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Number of Tabernacles on Parish Grounds

Number of Tabernacles on Parish Grounds

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Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Is it permissible for a parish to reserve consecrated hosts in more than one tabernacle on the same parish grounds? My elementary understanding and reading of the Code of Canon Law is «yes» (cf. Canon 934 §1.2). Yet Canon 938 §1 states that the Most Holy Eucharist is “to be reserved habitually in only one tabernacle of a church or oratory” [italics mine]. Also, if more than one tabernacle is permitted on the same parish grounds, is it proper for only a priest or deacon to transport the Precious Body between the two tabernacles as circumstances require, or may an extraordinary minister (or another individual designated by the pastor) do it? — J.G., Chaska, Minnesota.

A: I think the answer would depend on the circumstances.

The canons referred to above say:

“Canon 934 §1. The Most Holy Eucharist:

“1/ must be reserved in the cathedral church or its equivalent, in every parish church, and in a church or oratory connected to the house of a religious institute or society of apostolic life;

“2/ can be reserved in the chapel of the bishop and, with the permission of the local ordinary, in other churches, oratories, and chapels.

Ҥ2. In sacred places where the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved, there must always be someone responsible for it and, insofar as possible, a priest is to celebrate Mass there at least twice a month.

“Canon 936. In the house of a religious institute or some other pious house, the Most Holy Eucharist is to be reserved only in the church or principal oratory attached to the house. For a just cause, however, the ordinary can also permit it to be reserved in another oratory of the same house.

“Canon 938 §1. The Most Holy Eucharist is to be reserved habitually in only one tabernacle of a church or oratory.

Ҥ2. The tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved is to be situated in some part of the church or oratory which is distinguished, conspicuous, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer.

Ҥ3. The tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved habitually is to be immovable, made of solid and opaque material, and locked in such a way that the danger of profanation is avoided as much as possible.

Ҥ4. For a grave cause, it is permitted to reserve the Most Holy Eucharist in some other fitting and more secure place, especially at night.

“§5. The person responsible for the church or oratory is to take care that the key of the tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved is safeguarded most diligently.”

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states:

“The Place for the Reservation of the Most Holy Eucharist

314. 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. no. 303);

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

The guidelines issued by the U.S. bishops’ conference also offer helpful indications regarding the tabernacle:

“The Reservation of the Eucharist

“70. Christ present in the Eucharistic species is a treasure the Church has come to cherish and revere over the centuries. The reservation of the Eucharist was originally intended for the communion of the sick, for those unable to attend the Sunday celebration, and as Viaticum for the dying. As the appreciation of Christ’s presence in the Eucharistic species became more developed, Christians desired through prayer to show reverence for Christ’s continuing presence in their midst. For Catholics, eucharistic adoration has ‘a sound and firm foundation especially since faith in the real presence of the Lord has, as its natural consequence, the outward, public manifestation of that belief.’

“71. The Second Vatican Council led the Church to a fuller understanding of the relationship between the presence of the Lord in the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist and in the reserved Sacrament, and of the Christian’s responsibility to feed the hungry and to care for the poor. As the baptized grow to understand their active participation in the Eucharist, they will be drawn to spend more time in quiet prayer before the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle, and be impelled to live out their relationship in active charity. In reverent prayer before the reserved Eucharist, the faithful give praise and thanksgiving to Christ for the priceless gift of redemption and for the spiritual food that sustains them in their daily lives. Here they learn to appreciate their right and responsibility to join the offering of their own lives to the perfect sacrifice of Christ during the Mass and are led to a greater recognition of Christ in themselves and in others, especially in the poor and needy. Providing a suitable place for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament is a serious consideration in any building or renovation project.

“72. The general law of the Church provides norms concerning the tabernacle and the place for the reservation of the Eucharist that express the importance Christians place on the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. The Code of Canon Law directs that the Eucharist be reserved ‘in a part of the church that is prominent, conspicuous, beautifully decorated and suitable for prayer.’ It directs that regularly there be ‘only one tabernacle’ in the church. It should be worthy of the Blessed Sacrament — beautifully designed and in harmony with the overall decor of the rest of the church. To provide for the security of the Blessed Sacrament the tabernacle should be ‘solid,’ ‘immovable,’ ‘opaque,’ and ‘locked.’ The tabernacle may be situated on a fixed pillar or stand, or it may be attached to or embedded in one of the walls. A special oil lamp or a lamp with a wax candle burns continuously near the tabernacle as an indication of Christ’s presence.

“73. The place of reservation should be a space that is dedicated to Christ present in the Eucharist and that is designed so that the attention of one praying there is drawn to the tabernacle that houses the presence of the Lord. Iconography can be chosen from the rich treasury of symbolism that is associated with the Eucharist.

“The Location of the Tabernacle:

“74. There is a number of possible spaces suitable for eucharistic reservation. The revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that it is more appropriate that the tabernacle in which the ‘Blessed Sacrament is reserved not be on the altar on which Mass is celebrated.’ The bishop is to determine where the tabernacle will be placed and to give further direction. The bishop may decide that the tabernacle be placed in the sanctuary apart from the altar of celebration or in a separate chapel suitable for adoration and for the private prayer of the faithful. In making his determination, the bishop will consider the importance of the assembly’s ability to focus on the eucharistic action, the piety of the people, and the custom of the area. The location also should allow for easy access by people in wheelchairs and by those who have other disabilities.

“75. In exercising his responsibility for the liturgical life of the diocese, the diocesan bishop may issue further directives regarding the reservation of the Eucharist. Before parishes and their liturgical consultants begin the educational component and the discussion process, it will be important for all those involved to know what specific directives or guidelines the diocesan bishop has issued. Good communication at the first stage of the process will help to avoid confusion or conflict between the parish’s expectations, the consultant’s experience, and diocesan directives.

“76. The pastor, the parish pastoral council, and the building committee will want to examine the principles that underlie each of the options, consider the liturgical advantages of each possibility, and reflect upon the customs and piety of the parishioners. Many diocesan worship offices assist parishes by facilitating the study and discussion process with the parish. This is also an area where liturgical consultants can be of great assistance to the parish.

“The Chapel of Reservation

“77. The diocesan bishop may direct the parish to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in a chapel separate from the nave and sanctuary but ‘integrally connected with the church’ and ‘conspicuous to the faithful.’ The placement and design of the chapel can foster reverence and can provide the quiet and focus needed for personal prayer, and it should provide kneelers and chairs for those who come to pray.

«78. Some parishes have inaugurated the practice of continuous adoration of the Eucharist. If, for some good reason, perpetual exposition must take place in a parish church, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has directed that this take place in a separate chapel that is ‘distinct from the body of the church so as not to interfere with the normal activities of the parish or its daily liturgical celebration.’

«The Tabernacle in the Sanctuary

«79. A special area can be designed within the sanctuary. Careful planning is needed so that the placement chosen does not draw the attention of the faithful away from the Eucharistic celebration and its components. In addition, the placement must allow for a focus on the tabernacle for those periods of quiet prayer outside the celebration of the Eucharist.

«80. Ordinarily, it is helpful to have a sufficient distance to separate the tabernacle and the altar. When a tabernacle is located directly behind the altar, consideration should be given to using distance, lighting, or some other architectural device that separates the tabernacle and reservation area during Mass, but that allows the tabernacle to be fully visible to the entire worship area when the eucharistic liturgy is not being celebrated.”

Therefore, it is clear in most cases that there should be only one tabernacle in the same church.

There may, however, be justified exceptions, especially where there is perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as pointed out in No. 78 of «Built of Living Stones.» For example, in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome the Blessed Sacrament is reserved for public adoration in two distinct areas: the Blessed Sacrament Chapel as such in which there is daily exposition and access is limited to those who wish to pray, and the area around the altar of St. Joseph in the south transept which, while open to view, is also cordoned off for prayer and where scheduled Masses are celebrated three times a day.

Apart from the case of perpetual adoration, the principles behind Canon 936, which specifically refer to religious houses, could also lead a bishop to allow additional places of reservation within the grounds of a parish if there is a good reason to justify its use.

For example, if a large church had a side chapel with separate access from outside, and this chapel was easier to heat or cool, offered more security, and greater intimacy than the large church, the bishop could permit that it be used for weekday Masses and visits while reserving the principal church for Masses with larger congregations. In this case it is understood that we would not be speaking of the Blessed Sacrament chapel, which should be visible and accessible from the main church.

The same idea would hold for a small church or oratory within the parish grounds but totally separate from the main building.

With respect to who should transfer the sacred species from one tabernacle to the other, I think Canon 943 referring to exposition of the Blessed Sacrament could be applied by extension.

“Canon 943. The minister of exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament and of eucharistic benediction is a priest or deacon; in special circumstances, the minister of exposition and reposition alone without benediction is the acolyte, extraordinary minister of holy communion, or someone else designated by the local ordinary; the prescripts of the diocesan bishop are to be observed.”

Therefore, if the need arises to transfer the sacred hosts from one tabernacle to another, then it should be done by a priest or deacon. Only if one of these ministers is unavailable may recourse be had to an instituted acolyte or an extraordinary minister.

It should also be recalled that, during Mass, the task of transferring consecrated hosts from and to the tabernacle should always be done by the deacon or the priest, and not by an extraordinary minister.

* * *

Readers may send questions to Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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Fr. Edward McNamara

Padre Edward McNamara, L.C., è professore di Teologia e direttore spirituale

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