Dear Parishioners, +JMJ
Since my arrival at the parish, I have fielded complaints and questions regarding the placement of the tabernacle at our Payne campus. I think it is obvious to anyone attending Mass at that campus that ministers sometime stumble around each other bringing the Eucharist from the tabernacle and returning It after Communion time. Then there is the awkwardness of acknowledging the Eucharist in the tabernacle at the beginning and at the end of Mass by a special angle-genuflection, which I think is necessary, given that the tabernacle and is still prominent, but off to the side. It would not be right simply to ignore the Blessed Sacrament in our processions at that campus. Jesus’ Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament is the most important entity in this church building, yet – without sufficient reason – He is off to the side of the church.
While it is true that the 1975 General Instruction on the Roman Missal (par. 276) recommended a side chapel for the reservation of the Holy Eucharist, this was to be read in light of a Vatican II instruction that suggested such a move only for the purpose of allowing for greater reverence and prayer in those churches where frequent tourism happens and crowds gather. Nobody could argue in our situation at Payne that having the tabernacle at the side altar allows for greater devotion than having it at the high altar in the center of the church sanctuary. We have no tourist crowds, etc. On the other hand, it is easy to imagine a large basilica, such as St. Peter’s or St. Mary Major’s in Rome, where the tabernacle is located in a very large side chapel to allow for a place of quiet and devotion, since such large crowds are always touring through those churches.
In other documents of the Church, the most prominent place is indicated for the tabernacle. The Code of Canon Law (par. 938) reads, “The tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved should be placed in a part of the church that is prominent, conspicuous, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church (par. 1183) reads, “The tabernacle is to be situated in churches in a most worthy place with the greatest honor. The dignity, placing, and security of the Eucharistic tabernacle should foster adoration before the Lord really present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.”
Given the loss of understanding and appreciation for the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist in the decades following upon Vatican II Council (which even secular social surveys have documented), it makes sense in our day to keep the tabernacles at the front and center of our sanctuaries, if at all possible. This explains why some bishops in the United States are mandating that all tabernacles in their dioceses be moved to the front and center.
In 2009, Bishop D’Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne—South Bend wrote, “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.” The same mandate to move tabernacles back to the center has come in the recent past from the bishops of the dioceses of Springfield and Peoria, Illinois, for example. Even in our own Diocese of Toledo, revised guidelines for new construction or renovations require that the tabernacles be placed back in the front and center of sanctuaries.
The purpose of such placement of the tabernacle, of course, is to make it very obvious that Jesus Christ in his Real Presence reigns over our church. Anybody walking into our churches should quite immediately get the sense that His Presence is the most important thing there. Everything leads to His Presence up in the apse of the church, where the tabernacle is located.
I have on occasion, throughout my priesthood, heard the argument that the priest ought not to have his back to the tabernacle while he is celebrating Mass at the low altar. This circumstance of the priest’s back towards the tabernacle is an unfortunate result of our turning the altars around after the Vatican II Council. But I would maintain that there is no disrespect at all towards Jesus’ presence in the tabernacle while the priest is celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on the low altar. Something tremendously sacred is happening on that altar, after all. Furthermore, the slight modification in height and distance for the low altar that I describe below for our Payne campus will lessen the proximity of the priest’s back to the tabernacle.
With all of the above information in mind, I wrote a letter to Bishop Thomas, asking for permission to move the tabernacle back to the center of our Payne campus. I sent pictures to him of the current layout, to help him in his assessment. Bishop Thomas in turn asked Msgr. Charles Singler, head of the Worship Office of the Diocese to make a site visit and write up a recommendation. The Bishop forwarded to me Msgr. Singler’s recommendation, including the Bishop’s own permission and agreement with the recommendation of Msgr. Singler.
In summary, the tabernacle can certainly be moved to the center, at the high altar, where it used to be. The Diocese is recommending, however, that we lower the low altar by one step, and move it out towards the congregation about four feet. This will allow for a clearer sight-line between the congregation and the tabernacle; i.e., the tabernacle will not compete visually with the top of the low altar. Such a move will also provide much more room behind the altar for ministers to function.
A parishioner has already offered to handle the labor regarding the slight shifting of the low altar. I pray that these modest changes to the current low altar’s position at our Payne campus, and the repositioning of the tabernacle itself, will enhance our worship of Jesus Really Present with us even outside of the Mass, and that it will increase our reverence of Him in the tabernacle.
On another note, many thanks to all of you who sent cards and wishes for my birthday. I was amazed to see the stack when I returned to the office from my Baltimore Confession conference and my vacation.
On still another note: Although I have said it from the pulpit, I have never written it in the bulletin. We were advised by Kneuve & Sons, who installed our Paulding campus air conditioning, that we should leave the air running continuously, even though the cooling function of the units is not always required; i.e., sometimes the air is being blown out by the fans in the a/c headers, but the air is not really being cooled first. It is only being circulated. This happens when the temperature outside gets warm. The cooling function is triggered automatically when the temperature outside is warm enough, yet the air is blowing constantly, even when cooling is not needed. [Have I written this in enough ways now to get the point across?] We were advised to do this, in order to keep the humidity of the building under control. You can notice under some of the windows at Paulding a fair amount of bubbling from humidity. In the long run, constant air flow – even when the cooling function is not triggered – hopefully will prevent further damage from humidity. I have checked with several people in the HVAC industry about this recommendation, and they have agreed that it is a standard practice nowadays.
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,