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The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 27, Section 4:

Private masses, or receiving this sacrament by a priest, or any other alone; as likewise, the denial of the cup to the people, worshipping the elements, the lifting them up, or carrying them about, for adoration, and the reserving them for any pretended religious use; are all contrary to the nature of this sacrament, and to the institution of Christ.

Common understanding & practice in most Presbyterian churches indicates that the middle statement in this sentence is to be read as referring solely to the Roman Catholic practice of Eucharistic adoration, and that "the lifting them up" does not prohibit the minister from holding the communion elements up for the congregation to see.

Under that common understanding, a possible gloss on the middle statement could be:

as likewise, the denial of the cup to the people, worshipping the elements--the lifting them up or carrying them about for adoration--and the reserving them for any pretended religious use

However, while the gloss seems reasonable in following with the intent and practice of the authors, I do not know of any grammatical or usage rule that could justify such a gloss. The structure of the sentence seems to be such that each phrase in the middle statement is to be understood as a separate clause, so "worshipping the elements" and "for adoration" are different cases than "the lifting them up" and "or carrying them about". In that case, does "the lifting them up" actually mean that you physically cannot hold the elements up for the congregation to see?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

It depends on the comma after about. Without the comma, your suggested interpretation would be the natural one; but the only grammatical explanation for that comma is as a parenthesis linked to the comma after up. Ergo, the words or carrying them about can grammatically be omitted, and for adoration qualifies lifting them up.

(I am not saying this is the only possible reading, still less setting up my own view in a new Filioque debate: merely saying that the common understanding rests on a logical reading of the text.)

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Thanks for the analysis! So your interpretation could be glossed as "the lifting them up--or carrying them about--for adoration, and the reserving them for any pretended religious use"? I think that your reading harmonizes with the common understanding and practice equally as well as my suggested reading. Would you agree? –  Noel Mar 22 '12 at 16:29
    
@Noel; Pretty much, yes. I believe also that the or would have to be and if the two clauses were not related: but I wouldn't care to defend that point before the Inquisition. –  TimLymington Mar 22 '12 at 16:43
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I think a modern English teacher would say that to make this sentence clear you should be using semi-colons. Namely:

Private masses, or receiving this sacrament by a priest, or any other alone; as likewise, the denial of the cup to the people*;* worshipping the elements*;* the lifting them up, or carrying them about, for adoration*;* and the reserving them for any pretended religious use; are all contrary to the nature of this sacrament ...

If there was no comma after "carrying them about" but the comma after "lifting them up" was retained, i.e. if it said "... the lifting them up, or carrying them about for adoration, ...", then I think the plain grammatical reading would be that they prohibit lifing them, and they prohibit carrying them for adoration. But with the comma after "carrying them about", that indicates that "for adoration" applies to two or more of the preceding elements. As "worshipping the elements for adoration" doesn't make a lot of sense, I think the logical reading is that "for adoration" applies to "lifting them up" and to "carrying them about".

Disclaimer: IANP (I Am Not a Presbyterian -- that's in all the texting dictionaries, isn't it?)

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You're right, adding semicolons helps to distinguish the parenthetical commas! –  Noel Mar 22 '12 at 20:28
    
It makes the list clearer; but are you really saying that this; and this; are correct punctuation? –  TimLymington Mar 23 '12 at 14:43
    
@TimLymington One of the uses of a semicolon is to separate elements of a list when the elements included embedded commas. Like: "The color schemes suggested were red, green, blue; white, yellow, purple; and orange, black, fuscia." Without the semis, it would not be clear where one list ended and another began. (I'm sure you could re-word the sentence to avoid the problem, but you could say that about a lot of grammatical constructs.) I can dig up a reference on this if need be, but it's a pretty commonly-cited rule. –  Jay Mar 23 '12 at 19:44
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The grammatical principle (I wouldn't say we're dealing with rules here) is simply that or carrying them about is enclosed in parenthetical commas.

Thus the parenthetical element is just an alternative/expansion to the lifting them up - either/both of which activities, if performed in order to evince or encourage adoration of the physical items themselves (the elements), would be contrary to the nature of this sacrament.

I see nothing controversial about this interpretation. It seems to me it would be perverse to interpret the words as meaning that the priest shouldn't lift up or carry the paraphernalia.

It's hard to see why the priest would hold the elements up for the congregation to see for any reason other than to encourage people to imbue those elements with special significance (i.e. - they're being invited to "adore" them). But religious officials are good at justifying things they want to do, but which their "sacred texts" abjure. Perhaps he'd say he needs to show them the equipment so they'll know he's about to use it in the next part of the ceremony.

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"he needs to show them the equipment so they'll know he's about to use it" +1, lol. –  Noel Mar 22 '12 at 19:00
    
I know about parenthetical commas, but grew confused because of their appearance in a comma-separated list. How is it possible to identify the parenthetical construct in this case? –  Noel Mar 22 '12 at 19:04
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@Noel: There is no hard-and-fast rule for how to identify parenthetical commas if they appear within comma-separated lists. Which is why you can have disagreements about interpretation, as in your case. –  FumbleFingers Mar 22 '12 at 19:12
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@Noel: If you haven't seen it before, this question illustrates how it's "grammatically" possible to write complete gibberish by assuming that "parenthetical clauses" are somehow inherently distinct in all contexts. You just have to use a bit of common sense - but as we see in your example, the intended meaning may be sometimes debatable even then. –  FumbleFingers Mar 22 '12 at 20:18
    
Gotcha, thanks! –  Noel Mar 22 '12 at 20:28
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I certainly see the structure of the parallel clauses as supporting your interpretation. It's written as

The (X1) for (Y1), and the (X2) for (Y2)

When you parse the sentence according to that structure, X1 is clearly (lifting or carrying) and Y1 is (adoration), so it's "the (lifting or carrying) (for adoration)" that is prohibited, not "the (lifting) or (carrying for adoration)".

If it were going to be the latter, an extra the would be required to make the parallel clauses work out, plus they would need to all be joined by and: 'the lifting, and the carrying for adoration, and the reserving...'

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