Posted by: mattcolvin | July 27, 2015

Was The Black Rubric Changed to Allow Adoration of a Real Presence in the Elements?

One of the features of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer is its inclusion of the Declaration on Kneeling, or Black Rubric, which explains that Anglicans kneeling to receive Communion are not doing so to worship a presence of Christ in the elements, but to express their gratitude.

The Declaration was changed in 1662 from its original phrasing of 1552. The words “real and essential presence”, which were denied in 1552, are replaced with the words “Corporal presence”:

…thereby [sc. by kneeling] no adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacra-mental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ’s natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians;) and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural Body to be at one time in more places than one.

It is alleged by some that this rubric does not actually close the door on Eucharistic adoration, since…

… this change in language from 1552 to 1662 allows for someone to adore the real and essential presence while rejecting adoration of the corporeal presence, that is adoration of the elements in a transubstantiated sense.

Now, on the face of things, this seems to me to be stretching logic and the English language to the breaking point. It is not the first time it has been tried, though. Nathaniel Dimock already sufficiently refuted this argument back in 1897:

Does not the very structure of the rubric itself render a purpose of changing the doctrinal statement absolutely inconceivable ? Let it be carefully considered what such a change would amount to. It would be a designed rejection of the previous statement, admitting its contradictory. But the contradictory of the previous statement would be that adoration may be done to a real and essential Presence there being of Christ’s natural flesh and blood, the amended statement still declaring that no adoration ought to be done to any corporal Presence of Christ’s natural flesh and blood. The effect of the change of statement would obviously be to make a distinction between a real and essential Presence (not to the soul, but upon the table), and a corporal Presence there, allowing adoration to the one, and refusing it to the other. But the whole argument of the rubric will be found to apply as much to the exclusion of adoration to the one as to the other. If the rubric allows adoration to a real and essential Presence in the elements, then the order of kneeling is certainly not well meant for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgment of the benefits of Christ given in the Lord s Supper to all worthy receivers; and further, not only is it foolish to argue from the statement of Christ’s natural body and blood being in heaven, but it is actually untrue to declare that they are in heaven and not here. And then, further still, it cannot be maintained that it is against the truth of Christ’s natural body to be at one time in more places than one. On the hypothesis of the doctrinal statement being thus changed to admit of the teaching of the adorable Presence of Christ’s Body really and essentially present after the manner of a spirit in the elements, it will be found that there is a cause for the statement appended to the statement, which alleged cause is not only inapplicable to the statement, but is actually destructive of it. But further: looking at the object of the rubric, it cannot be denied that, upon the supposition of such an intentional change of the doctrinal statement, the whole rubric would have been a miserable delusion, an attempt to put to rest men’s suspicions by a declaration, which declaration in its changed form (with the change so understood), instead of removing suspicions, would not merely have aggravated them, but have raised the fiercest opposition. Such an attempt at public deception is not only incredible, it would have been worthy of infamy. — N. Dimock, History of the Book of Common Prayer in Its Bearing on Present Eicharistic Controversies, 1897, p. 71-72. 

In other words, if adoration is directed to a presence of Christ’s body and blood, and this is excused by the qualification that it is not a corporal presence, then what use is it to mention the location of Christ’s natural body “in heaven and not here”? The logic of the Declaration is that since the natural body is in heaven and not here, therefore the kneeling that we do is not an act of worship directed toward a presence of that body in the elements on the table, but is only an gesture “for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgement of the benefits of Christ therein given to all worthy Receivers”. To claim that the change of words was intended to give room for practices condemned by the earlier version 110 years before is to impute to the 1662 revisers the shady trickery of an unscrupulous lawyer hiding phrases in fine print that clandestinely and subtly vitiate a document of which everyone thought they knew the intent and meaning. This is why Dimock says that, if that were what was intended by the change of “real and essential” for “corporal”, it would be “worthy of infamy”.

We ought never to forget that Englishmen died to rescue the Lord’s institution of Holy Communion from the multitude of abuses under which it was hidden in the Renaissance era: processions, elevation, display of the elements for worship by staring at and “adoring” Christ locally present in them. The fruit of the Reformers’ labor and sacrifice was an English church that “duly used” the Lord’s Supper by eating and drinking the elements of bread and wine and thereby receiving Christ’s body and blood by the means of faith, the res of His body and blood being conveyed by the Holy Spirit to worthy receivers.

Against this hard-won achievement, some would turn the clock back to pre-Reformation practices, willfully “mistaking” the BCP and the Articles of Religion’s plain and historical sense in order to make room for the very practices that provoked the prohibitions and condemnation of our Reformers.

Christ’s body, being located in heaven and not here, is really given to us by our right use of the elements of Holy Communion. Let us then eat and drink with faith, and not wrest Christ’s institution to purposes He never intended, and which our tradition has always condemned.



  1. You speak of the Black Rubric as if it were Anglican Dogma throughout our history. But this is not really the case. The Rubric was slipped into the 1552 BCP at the last minute and was never approved by Parliament. Add to this the fact that Abp. Cranmer vehemently protested its inclusion (read MacCulloch’s Biography).

    When the BCP was reissued under Elizabeth I in 1559, the Black Rubric was not included. That Prayer Book was used by the Church until the revision of 1662. So the Black Rubric was not in the BCP for over a century!

    It is well known that Elizabeth had a simple yet profound view of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist that is more in line with the historic view of the early centuries of the Church. She is famously quoted as saying:

    Christ was the word that spake it.
    He took the bread and break it;
    And what his words did make it
    That I believe and take it.

    Would that we could all confess this and shut our mouths!

    It should also be noted that in the 1559 BCP, the older words of administration (from the 1549 BCP) were joined to the words from the 1552. Those words made it into the 1662 version and have continued to us today: “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee…The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which was shed for thee…” The context is crucial for this is the very point at which the priest gives the elements to the communicant. This is consistent with Article XXVIII which says, “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper of the Lord, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner.”

    The Black Rubric was reinserted into the BCP at the revision in 1662 (in concession to the Puritans). But there was an important change in wording. Are we to believe that this meant nothing? These folks were more theologically astute than either you or Dimock are giving them credit for. As a side note, you never explain why the language was changed. Darwell Stone suggested that “the bishops intended it to form an express repudiation only of such carnal views of the presence of Christ in the Sacrament as were rejected also by the Council of Trent.” (Holy Communion, 116.)

    I would imagine that most of us would prefer to go with the simple theology of Queen Elizabeth instead of getting into a theology of negation which ultimately leads to not believing anything about the Lord’s Supper.

    • Thanks for commenting, Fr. Camlin. Dimock does an impressive job of showing that Eucharistic adoration was not the practice of the early church, and that it was abhorred by your beloved Caroline divines. Even John Keble himself admits that it was not the practice of the early church:

      “The only plausible objection that I know of, to the foregoing statement, arises from the omission of the subject in the primitive liturgies, which are almost or altogether silent as to any worship of Christ s Body and Blood after consecration. We find in them neither any form of prayer addressed in special to His holy humanity so present, nor any rubric enjoining adoration inward or outward.” (Eucharistic Adoration, p. 126, Oxford, 1867.)

      And Dimock’s works are absolutely full of quotations from the fathers demonstrating the same thing.
      As for Cranmer’s views on Real Presence, you and I both know that Anglo-Catholics want nothing to do with them.
      The passage that I have quoted here from Dimock is an argument from the logic and structure of the Declaration on Kneeling. But he also has a section in which he discusses the reason for the change to the word “corporal” from “real and essential”. I quote only a small portion of it:

      But then, it will be asked, how are we to account for the change of the term “real and essential Presence” to “corporal Presence”? I answer, Merely by taking into account the fact that since the first insertion of the rubric a very observable and somewhat remarkable change (the result of continual controversial skirmishing) had come over, not the doctrine, but the use of language concerning the Eucharist in the teaching of Reformed theologians, as well abroad as at home, and as well among Puritans as among Churchmen. In the language commonly in use in King Edward s days “real and essential Presence” signified a medheval doctrine rejected and repudiated by our Reformers. It was a term belonging to the later medieval phraseology which was in common use among Romanists to express a Roman doctrine. As frequently used in days preceding the last review, the phrase “real Presence”; was in constant use among the Reformed; to signify that true doctrine which our Reformers and their successors had uniformly contended for.

      The biggest question, the elephant in the room, is why Eucharistic adoration was not practiced in the Church of England until the Oxford movement, and why three hundred years of English divines understood the practice to be forbidden? What can the explanation be for these historical facts?

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