s explanation was a good one, they do not elevate it to the status of definitive teaching.

    Or, it “overthroweth the nature of a sacrament,” because rather than signifying it is the thing itself. But this criticism turns upon collapsing the distinction between the res et sacramentum and the res tantum. Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist are themselves a sign of an even greater reality: the union of the mystical body of Christ with its head.

    In fact, a lot of reformation concerns hinge upon collapsing scholastic distinctions, which, had they been maintained would have ameliorated the problem to which the Protestants adverted. Now, I don’t fault the reformers for raising these concerns and objections. It was a decadent period. There was a lot of confusion in the air. And these distinctions were obscured not just by angry Protestant polemicists, but also within Catholicism.

    But, we have the benefit of greater clarity now. And simply repeating reformation-era complaints and arguments ignores that.

    This does not mean that Anglicans need to all affirm transubstantiation now because it was misunderstood in the 16th century and now we know better. It might be that some or most among us would still judge it to be untrue. What it does mean is that demurral from the doctrine should be couched in different terms, responding to what it actually is, rather than to a 16th century chimera.

    I’d add that what I’m articulating here is, I think, different than Newman’s Tract 90. I’m not trying to find wiggle-room in the Articles for adopting practices that they clearly denounced. Instead, I’m trying to say that the context has decidedly changed, and that we need to take that into account.

    I wonder, then, if you might have thoughts about how this demurral from the practice might be transposed into the contemporary context with its greater understanding of what’s actually taught and believed within Catholicism.

    • Eugene Schlesinger

      I see that this comment ended rather more abruptly than I’d realized, giving it a tone I didn’t intend. I meant for my question at the end to be a genuine invitation. I would be interested in a fresh articulation of an objection to adoration/benediction that takes into account the greater refinement and understanding currently available to us. I believe that could result in some really fruitful dialogue.

      However, as it reads above, my concluding paragraph can come off as a challenge and perhaps even snarky at that. This wasn’t my intention, but I should have been more careful, and I regret not doing so.

    • Drew Nathaniel Keane

      Thanks for this very thoughtful comment. My essay, as you rightly note, has a limited scope and doesn’t directly address the contemporary situation. My aim was to come to terms with the classical Anglican viewpoint, not simply to repeat the conclusions reached, but to come to terms with the various lines of reasoning they shared. I have tried to provide a brief sketch or outline of that reasoning as preliminary to a discussion of the current situation. Part of my concern or motivation for that lies in my sense that too many Anglicans have dismissed the classical Anglican position on this issue in particular without an appreciation for their reasoning. So, my hope is that this sketch would be useful even to someone who ultimately still disagreed with their proscription of eucharistic adoration.

      In terms of methodology, what I have tried to describe is not simply the 16th century prayer book and articles, but also how some leading 17th and 18th century Anglican divines carried these concerns forward, after the circumstances that led to the 16th century reforms had significantly changed. Cosin, Taylor, and Beveridge are probably the most useful ones for beginning to address your questions about whether or not the 16th century reforms were accurately coming to terms with Medieval theology, particularly the conciliar definitions. None of these three were interested in simply repeating 16th century conclusions — they do not share all the concerns or conclusions of the Reformation era divines. They provide a particularly interesting area of exploration because they are original theologians coming to terms with patristic and medieval and contemporary sources for themselves, in conversation with the formularies of their Church and the Reformation era divines. Beveridge, the 18th century Bishop of St. Asaph, deals rather extensively with the patristic and medieval sources — he’s certainly the best patristics scholar among Anglican divines before J. B. Lightfoot. The seriousness of the objection continues for centuries after the Reformation and among scholars who do not depend on the 16th century reformers for their reasoning. Of course, that too doesn’t address the question of engagement with contemporary Catholic theology.

      To shift gears a bit, your comment brings up another thought that I think ought not to be lost sight of in the conversation. The classical Anglican position (in terms of the formularies and the consensus we can extract from the corpus of works of Anglican divines) is not simply (perhaps not even primarily) a response from experts in divinity to experts in divinity (although that’s certainly part of the picture), but rather always include concern for the teaching and pastoral office vis-a-vis the general populace. The presence of a question like “what will this ritual action communicate to those who will not read a theological treatise about the nature of the sacrament?” seems present in much of what I’m reading in these old Anglican divines.

      In any case, I know that doesn’t at all answer your question. I’m afraid I have to rush off for now. But, I’m grateful for the comment and look forward to continuing the conversation.

      • Eugene Schlesinger

        Thank you for this well thought-out and engaging response.
        It is of course true that no one can do everything (and certainly not at once, and even more certainly not in about 1200 words!), and so I appreciate you clarifying what you’re up to.

        I want especially to register my appreciation for your penultimate paragraph where you ask about the pastoral dimensions of these questions. That’s both a helpful reminder about what the Anglican divines were up to and a goad for thinking through the concrete effects our actions have upon the faithful (regardless of how well worked-out the theory is).

        This, of course, points to issues not just of theology and liturgy, but also of catechesis. Very nice, precise scholastic distinctions are great (as is well-executed ritual), but they are distinct enterprises from catechesis and homiletics. How to allow our theoretical rigor to inform catechetics and homiletics without intruding on them in really unhelpful ways is something worth pondering.

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