Word or Sacrament? Which has priority?

A fascinating pair of rubrics in the 1662 BCP order for The Communion of the Sick. The order opens with the following:

But if the sick person be not able to come to the Church, and yet is desirous to receive the Communion in his house; then he must give timely notice to the Curate, signifying also how many there are to communicate with him, (which shall be three, or two at the least,) and having a convenient place in the sick manâ™s house, with all things necessary so prepared, that the Curate may reverently minister, he shall there celebrate the holy Communion, beginning with the Collect, Epistle, and Gospel, here following.

Thereâ™s a couple of things going on here with the need to have a bunch of people around when Communion is administered to the sick. First, theyâ™re seeking to indicate that this is not The Last Rites – a liturgy that youâ™ll not find in the BCP. Plus, thereâ™s a desire to indicate that Communion is not just between me and God, itâ™s something that is done in community.

And, if youâ™re going to have Communion then it has to be done properly, with the Bible first being read so that all that is done can be understood in the context of scripture.

But it gets better, because then you have this lovely rubric:

But if a man, either by reason of extremity of sickness, or for want of warning in due time to the curate, or for lack of company to receive with him, or by any other just impediment, do not receive the Sacrament of Christâ™s Body and Blood, the Curate shall instruct him, that if he do truly repent him of his sins, and steadfastly believe that Jesus Christ both suffered death upon the Cross for him, and shed his Blood for his redemption, earnestly remembering the benefits he hath thereby, and giving him hearty thanks therefore, he doth eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ profitably to his Soulâ™s health, although he do not receive the Sacrament with his mouth.

So, if thereâ™s not enough people then no matter! The Curate opens his bible and explains the gospel to the communicant, calling him to “steadfastly believe that…”.

And the communicant, despite not having put a crumb of bread nor a drop of wine to their mouth, is considered to be remembering the benefits of Christâ™s death and to eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ profitably. This is, of course, the Anglican Eucharistic theology as I have outlined previously.

Once again, according to the BCP, Word wins over sacrament. If you ever have to choose which one to go for, the answer is clear.

Omne Bonumâ™ Jacobus Anglicus

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