Last week I discussed the placement of the tabernacle and showed why the tabernacle was moved from the high altar in the sanctuary to a side niche in the church. This was done under the inspiration of a nonbinding document entitled Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, which was published by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1978.
One of the problems of making this change in older churches was that it moved the Blessed Sacrament off to the side and out of the sanctuary making it difficult in some cases to locate the tabernacle when one walked into an unfamiliar church. Often what followed was the priest moving to the preeminent position in the church in front of the high altar. This did two things: it exalted the priest and distanced him from the congregation. Personally I have never been comfortable with this; Christ should always have preeminence. I also believe the celebrant’s chair should be in much closer proximity to the people for it is from the chair that the priest greets and blesses the people.
During the Year of the Eucharist in 2005 there was a Synod of Bishop that discussed various aspects of the Eucharist in the life of the Church. In February 2007 Pope Benedict XVI issued a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation entitled Sacramentum Caritatis. Article 69 of this document addressed the location of the tabernacle: “In considering the importance of Eucharistic reservation and adoration, and reverence for the sacrament of Christ’s sacrifice, the Synod of Bishops also discussed the question of the proper placement of the tabernacle in our churches. The correct positioning of the tabernacle contributes to the recognition of Christ’s real presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Therefore, the place where the Eucharistic species are reserved, marked by a sanctuary lamp, should be readily visible to everyone entering the church. It is therefore necessary to take into account the building’s architecture: in churches which do not have a Blessed Sacrament chapel, and where the high altar with its tabernacle is still in place, it is appropriate to continue to use this structure for the reservation and adoration of the Eucharist, taking care not to place the celebrant’s chair in front of it. In new churches, it is good to position the Blessed Sacrament chapel close to the sanctuary; where this is not possible, it is preferable to locate the tabernacle in the sanctuary, in a sufficiently elevated place, at the center of the apse area, or in another place where it will be equally conspicuous. Attention to these considerations will lend dignity to the tabernacle, which must always be cared for, also from an artistic standpoint. Obviously it is necessary to follow the provisions of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal in this regard. In any event, final judgment on these matters belongs to the Diocesan Bishop.”
This clarification is important and necessary because the tabernacle’s placement in our churches at times has been a cause of division with some preferring its location in the sanctuary and others preferring it off to the side. The Eucharist is meant to unite us and not to divide us.
In light of all these considerations, I will discuss the tabernacle’s placement at St. Mary’s further with our Parish Pastoral Council looking to obtain Cardinal O’Malley’s permission to move the tabernacle back to the high altar in the center of the sanctuary as instructed in Sacramentum Caritatis.
Sincerely yours in Christ,