Where the Tabernacle Should Be

ROME, JAN. 27, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.

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Q: How should we understand No. 1183 of the Catechism? It says: “The tabernacle is to be situated in churches in a most worthy place with the greatest honor. The dignity, placing and security of the Eucharistic tabernacle should foster adoration before the Lord really present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.” It seems that not everyone agrees on that point. Many new churches have the tabernacle on the side. — S.G., Antigonish, Nova Scotia

A: This theme is also covered in Nos. 314-317 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal in a section entitled: “The Place for the Reservation of the Most Holy Eucharist”:

“In accordance with the structure of each church and legitimate local customs, the Most Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a tabernacle in a part of the church that is truly noble, prominent, readily visible, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer.

“The one tabernacle should be immovable, be made of solid and inviolable material that is not transparent, and be locked in such a way that the danger of profanation is prevented to the greatest extent possible. Moreover, it is appropriate that, before it is put into liturgical use, it be blessed according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual.

“[315:] It is more in keeping with the meaning of the sign that the tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved not be on an altar on which Mass is celebrated.

“Consequently, it is preferable that the tabernacle be located, according to the judgment of the Diocesan Bishop:

“a. Either in the sanctuary, apart from the altar of celebration, in a form and place more appropriate, not excluding on an old altar no longer used for celebration (cf. above, no. 303);

“b. Or even in some chapel suitable for the faithful’s private adoration and prayer and which is organically connected to the church and readily visible to the Christian faithful.”

If the Blessed Sacrament is kept in a eucharistic chapel, the tabernacle, or at least the location of the chapel itself, should be visible from the main body of the church. Neither the tabernacle nor the chapel should be hidden away in a corner; even less should it be separated from the main body altogether.

From a pastoral viewpoint, it appears preferable to maintain the presence of the tabernacle within the sanctuary except where the church is frequented by tourists or has a great number of other celebrations such as weddings and funerals.

Although liturgical norms indicate that no particular attention be rendered to the tabernacle during the celebration of a Mass, except at the beginning and end, the clearly visible presence of the tabernacle can contribute to an overall climate of prayer, especially in fostering a respectful before the celebration begins and after it ends.

The local bishop is the competent authority for deciding which option to adopt in each case, as he is best able to weigh the various factors such as the architecture of each building, functionality, and above all the good of souls.

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Follow-up: 1967’s “Musicam Sacram”

Father Peter Schineller, an American Jesuit who has ministered for 18 years in Africa and who has authored a “Handbook on Church Music — for Choirs, Priest and Catholic Faithful,” wrote the following commentary on our response regarding “Musicam Sacram” (Jan. 13):

“1. We are primarily not to sing at or during the Mass, but SING THE MASS — that is, sing the important parts of the Mass in response to the priest. This means that the priority in singing should be the four Acclamations (Alleluia; Holy, Holy, Holy; Acclamation of Faith; and the Great Amen). If there is any singing, these are the first and most important before [the] entrance hymn or Communion hymns (cf. Nos. 7,16,29).

“2. A main focus of the choir is to lead and stir up the voices of all in the congregation. It is not to replace the congregation, not to perform. The choir should be evaluated, not by how well the choir sings, but by how well, how actively, the entire congregation sings (cf. No. 19).
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