The Location of the Taberbnacle

Within the Tabernacle in our Churches resides the true presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in the reserved Eucharist. What a privilege to have our Lord’s true presence with us!

An odd thing has happened in recent decades as many parishes began moving the tabernacle from where it had been in the center of the sanctuary off to the side or even completely out of the Church nave to a side chapel. To many Catholics it seemed a “dethronement” or a casting aside of traditional Eucharistic piety. In more recent years many parishes and dioceses have begun restoring the tabernacle to the center of the sanctuary. I have noticed this especially here in the Archdiocese of Washington and I know that all our recent Archbishops have instructed the Sacred Arts Commission here to give strong preference for the Tabernacle to be in the center of the sanctuary.

When I went to my first pastorate, I found the tabernacle off to the side behind a screen near a side door of the Church. TO make matters worse for me personally, the original location of the tabernacle was replaced with a large chair for the priest. I was sitting where Jesus had once been. This broke my heart and I began a catechesis to prepare the people for the move of the tabernacle back to the center. Sure I know, the priest presider is a kind of sacramental presence of the Lord in our midst, but the Church documents are all clear to teach the the Lord is present preeminently in the Eucharistic species. After about a year we were ready to make the move. I remember asking the Choir to sing an old Gospel song the first Sunday Jesus back in the middle. The song I requested was “Jesus, You’re the Center of My Joy!” (See Video Below) It was a fitting song for an important restoration. My seat was now to one side of the sanctuary and I was most happy to step aside and make room for Jesus.

Bishop D’Arcy of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese recently promulgated norms for his diocese regarding this matter and once again I am pleased to see another diocese encouraging parishes to “make the move” and place the tabernacle at the center. You can read the whole document the good Bishop published here: NORMS FOR THE PLACEMENT & DESIGN OF THE TABERNACLE IN THE DIOCESE OF FORT WAYNE-SOUTH BEND. But here are a few excerpts:

The Church teaches that the tabernacle is to be situated “in a most worthy place with the greatest honor.” Pope Benedict XVI emphasized this idea in his Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis: “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.”…In the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, the Bishop has judged that the tabernacle is normally to be prominently located in the sanctuary of the church, along the central axis behind the main altar. Under this arrangement, the tabernacle should be at an elevated, open location in the apse area, or in another central place in the sanctuary that is equally  conspicuous.  Where a high altar with a tabernacle remains in place, it is appropriate to continue using this noble structure for the reservation of the Blessed  sacrament….This prescription is to be observed in all future construction or restoration projects involving places of sacred worship…In those existing places of sacred worship where the tabernacle is currently located elsewhere in the sanctuary or the main body of the church, a liturgical consultation with the faithful and with the Diocese should begin, regarding the possibility of moving the tabernacle to a central position in the sanctuary. Especially if the tabernacle in a particular church was central at one time and then was moved, it should be returned to its original location. ….

The church, which is “both the house of God on earth (domus Dei) and a house fit for the prayers of the saints (domus ecclesiae),” itself possesses a sacramental dimension—by its very structure it should aid worshipers to enter into an encounter with Christ. The honored presence of the Blessed Sacrament helps lend a Catholic church building its particular sacramental character….

Care should be taken to instruct the faithful that genuflection is the appropriate sign of adoration in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, “whether reserved in the tabernacle or exposed for public adoration.” Before or after Mass, when the tabernacle is visible somewhere in the church, genuflection should be directed towards it.

5 Replies to “The Location of the Taberbnacle”

  1. I heartily agree that the tabernacle should be centrally located and “readily visible” as a tabernacle. In our parish, it was like that but, although the tabernacle remains centrally located, it is no longer as “readily visible” it is lost in a sea of recently-added decorations and no longer stands out as a focal point when one enters the church. I’m sure the plan wasn’t that the tabernacle should compete for attention but that seems to be the unintended consequence of the change.

    1. Yes, but even great works of art often have beautiful frames. You are clearly a fan of more sober frames in the finest carthusian and cisterian tradition. A fine tradition to be sure: Less is more. There is also the tradition of elaborate backdrops or a reredos often containing many saints and angels as a kind of depiction of the heavenly multitude surrounding the heavenly Throne. Other treatments feature elements of Christian symbolism either of the patronal saint or of the eucharist or the faith in general. Six candles on the old high altar with a seventh lit when the bishop was present were also common to either side of the tabernacle. This was to recall the old menora before the ancient Ark of the Covenent and also recalls the Book of Revelation wherein Christ stands among the seven lampstands. You may notice that the Pope has returned to the practice of the Seventh candle (we even had it when he was here in Washington). Most modern altars however retain a kind of noble simplicity usually with only two candles, more usual since Mass is celebrated facing the people. My main point I guess is that some churches are elaborate, others more simple. I understand your preference. Others prefer more decor, De gustibus non disputandem.

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