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  Fam 50 and Re St John the Evangelist, Chopwell,  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”.
DP & FC
Cite this article as: David Pocklington & Frank Cranmer, “Monstrances in the Church of England: are they legal?” in Law & Religion UK, 5 April 2016, https://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2016/