Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend: "Concerning the Central Placement and Noble Design of Tabernacles..."

A reader has shared with us some interesting news from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. The bishop of that diocese, Bishop John M. D'Arcy, issued on June 14, 2009, the Feast of Corpus Christi, norms for the placement and design of tabernacles.

In this document, called for by the bishop and prepared by that diocese's liturgical offices. In the preface to that document, the bishop comments:

The place of the tabernacle in our church should reflect our faith in the real presence of Christ, and should always be guided by Church documents.

My experience is that our people, with their instinct of faith, have always desired that the tabernacle be central and visible. They find it confusing when the tabernacle in their churches is not visible, and if possible, central.

The Bishop urges "all priests to follow these norms carefully and completely..."

As to the norms themselves, here is a selection of excerpts that will give you a sense of the document in question.


4. 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.

5. This prescription is to be observed in all future construction or restoration projects involving places of sacred worship (including all churches, oratories, and private chapels) in the Diocese.



11. While it is true that the actual Holy Sacrifice of the Mass should not be conflated with the Eucharist reserved outside the liturgy, they are certainly not mutually exclusive.

Pope Pius XII said of the altar and the tabernacle, “An awareness of their unity is more important than a realization of their differences. It is one and the same Lord who is immolated on the altar and honored in the tabernacle, and who pours out his blessings from the tabernacle.” This thinking was reflected in the Lineamenta before the 2005 Bishops’ Synod on the Eucharist: “There is no conflict of signs between the tabernacle and the altar of Eucharistic celebration.”

As such, although the altar deserves ritual and symbolic primacy during the liturgy, the placement of the tabernacle in the sanctuary should not be understood as detracting from the celebration of the Mass. Indeed, if the tabernacle is significantly isolated from the place of the routine public celebration of the sacred liturgy, then the possibility exists of the reserved sacrament gradually slipping from the parish or communal consciousness and being visited privately only by a few.



16. A church’s tabernacle should be beautifully decorated or adorned, and suitable for prayer. These two qualities are closely related, for a sacramental and Incarnational beauty raises the spirits of the faithful and invites them to contemplate the things of Heaven.


19. Options for providing an elevated location include placing the tabernacle upon a handsomely designed pillar or pedestal, so that it may be freestanding and stately. Additional options include erecting a sizable ornamental canopy or baldachin over the tabernacle, or setting the tabernacle within the apsidal wall or against the backdrop of a decorated reredos. Such arrangements can greatly help to accentuate the tabernacle by lending mass and beauty to its presence.

20. The visibility of the tabernacle should not be obstructed by the placement of chairs or other liturgical appointments. The tabernacle should be a visible focal point from the main body of the church, but not so ostentatious as to overshadow the altar at all times. The scale of the church and its furnishings must be taken into consideration.

21. Tabernacle lamps should also be of noble design, complementing the tabernacle. These lamps may be set into a wall or reredos, or suspended from a bracket or the ceiling—as long as they are visibly situated in the immediate vicinity of the tabernacle to denote its location.

22. The use of a veil outside or within the tabernacle is an old custom, hearkening to the Old Testament imagery of the sanctuary tent and the Temple. When employed, tabernacle veils should be woven of fine material and serve to indicate the presence of the tabernacle. Colors should correspond to the liturgical seasons.



24. Aside from tending to the tabernacle itself, we must ensure that the faithful receive proper guidance and formation with respect to reverence before the Blessed Sacrament. Today there are many of all ages who inadvertently do not genuflect or bow in the correct situations. 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. Although those who genuflect when a tabernacle is not present or when the Blessed Sacrament is clearly removed from the tabernacle (for example, during much of the Sacred Triduum) typically do so out of a commendable pious habit, they should instead bow out of reverence towards the altar.

25. Every church should strive to make the tabernacle accessible for prayer during the day, and to preserve a peaceful setting favorable to prayerful visits. Meetings and other activities without a strictly spiritual purpose should therefore be held elsewhere on the church premises whenever possible.


...parishes and all communities of the faithful are encouraged to study the tabernacle and its theology, as well as the totality of sacred art and architecture, regardless of whether any physical modifications are imminent within their places of sacred worship. Doing so can only serve to deepen a love for Christ, thereby promoting the life of prayer and possibly even vocations among our young people.

27. Above all, “the dignity, placing, and security of the Eucharistic tabernacle should foster adoration before the Lord really present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.” When an emphasis on this sacramental reality becomes our priority, it is self-evident that we believe the church building to be the privileged meeting place between Heaven and Earth.

It is noteworthy that in the document, it also includes examples -- which is extremely valuable.

Here are a few of those examples.

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