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Excursus on the Communion of the Sick.



Excursus on the Communion of the Sick.

There is nothing upon which the ancient church more strenuously insisted than the oral reception of the Holy Communion. What in later times was known as "Spiritual Communion" was outside of the view of those early days; and to them the issues of eternity were considered often to rest upon the sick man's receiving with his mouth "his food for the journey," the Viaticum, before he died. No greater proof of how important this matter was deemed could be found than the present canon, which provides that even the stern and invariable canons of the public penance are to give way before the awful necessity of fortifying the soul in the last hour of its earthly sojourn.

Possibly at first the Italy Sacrament may have been consecrated in the presence of the sick person, but of this in early times the instances are rare and by was considered a marked favour that such a thing should be allowed, and the saying of mass in private houses was prohibited (as it is in the Eastern and Latin churches still to-day) with the greatest

The necessity of having the consecrated bread and wine for the sick led to their reservation, a practice which has existed in the Church from the very beginning, so far as any records of which we are in possession shew.

St. Justin Martyr, writing less than a half century after St. John's death, mentions that "the deacons communicate each of those present, and carry away to the absent the blest bread, and wine and water."1 It was evidently a long established custom in his day.

Tertullian tells us of a woman whose husband was a heathen and who was allowed to keep the Holy Sacrament in her house that she might receive every morning before other food. St. Cyprian also gives a most interesting example of reservation. In his treatise "On the Lapsed" written in a.d. 251, (chapter xxvi), he says: "Another woman, when she tried with unworthy hands to open her box, in which was the Holy of the Lord, was deterred from daring to touch it by fire rising from it."

It is impossible with any accuracy to fix the date, but certainly before the year four hundred, a perpetual reservation for the sick was made in the churches. A most interesting incidental proof of this is found in the thrilling description given by St. Chrysostom of the great riot in Constantinople in the year 403, when the soldiers "burst into the place where the Holy Things were stored, and saw all things therein," and "the most holy blood of Christ was spilled upon their clothes."2 From this incident it is evident that in that church the Holy Sacrament was reserved in both kinds, and separately.

Whether this at the time was usual it is hard to say, but there can be no doubt that even in the earliest times the Sacrament was given, on rare occasions at least, in one kind, sometimes under the form of bread alone, and when the sick persons could not swallow under the form of wine alone. The practice called "intinction," that is the dipping of the bread into the wine and administering the two species together, was of very early introduction and still is universal in the East, not only when Communion is given with the reserved Sacrament, but also when the people are communicated in the Liturgy from the newly consecrated species. The first mention of intinction in the West, is at Carthage in the fifth century.3 We know it was practised in the seventh century and by the twelfth it had become general, to give place to the withdrawal of the chalice altogether in the West.4 "Regino (De Eccles. Discip. Lib. I. c. lxx.) in 906, Burchard (Decr. Lib. V. cap. ix. fol. 95. colon. 1560.) in 996, and Ivo (Decr. Pars. II. cap. xix. p. 56, Paris 1647) in 1092 all cite a Canon, which they ascribe to a council of Tours ordering `every presbyter to have a pyx or vessel meet for so great a sacrament, in which the Body of the Lord may be carefully laid up for the Viaticum to those departing from this world, which sacred oblation ought to be steeped in the Blood of Christ that the presbyter may be able to say truthfully to the sick man, The Body and Blood of the Lord avail thee, etc.'"5

The reservation of the Holy Sacrament was usually made in the church itself, and the learned W. E. Scudamore is of opinion that this was the case in Africa as early as the fourth century.6

It will not be uninteresting to quote in this connection the "Apostolic Constitutions," for while indeed there is much doubt of the date of the Eighth Book, yet it is certainly of great antiquity. Here we read, "and after the communion of both men and women, the deacons take what remains and place it in the tabernacle."7

Perhaps it may not be amiss before closing the remark that so far as we are aware the reservation of the Holy Sacrament in the early church was only for the purposes of communion, and that the churches of the East reserve it to the present day only for this purpose.

Those who wish to read the matter treated of more at length, can do so in Muratorius's learned "Dissertations" which are prefixed to his edition of the Roman Sacramentaries (chapter XXIV) and in Scudamore's Notitia Eucharistica, a work which can be absolutely relied upon for the accuracy of its facts, however little one may feel constrained to accept the logical justness of its conclusions.

Concerning catechumens who have lapsed, the holy and great Synod has decreed that, after they have passed three years only as hearers, they shall pray with the catechumens.


If any of the catechumens shall have fallen for three years he shall be a hearer only, and then let him pray with the catechumens.


The people formerly were divided into three classes in the church, for there were catechumens, faithful, and penitents; but it is clear from the present canon there were two kinds of catechumens: one consisting of those who heard the Word of God, and wished to become Christians, but had not yet desired baptism; these were called "hearers." Others who were of long standing, and were properly trained in the faith, and desired baptism-these were called "competentes."

There is difference of opinion among the learned as to whether there was not a third or even a fourth class of catechumens. Bingham and Card. Bona, while not agreeing in particular points, agree in affirming that there were more than two classes. Bingham's first class are those not allowed to enter the church, the e0cwqou/menoi, but the affirmation of the existence of such a class rests only on a very forced explanation of canon five of NeoCaesarea. The second class, the hearers, audientes, rests on better evidence. These were not allowed to stay while the Holy Mysteries were celebrated, and their expulsion gave rise to the distinction between the "Mass of the Catechumens" (Missa Catechumenorum) and the "Mass of the Faithful" (Missa Fidelium). Nor were they suffered to hear the Creed or the Our Father. Writers who multiply the classes insert here some who knelt and prayed, called Prostrati or Genuflectentes (the same name as was given to one of the grades of penitence).

(Edw. H. Plumptre in Dict. Christ. Antiq. s. v. Catechumens.)

After these stages had been traversed each with its appropriate instruction, the catechumens gave in their names as applicants for baptism, and were known accordingly as Competentes sunaitou/ntej. This was done commonly at the beginning of the Quadragesimal fast, and the instruction, carried on through the whole of that period, was fuller and more public in its nature (Cyril Hieros. Catech. i. 5; Hieron. Ep. 61, ad Pammach. c. 4:). To catechumens in this stage the great articles of the Creed, the nature of the Sacraments, the penitential discipline of the Church, were explained, as in the Catechetical Lectures of Cyril of Jerusalem, with dogmatic precision. Special examinations and inquiries into character were made at intervals during the forty days. It was a time for fasting and watching and prayer (Constt. Apost. viii. 5; 4 C. Carth. c. 85; Tertull. De Bapt. c. 20; Cyril. 1. c.) and, in the case of those who were married, of the strictest continence (August. De fide et oper. v. 8). Those who passed through the ordeal were known as the perfectiores teleiw/terotthe electi, or in the nomenclature of the Eastern Church as baptizo/menoi or fwtizo/wenoi, the present participle being used of course with a future or gerundial sense. Their names were inscribed as such in the album or register of the church. They were taught, but not till a few days before their baptism, the Creed and the Lord's Prayer which they were to use after it. The periods for this registration varied, naturally enough, in different churches. At Jerusalem it was done on the second (Cyril. Catech. iii.), in Africa on the fourth Sunday in Lent (August. Serm. 213), and this was the time at which the candidate, if so disposed, might lay aside his old heathen or Jewish name and take one more specifically Christian (Socrat. H. E. vii. 21). . . .It is only necessary to notice here that the Sacramentum Catechumenorum of which Augustine speaks (De Peccat. Merit. ii. 26) as given apparently at or about the time of their first admission by imposition of hands, was probably the eu0logi/ai or panis benedictus, and not, as Bingham and Augusta maintain, the salt which was given with milk and honey after baptism.

ON account of the great disturbance and discords that occur, it is decreed that the custom prevailing in certain places contrary to the Canon, must wholly be done away; so that neither bishop, presbyter, nor deacon shall pass from city to city. And if any one, after this decree of the holy and great Synod, shall attempt any such thing, or continue in any such course, his proceedings shall be utterly void, and he shall be restored to the Church for which he was ordained bishop or presbyter.


Neither bishop, presbyter, nor deacon shall pass from city to city. But they shall be sent back, should they attempt to do so, to the Churches in which they were ordained.


The translation of a bishop, priest, or deacon from one church to another, had already been forbidden in the primitive Church. Nevertheless, several translations had taken place, and even at the Council of Nice several eminent men were present who had left their first bishoprics to take others: thus Eusebius, Bishop of Nicomedia, had been before Bishop of Berytus; Eustathius, Bishop of Antioch, had been before Bishop of Berrhoea in Syria. The Council of Nice thought it necessary to forbid in future these translations, and to declare them invalid. The chief reason of this prohibition was found in the irregularities and disputes occasioned by such change of sees; but even if such practical difficulties had not arisen, the whole doctrinal idea, so to speak, of the relationship between a cleric and the church to which he had been ordained, namely, the contracting of a mystical marriage between them, would be opposed to any translation or change. In 341 the Synod of Antioch renewed, in its twenty-first canon, the prohibition passed by the Council of Nice; but the interest of the Church often rendered it necessary to make exceptions, as happened in the case of St. Chrysostom. These exceptional cases increased almost immediately after the holding of the Council of Nice, so that in 382, St. Gregory of Nazianzum considered this law among those which had long been abrogated by custom. It was more strictly observed in the Latin Church; and even Gregory's contemporary, Pope Damasus, declared himself decidedly in favour of the rule of Nice.

This canon is found in the Corpus Juris Canonici. Decretum, Pars II. Causa VII, Q. 1,c. xix.

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