Monstrances in the Church of England: are they legal?

In addition to moderating readers’ comments, we frequently look at the back end of the blog to see what is appearing as “Top Searches”; and recently we have turned up a few for “monstrance – legality in Church of England” or similar. It’s a question we’ve never addressed and, almost inevitably, even the short answer is complicated. (The long answer is probably something for an LLM dissertation). However, the question is nevertheless timely in view of their processional use at the start of the Easter Triduum, in addition to their more frequent use for Benediction at the end of Evensong. Furthermore, since it was necessary to access various sources of information, it may be useful to summarize these for subsequent use (and readers’ comments).

Legality of a monstrance

When considering the legality of a monstrance it is necessary to address its acquisition and its use in the liturgy. With regard to the former, it is important that the introduction of a monstrance into a church be authorized by faculty. In the 4th edition of Moore’s Introduction to English Canon Law, Timothy Briden notes that, technically, the term “ornaments” is confined to those things which are used in or about services in the church, such as the altar table, bell, Communion vessels, the Bible and prayer books [page 137]. So a monstrance would be regarded as an “ornament”, whereas flower vases and stained glass windows would not – though, of course, a faculty would be required for a new stained glass window not because it is an “ornament” but because its installation would constitute an alteration to the fabric.

As an “ornament of the church”, the monstrance falls within the “Ornaments Rubric” in the Book of Common Prayer whose application aroused such controversy at the end of the 19th Century. Nevertheless, although a monstrance is an ancillary to the Reservation of the Sacrament, case law has tended to focus on other related aspects of the Rubric and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. With regard to their present use, the judgments in Re St Thomas, Pennywell [1995] Fam 50 and Re St John the Evangelist, Chopwell, [1996] 1 All ER 275 “articulated a sea-change in the law relating to liturgical ornaments”. The former case states that “the Rubrics in all forms of service should in general be interpreted as directives rather than regulations”; and in the 3rd edition of Ecclesiastical Law, Mark Hill comments that the previous rigorist approach to “movables and ornaments” should no longer be applied and the Rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer and elsewhere “should be given the elasticity they require” [7.123].

Use of a monstrance

With regard to the use of ornaments of the church, Briden points out that the courts have been more concerned with the use to which an ornament is put rather than the question of whether it was in use with Parliament’s authority at a particular date; he notes [page 138]:

“If an ornament in unlawful, no faculty for its introduction can properly be granted. However, if it is lawful, it is a matter of discretion whether or not it should be granted, and, if the chancellor is of the opinion that it is likely to be used for an unlawful purpose, he may refuse the faculty even though in itself the ornament is lawful”.

Consistory courts have considered a wide range of items in this category, although not, to our knowledge, monstrances per se. With regard to their liturgical use, Article XXVIII states:

“… The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped”,

which, in addition to the processional and other occasions in which a monstrance is used, is also relevant to the elevation of the Host during the Eucharistic Prayer. Furthermore, Canon C 15 requires clergy to make a Declaration of Assent that, inter alia:

“in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon” [emphasis added].

Bursell notes the very wide meaning of the phrase “forms of service” as defined in Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure 1974:

“any order, service, prayer, rite or ceremony whatsoever, including the services for the ordination of priests and deacons and the consecration of bishops and the catechism or form of instruction before confirmation”,

and suggests that any Canons made pursuant to the Measure must be interpreted in the light of them. Although Canon B 5 allows a degree of discretion to ministers in the conduct of public prayer in relation to permissible variations, this relates to those variations that are not of substantial importance in any form of service authorized by Canon B 1 according to particular circumstances. However, to misquote Thesiger LJ in Sturges v Bridgman (1879) LR 11 Ch D 852, “what is not of substantial importance in St Silas, Kentish Town may be so at Holy Trinity, Brompton”.


Whether or not the inclusion of Benediction as part of Evensong (which is probably one of the most frequent occasions on which a monstrance is used) is “authorized or allowed by Canon” is another matter. Briden summarizes the current legal position [page 136] like this:

“any modification in public worship outside the scope of Canon B 5 is introduced at the minister’s peril. The peril is not great, as proceedings are today unlikely to be taken against him or her; but in the last century it was real”.

But nevertheless, there are clearly churches where the use of a monstrance is a normal part of the liturgical diet and – presumably – has been approved by the diocesan bishop under the terms of Canons B 2 and B 5.

So the answer to the question is, possibly, “Yes – but only just”.


Cite this article as: David Pocklington & Frank Cranmer, “Monstrances in the Church of England: are they legal?” in Law & Religion UK, 5 April 2016,


7 thoughts on “Monstrances in the Church of England: are they legal?

  1. I often saw a monstrance in use in my Catholic youth. But never since I became an Anglican, although, I know that Benediction is a feature of Anglo-Catholic worship and liturgy.

    Is there such a thing as ‘Custom and Practice’ where an item, nominally illegal, but in long use, because it’s regular use, over a long period of time, ‘custom and practice’ or in the ‘tradition’ of that particular parish requires its use when worshipping in that tradition?

    • Along with ringing the Angelus bell at 6am, noon and 6pm, and a daily celebration of Mass, the use of a monstrance is a normal part of the liturgical diet of my own church, SS Peter and Paul, Wantage – a practice that began with the “Oxford Movement” and William John Butler who was parish priest from 1847 to 1881. The issue of “custom” is taken into consideration in many aspects of church life, particularly when a change is proposed – of priest, vesture conduct of services, episcopal oversight as well as matters falling within the faculty jurisdiction. An example of the latter is Re St Nicholas Arundel which concerns a major reordering as part of which objections were raised in relation to matters that were perceived as unlawful in relation to ecclesiastical law and represented a departure from the Anglican tradition in favour of that of the Roman Catholic Church.

  2. Thank you for the link to the Arundel case, which provided some interesting reading – it demonstrates clearly, how wide is the remit of Church Law, and how one person’s Churchmanship differs from another. The crude scale of 0 for Evangelical and 10 for Catholic could be applied in either order to every parish and come out with similar outcomes.

    I can recall when writing an assignment for one of my LLM modules, questioning different people about their own view of Churchmanship in the parish and of 12 people questioned, I got 12 different views.

    We hang onto the description of broad Church, which meets our needs and is inclusive enough for everyone. I’d be happy if we moved move towards the Catholic end of the spectrum, but know that if I feel the need for a dose of incense, that thee are two Anglo Catholic parishes in our Deanery, who are always happy to see me.

  3. In his recent piece The Dual Function of the Parochial Church Council: Representative and Trustee Philip Jones lists the representative function of the PCC:

    (1) choice of liturgy, under the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974, s.1(3)
    (2) choice of Bible, under the Prayer Book (Versions of the Bible) Measure 1965, s.1(1)
    (3) choice of ministerial vesture during divine service, under canon B8(6)
    (4) choice of incumbent, under the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986
    (5) pastoral reorganisation procedure, under the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011 and
    (6) the faculty procedure

    to which should be added

    (7) episcopal oversight, under paragraph 18, House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests, GS Misc 1076

  4. A liturgical pedant writes:

    Please let us not confuse the use of monstrances for services of Benediction or Exposition throughout the year (on which I offer no comment) and the very specific practice of reservation of the ‘presanctified’ at the start of the Easter Triduum at the Maundy Thursday Watch (rarely, these days, through the entire night), leading to communion from these elements, rather than a separate celebration, on Good Friday. Admittedly a monstrance may be used for this, though it is preferable (I would say) to reserve the elements in both kinds at the altar of repose with the vessels simply veiled with a white cloth.

    Many churches which would have no truck with monstrances will follow this pattern (one of the options in the Common Worship provision), specifically as a way of asserting that the self-offering of Christ at the Last Supper (with whom we then keep watch in prayer and vigil) is one and the same as his self-offering on the cross the following day, and that while a full celebration of the eucharist on Good Friday is not appropriate, receiving holy communion certainly is.

    But there is also good liturgical logic for the two other approaches to holy communion and Good Friday: one the one hand, to say that this is a day to abstain from communion (e.g. the deliberately stark Anglican pattern of ‘Matins, Litany and Ante-Communion’); and on the other, to say that this day of all days should be marked by a solemn celebration of Holy Communion – as followed by some nonconformist traditions and others whose eucharistic liturgy is heavily cross-centred.

  5. Many thanks Michael for your clarification of the liturgical use of a monstrance; I suspect many will have experienced just one aspect of their use and your comment gives a much broader perspective. DavidP

  6. Pingback: An Index of L&RUK Posts – Consistory Court Judgments | Law & Religion UK

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