GIRM 314-317: The Place for the Reservation of the Most Holy Eucharist

Four sections on reserving the Eucharist and seven footnotes. I’ll note up front here that compared to other Vatican documents, like the GDC that we’re looking at here, the GIRM, in comparison, is more lightly footnoted. Not today. Let’s read:

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.[Cf. Eucharisticum Mysterium 54; cf. also Inter Oecumenici 95]

Does this mean a separate chapel? Does it mean one-stop spiritual shopping in the nave? The GIRM doesn’t say. Smaller churches can probably handle more easily having a nave suitable for both liturgy and prayer, in the sense I hope you catch. While prayer and liturgy are not mutually exclusive acts, and indeed, are ideally in harmony, I don’t think every church has been designed to incorporate both.

Big churches have challenges not only because of the needs which jostle one another for the big room. Those are the situations in which the cited document Eucharisticum Mysterium suggested a separate chapel for the reservation of the Eucharist. I can think of two others just as vital, if not more so. Regarding tabernacles in large naves, are designers prepared to offer an intimate and inviting space for prayer, and are pastors prepared to foot the bills to heat or cool them? Devoted spiritual people would pray if you set the tabernacle in a rainstorm, ice box, or sauna. And if a faith community is full of 100% spiritual people, then I don’t think there’s a problem.

Some practical concerns:

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.[Cf. Eucharisticum Mysterium 52; Inter Oecumenici 95; Nullo Umquam Tempore (1938) 4; HCWEOM 10-11; Canon Law 938 §3] 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.[Cf. Book of Blessings 919-929]

Has your tabernacle been blessed?

It is less appropriate to combine functions of consecration and adoration in the same place:

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.[Cf. Eucharisticum Mysterium 55]

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 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[Cf. Eucharisticum Mysterium 53; HCWEOM 9; Canon Law 938 §2; Dominicae Cenae 3] and organically connected to the church and readily noticeable by the Christian faithful.

Better than “private adoration” would be “a prayerful and appropriate intimacy.” “Readily noticeable” seems a concession. The convincing case has yet to be made that the mansion of the church can get by with one big happy solemn room.

316. In accordance with traditional custom, near the tabernacle a special lamp, fueled by oil or wax, should shine permanently to indicate the presence of Christ and honor it.[Cf. Canon Law 940; Eucharisticum Mysterium 57; HCWEOM 11]

Did you know that an oil lamp is acceptable? Hopefully not those oil lamps disguised as candles, however. I once visited a church in church the oil lamp had a noticeable flame.

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.[Cf. particularly in Nullo umquam tempore (1938); Canon Law 934-944]

Surely there must be commentary on this one.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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4 Responses to GIRM 314-317: The Place for the Reservation of the Most Holy Eucharist

  1. Liam says:

    My comment is that I think people overthought the tabernacle placement issue. I think too many people got the idea that the axially-placed tabernacle was wrong; I understand why they got that idea, but the problem is that it became no less a shibboleth than the insistence on axial placement. I have certainly beheld tabernacles placed in locations that were definitely not “truly noble, prominent and conspicuous”: I take conspicuous to mean one should not have to unduly hunt for it, as it were.

    By contrast, here is the transept arrangement in the mother church of Catholicism (the Lateran archbasilica, that is):

    I don’t insist on axial placement, but axial placement doesn’t bother me in the least: we should at least see it’s not broken and doesn’t require fixing in and of itself.

    One community I long inhabited had a chapel, where small Masses were celebrated and where the tabernacle occupied a prominent corner pocket (which had doors). However, for some reason, people consistently insisted on using that more intimate chapel space for meetings and what not, and would not even close the doors to the corner pocket when they did so. It showed that the purpose of the chapel was really multi-purpose, not devoted to prayer. So count me as not completely sold on the billing of separate chapels.

  2. Todd says:

    Well, I think the complaint about “hunting” for the tabernacle in a lot of places is overkill. Certainly, if a Catholic is content to sit in the same seat, at the same Mass, week after week, there’s a lot of the church and Church they’re never going to encounter, and it wouldn’t matter if the tabernacle were placed at the church entrance.

    I realize, I’ve offered a caricature, but only as a reflection of the many flimsy arguments I’ve heard elsewhere. I’d offer in turn that as long as a Eucharistic Chapel was accessible and reasonably appointed, and for your example, better managed, it’s probably going to be a better solution for a parish of any size.

    My parish has a large church building, and the nave, during the winter, might be considered on the edge of uncomfortably cool, or in the summer, of being too warm. A separate chapel is by far our best solution. Unless we’re talking a smallish, economically manageable space, few pastors I know are willing to turn on the HVAC for even a modest number of visitors.

    • Liam says:

      One practical solution is to include directions to the Eucharistic chapel in the narthex and any similar major entrance point. Not everyone who visits a church is a regular parishioner; it is an abiding Catholic custom that Catholics from all over can drop into other Catholic churches for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. The design of the space should read well from that perspective, too. That’s my hunting point: it’s a hospitality point. A very Vatican II value, shall we say.

      • Todd says:

        Agreed, heartily on that. I once visited a church in Minnesota that was designed rather like a village. Under the “one roof,” as it were, different “buildings” branching off from a rather generous narthex: church, school, chapel, offices, lounges, social area. A visitor would have to look around, but it took me about ten seconds gazing at the map/floor plan to get a sense of the layout.

        I visited a Methodist megachurch in Kansas once that was designed like a mall on the inside, and an information desk was staffed about 12 hours a day, every day, so they said.

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