« AnteriorContinua »
of devotion which is produced by an established form of prayer, rather than trust to the accidental effusion of extemporaneous excitement, which would vary according to the abilities of those who delivered it, we do but proceed in consistence with that general opinion, when we lay down for the Eucharist, as well as for every other part of divine service, a distinct form in which it may be celebrated. It matters not whether that form be as in the church of Scotland, to receive the communion in a sitting posture, or as in our own church in a kneeling posture; whether it be used with this sort of wine, or that sort of wine; whether it should be celebrated in the morning or in the evening, fasting or not fasting. All these things matter not to the essence and virtue of the sacrament. All we require is, that everything according to the apostle's direction, be done "decently and in order."
Let us first say a few words on the place where this holy office is administered, and then direct our attention to the service itself.
The ancient churches were in general divided into two principal parts.
or nave, and the bema, or chancel. The nave was the public and general place where the laity assembled for ordinary worship; the bema was so called because it was in general
an ascent by steps from the body of the church, and being railed off by small banisters, or cancelli, from thence took the name of chancel. In this chancel, so partitioned off, as more peculiarly holy, stood the altar, or holy table, sometimes directly against the wall, sometimes a short distance from
Whether, indeed, it should be called altar, or table, there has been much dispute. In the three first centuries it is called, more than twenty times, an altar; a table but once. In the reign of Edward VI. an order in council was issued to Bishop Ridley to pull down all altars, and to place tables in their stead; but it was natural that at that peculiar time when the nation was just emerging from the darkness of popery, and very great jealousies were entertained of anything that had the slightest semblance of the superstition of the mass, it was very natural that the name of altar should be looked upon with suspicion ;* but now, as all misapprehen
Hooper, preaching before King Edward, says, "It would be well if it might please the magistrates to have the altars turned into tables, to take away the false persuasion of the people of sacrifices to be done upon altars, because, as long as altars remain, the ignorant, both people and priests, will always dream of sacrifice." For a more full account of these matters the reader must consult Mede, Bingham, and particularly "Johnson's Unbloody Sacrifice and Altar Unveiled,"-chap. ii. sect. iii.
This subject has already been referred to at page 154.
sion on this score is done away, and we have learnt to call the Eucharist a sacrifice, spiritual sacrifice, as well as a sacrament, the name of altar may, without impropriety, be restored; and accordingly we now find that name promiscuously used with that of table. The material of which this altar or table was constructed was generally wood, sometimes stone; it was frequently ornamented with a canopy above it, sometimes with a dove, as representing the descent of the Holy Ghost, and at the time of celebrating the Eucharist was invariably covered with a clean linen cloth. That which covered the altar was called the altar pall, and another, which was prepared for covering the sacred elements, was called the palla corporis, or corporal, all which precisely accords with the customs of our present churches, and with the rubric, which directs the administration of the service.* "The table at the communion-time having a fair white linen cloth upon it, shall stand in the body of the church, or in the chancel." And again, when the elements have been administered: "The minister shall return
* That this is a very ancient practise, we learn from Optatus, A.D. 370: "What Christian is ignorant that the wood of the altar is covered with a linen cloth," Optat. in Don. lib. 6. And again: "You cleansed the palls or white cloths upon the altars to make them more holy." Jerome also mentions it, A.D. 392. See Nicholls' Comment on the Book of Common Prayer.
to the Lord's table, and reverently place upon it what remaineth of the consecrated elements, covering the same with a fair linen cloth." The chalices and flagons, and the cups for administering the wine, as well as the paten or plates for the bread, were originally, when the church was poor, of common materials, the plates of wicker work, the cups of wood, or any cheap material, but when the wealth of the church increased, these holy vessels were of gold or silver, as most suitable to the dignity of so holy a mystery.
In all these respects then, the church being furnished and duly prepared, according to primitive usage, we may now return to the service itself.
The service stands in our Common Prayer Books under the title of "The Order of the administration of the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion." At stated periods, the whole of this service is performed, and the Eucharist administered to the congregation: but even at such periods as there is no actual administration of the sacrament, still a part of the service is required to be read on every Sabbath-day--that portion detailing the moral law, the Nicene Creed, the gospel and epistle of the day.
The purpose of this would seem to be, to remind the people of the use of that al
tar* from which the moral law is given, and the value of that sacrament which is there celebrated; the pledge of keeping that moral law on the part of man, and the token of pardon for its transgression, on the part of God. the primitive church, as I have already said, it was the custom to administer the Lord's Supper every Sabbath-day, and this custom of ours of reading a portion of the communion service is of course a relic of that olden time. However, our business at present is, to consider the service as a whole, just as it is performed in our churches on those days when the sacrament is to be administered.
The service may be divided into three portions; the pre-communion, the communion, and the post-communion. In the first part, or precommunion, the whole congregation, children as well as adults, unbaptized as well as baptized persons, are all permitted to join. We begin with the Lord's prayer, as being the prayer appointed by Christ, and therefore none
Here we cannot but advert to the exceedingly improper custom, which prevails in some country churches, of performing this portion of the communion service in the same position in the church as the ordinary morning prayers, in the reading desk, instead of at the altar. The attention of the congregation is thereby totally diverted from the meaning of the service, and a slovenly and indecent manner of performing one part of the office, must necessarily beget a disinclination on the part of the congregation to participate in the remainder.