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The bread and wine being thus consecrated in the presence of the congregation, the priest administers them to himself first, and to the clergy who may happen to be present, and then the people drawing up around the altar, and humbly kneeling down,* receive from the hands of God's minister, first the bread, and afterwards the wine; a short form of prayer is pronounced at each reception, and the communicant retires to meditate in private on that great sacrifice which he has just commemorated. In the Roman Catholic church the consecrated wafer is placed by the priest in the mouth of the communicant, the custom evidently arising from the notion of its being the actual body of Christ, and therefore not to be touched by impure hands but this is so entirely superstitious that it was at once rejected by our reformers, and we now deliver the bread and
mere words, are of any avail distinct from the blessing of God. And observe, that our rubric expressly calls it "The prayer of consecration:" and observe also, that there is a certain action of the priest-laying his hands on the bread and breaking it, laying his hands on the cup and pouring it outevidently significative actions, and needed to produce that union of prayer, oblation, and blessing, which, in our opinion, constitute the consecrating power.
* See the rubric at the end of the service, which explains the reason of kneeling, lest there should be attached to it any notion of adoration.
the cup into the hands of each communicant. That this was the ancient custom of
the church we have abundant testimony. Eusebius, speaking of one who was receiving the Eucharist, says, "He stood at the table reaching out his hand to receive the sacred food" and Ambrose says to Theodosius, "How will will you stretch out those hands which are yet reeking with innocent blood, how will you with those hands receive the sacred body of our Lord?" But as this custom came in with transubstantiation, so also it ceased when that error ceased, and our present rubric wisely directs us to give it "to the people in order, into their hands." The form of words also which is used at the delivery of the bread and wine has sustained some slight alteration, it was formerly merely thus: "The body of our Lord Jesus Christ;" "The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ," to which the communicant said aloud, "Amen." Afterwards, in the time of Gregory, the following words were added, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life," but in the time of Queen Elizabeth, this form appearing to favour the doctrine of the real presence, the words were added, were added, "Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you," and "Drink this in remembrance that Christ's blood was shed for you,' thus it now remains.
With regard to the various doctrines of transubstantiation, communicating in both kinds, of the wafer, of the mass in an unknown tongue, also of solitary masses, where the priest communicates without the people; of all these doctrines we have spoken in the proper place.* Sufficient it is for us now to pronounce generally, that the simplicity, the openness, the freedom from all mystery, which is so conspicuous in the consecration and reception of the Eucharist, as administered by the English church, seem to accord more closely than any other church with the original institution of our blessed Lord. We eat and drink the bread and wine, not as the real body and blood, but as the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace; we hope that the soul within shall be strengthened and refreshed by the spiritual communion which we have in the body broken, and the blood shed, even outwardly our bodies are refreshed by the nourishment conveyed to them by the bread and wine. We kneel before the altar with hearts replenished and sustained by faith, that faith not superstitiously excited, or with any degree of fanciful enthusiasm, but reasonably enlivened and moved by the symbols thus placed before us of the sacrifice of the Son of God.
* See chapters ii. and iii.
We behold and taste the broken bread, it recalls to our memory that solemn and tremendous hour when the Lord of life, Christ Jesus, our Redeemer, was led by the hands of wicked men, and crucified, and slain. We behold him represented to imagination, scourged and maligned; we see the accusation written over, "The king of the Jews;" we behold his mother weeping at the cross; we hear the blaspheming Jews, "He saved others, himself he cannot save." We behold and drink the poured out wine; fresh and fresh scenes for contemplation pass before us; it recalls to our memory the blood that was shed by Jesus Christ; we remember, "that without sprinkling of blood there is no remission of sins," and we remember that that sprinkling has been made; the spear cast by the heedless soldier, the blood and water issuing from the wound; the thirsting lips, the sponge and hyssop full of vinegar; all these are vividly before our imagination, while again, we hear the blaspheming Jews, "Let alone, let us see whether Elias will come to save him." Yes, there stands, as recorded on the altar of the Almighty Father, the memory of his dearly beloved Son; there stands the suffering Lamb of God, hour after hour, enduring the cross, despising the shame. We follow him from place to place, from the scourge
to the cross, from his passion to his death; we hear the complaining words, “Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani." We weep with him, we pray with him, we watch him until, faint and weary, the spirit is resigned into the hands of its Creator, and the last solemn words of the expiring Son of God are heard, "IT IS FINISHED."
With all these awful thoughts, and yet with a joyful hope in the express annunciation of Jesus: "Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day:' with hearts full of sorrow at the dreadful price of the ransom that was needed, coupled with spiritual love for him that paid the ransom; full of joy, full of hope, full of the Holy Ghost, descending, as we may not unreasonably hope, to complete the work begun, to sanctify, to strengthen, and to blesswe approach the holy feast-we taste, and see how gracious the Lord is—we do it in remembrance of Christ.
When all have communicated, there remains of course but little more to be done; that little consists in prayers and hymns of thanksgiving for the glorious feast just terminated. This is the last division of the service, and is called the post-communion.
First, the Lord's prayer; and it comes, of course, with peculiar beauty so closely after the Lord's sacrifice. The words of the Lord following his works.
Then succeeds a prayer