Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I have three questions.
1) Is it proper to place anything, namely, a picture or chalice or any other thing, on the tabernacle? I see that over the box-type tabernacle there is a picture of Jesus praying in the garden, as well as a chalice and flowers. Is it proper? They forget that Jesus is in the tabernacle.
2) On ordinary days we say Masses of virgins, martyrs or pastors. Is it proper to read from the ordinary day’s reading, which has no relations to virgins, or martyrs or pastors? Is it not proper to select from common of virgins, martyrs, or pastors? I see priests do not bother about it and read from daily reading and finish the Mass.
3) In this time of COVID-19, Communion is given in the hands of people. But when we give Communion under both specious, I see that the communicants come and dip the host in the chalice and then consume it. Or some ministers dip the host in the chalice and then give it in the hand, which is not safe for the priest and for the one who receives it. Is it not safer to give the host on the tongue of the recipient? — S.K., Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India
A: We will briefly answer questions 2 and 3 and the proceed to question 1.
To question No. 2: The introduction to the lectionary itself recommends that the continuous daily readings not be interrupted too often by readings from the common of saints. Thus, while it is always possible to choose from the common, it is preferable not to do so except when there is a particular reason for celebrating a saint in a particular community. However, liturgical feasts always have proper readings as do memorials of New Testament saints in the liturgical calendar.
To question No. 3: The practice described is incorrect and violates liturgical norms forbidding the self-administration of Communion. Indeed, the practice described has been officially reprobated on at least two occasions by the Holy See. In the present situation, the preference would be to omit the distribution of the Precious Blood since it cannot be legitimately distributed in a manner that fulfills present sanitary requirements.
Regarding question No. 1: Current norms regarding the tabernacle are found above all in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. To wit:
“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, conspicuous, worthily decorated, and suitable for prayer.
“The tabernacle should usually be the only one, be irremovable, 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, the tabernacle be blessed according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual.
“315. It is more appropriate as a sign that on an altar on which Mass is celebrated there not be a tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved. 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 an appropriate form and place, not excluding its being positioned on an old altar no longer used for celebration (cf. no. 303);
“b) or even in some chapel suitable for the private adoration and prayer of the faithful and organically connected to the church and readily noticeable by the Christian faithful.
“316. In accordance with traditional custom, near the tabernacle, a special lamp, fuelled by oil or wax, should shine permanently to indicate the presence of Christ and honor it.
“317. In no way should any of the other things be forgotten which are prescribed by law concerning the reservation of the Most Holy Eucharist.”
Furthermore, No. 310 mentions that it is not correct to locate the priest’s chair in front of the tabernacle.
The 2004 instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum also touches upon the location of the place of reservation:
“130. ‘According to the structure of each church building and in accordance with legitimate local customs, the Most Holy Sacrament is to be reserved in a tabernacle in a part of the church that is noble, prominent, readily visible, and adorned in a dignified manner’ and furthermore ‘suitable for prayer’ by reason of the quietness of the location, the space available in front of the tabernacle, and also the supply of benches or seats and kneelers. In addition, diligent attention should be paid to all the prescriptions of the liturgical books and to the norm of law, especially as regards the avoidance of the danger of profanation.”
Therefore, while there is no rule in the above-mentioned legislation specifically prohibiting putting images and the like on the tabernacle, this is certainly implied in the requirement that it be adorned in a dignified manner.
Older legislation, while perhaps no longer applicable from a legal standpoint, still offers clear guidance as to the mind of the Church and is still reflected in current legislation in spirit albeit no longer mentioning the specific details.
Thus, in the series of authentic decrees of the former Congregation of Rites, we find that it is forbidden to place flowers, relics (not even of the Passion), images, or statues in front of the tabernacle door or above the tabernacle (Decrees: 2067, 10; 2613, 6; 2740, 1; 2906; 3966).
Our reader is therefore correct in assuming that the practice he has observed is contrary to the special reverence that should be attributed to the tabernacle.
* * *
Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.