Let’s take a longer look at the reservation of the Eucharist in a renovated church.
§ 247 § In an earlier chapter, the issue of the location of the tabernacle was covered. The structure of the existing building will determine some of the options the parish is able to consider. In exercising his responsibility for the liturgical life of the diocese, the diocesan bishop may issue specific directives regarding the reservation of the Eucharist and the placement of the tabernacle. Again, the pastor, the parish pastoral council, and the building committee will need to review all existing diocesan norms and then carefully examine the principles that underlie each of the options, weigh the liturgical advantages of each possibility, and reflect upon the customs and piety of the parishioners before making a recommendation on the placement of the tabernacle. The location also should allow for easy access by people in wheelchairs and by those who have other disabilities. Diocesan worship offices can assist parishes by facilitating the study and discussion process regarding the placement of the tabernacle and other significant issues involved in the renovation of a church. This is an area where liturgical consultants also can be of great assistance to the parish.
This section seems to steer a careful middle between the older sensibility of a visible tabernacle in a church, but with “safe” barriers or distance. First, a parish must reference any guidelines from the local bishop. Accessibility to a tabernacle–what does that mean? Should any believer be able to go very near the reserved Eucharist and pray? Or is it satisfactory to be visible and easily found?
§ 248 § In most churches built before 1969, the tabernacle was situated on the main altar. At the close of the Second Vatican Council, when parishes were able to celebrate the liturgy facing the congregation, many pastors installed movable altars somewhere in front of the existing altar, and they used the former altar as the place for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament.
§ 249 § In renovating a church designed in another time period, a parish has an opportunity to consider other locations for the tabernacle. Care must be taken to ensure that the area set aside for the reservation of the Eucharist is worthy and distinguished. The place for eucharistic reservation and its furnishings should never be temporary, makeshift, or difficult to find.
Difficulty to find seems relative with sometimes set to a very low bar. Should a person be able to find the tabernacle from any seated position in the nave? Should “difficult to find” be defined as at the end of a complex maze? I suspect the best solution is somewhere in between.
§ 250 § In some renovated churches it is possible to remove older altars and tabernacles. When there are good reasons for not removing the altar, an alternate site for the tabernacle may still be considered. In some churches an area that previously housed a side altar or some devotional space might be an appropriate space for reservation, assuming that it meets the other requirements set forth in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. In other situations, the only appropriate place for reservation will be in the sanctuary itself and on the former main altar. In these instances, a balance must be sought so that the placement of the tabernacle does not draw the attention of the faithful away from the Eucharistic celebration and its components.(Eucharisticum Mysterium 55) On the other hand, the location must provide for a focus on the tabernacle during those periods of quiet prayer outside the celebration of the Eucharist.
The caution for having a tabernacle drawing attention away from the Eucharistic liturgy is a Roman one dating from the mid-60’s.
§ 251 § Ordinarily, there should be 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.
§ 252 § When a place is chosen for the tabernacle and the former tabernacle can be removed from an existing altar without damaging the altar or the setting, this will be beneficial and will help to prevent confusion among the faithful.
It’s a sensitive and difficult topic. Good pastors will guide people carefully through the minefield and arrive at a situation in which people can pray easily and well before the Blessed Sacrament. I do think we’re looking at a bigger picture than preserving the past. Many Catholics, especially conservatives, seem to suggest that Eucharistic piety and belief is waning. If this is true, then perhaps something more is needed than what was provided in previous generations. My own sense is that piety and belief still exist, but seems not to be served so much by either iconoclasm or sentimentality.
All texts from Built of Living Stones are copyright © 2000, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.