Many of our readers have undoubtedly already heard about the pastoral letter issued on the feast of Corpus Christi by the Most Rev. Thomas J. Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield, Illinois, with the auspicious title “Ars celebrandi et adorandi”. His Excellency makes several very good points in the letter, which can be read in full at the website of the diocese. Most notable is his direction to restore to the main sanctuary of the church any tabernacle which had been moved to a side chapel that was too small or lacking in prominence within the building.
...in order that more of the faithful will be able to spend time in adoration and prayer in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord, I direct that in the churches and chapels of our diocese, tabernacles that were formerly in the center of the sanctuary, but have been moved, are to be returned as soon as possible to the center of the sanctuary in accord with the original architectural design. Tabernacles that are not in the center of the sanctuary or are otherwise not in a visible, prominent and noble space are to be moved to the center of the sanctuary; tabernacles that are not in the center of the sanctuary but are in a visible, prominent and noble space may remain.Bishop Paprocki rightly notes that the removal of tabernacles to side chapels on the analogy of what is done at St Peter’s in Rome (and many other churches in Europe) is quite incorrect, inasmuch as the Sacrament Chapel of St Peter’s is more than large enough to accommodate all those who wish to pray there, while the Eucharistic chapels in some churches today are repurposed supply closets. Just as important, His Excellency “strongly encourages” the clergy to keep churches open, in order that the faithful may more readily be able pray.
This deep-seated desire to be in the presence of the Lord resounds in the heart of every person, even if they cannot at first name this desire for what it truly is. We should therefore do all that we can to help them encounter the Lord who waits for them to seek and find him. In this regard, I strongly encourage keeping our churches open to the public in so far as can be done with the safety of people and the building in mind. Pope Francis spoke about this in his Apostolic Exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel, Evangelii Gaudium: “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door.” (no. 47)He also offers this very nice explanation of the reason why genuflecting is more appropriate gesture before the tabernacle.
To genuflect means, literally, “to bend the knee.” In the ancient world the knee symbolized the strength of a man. If a man is struck in the knee, he stumbles and falls; his strength is taken from him. When we genuflect before the Lord, our strength is not taken from us; rather, we willingly bend our strength to the Lord and place ourselves humbly in his service. When we bend our knee to the Lord of heaven and earth we should hear the words of the Psalmist ever in our hearts, “Lord, I am your servant,” remembering that before the Lord every knee must bend (Psalm 116:16; cf. Philippians 2:10).Let us pray that more bishops will follow Bishop Paprocki’s example in encouraging similar norms within their dioceses.