Place of the Tabernacle

Question:

Father,

Our parish was recently swept over by a newly assigned Pastor who managed to offend a large number (including the memory of our former Pastor) in his attempt to "make his presence known". This was done at some expense. One of the things he did immediately was to move the Tabernacle from the left side of the church to the center behind the altar where he says it belongs.

Now, our eldest deacon, who is quite scholarly, expressed his disaproval to me privately; he says it is certainly not "Vatican II". So I did some checking of my own, then spoke directly to the new Pastor about it. I was told by him that Vatican II says the Tabernacle SHOULD be in the center UNLESS a separate chapel/building is available to house it and that indeed our church was built with the tabernacle there in the center but it had been moved. He cited either his or an un-named friend's Phd as authority (I am unclear as to which).

Unfortunately (for my faith in this Pastor's honesty), I have been a member of this parish since it was built in 1969 (to post Vatican II guidelines) and attest to the fact the tabernacle was placed by design in a dedicated, tastefully decorated, recessed "shrine" area to the left of the altar since day one.

As to what Vatican II says, I think this man is posturing. I find Vatican II provides guidelines for new construction (e.g. our 1969 church) which surely must permit the original 1969 placement (or our Bishop at the time whould have nixed it). Vatican II does not mandate a separate building/chapel. The focus seems to be on the Eucharistic MEAL at Mass, the sacrificial mystery, not specifically the Tabernacle.

Although I will not be surprised if you were to state a Pastor and/or his Bishop has discretion to move the tabernacle, please clarify Vatican II guidelines/requirements in this area. Please also address the appropriateness of such an alteration in a 30-year old post-Vatican II structure.

Finally, I have in the process of review, noticed a number of websites promoting this and other "corrections" of "misinterpretations" and "misrepresentations" of what Vatican II "really meant". One in particular is http://www.sonnet.co.uk/credo/lex.html by one Michael Davies in the UK). With this in mind, please address the extent to which the Catholic church at large may or may not be in sympathy with this trend...IF it is a trend.

Thank you so much for your thoughtful attention.

Answer:

One of the things that I was told in Seminary, whenever going into a new parish, don't change anything drastically within the first year. Certainly there are some things that will be changed during that year, but it should not be at the expense of the former pastor.

In the parish that I am currently at, we are confronted with the same scenario. At the moment the Tabernacle is located on the Left hand side of the Sancuary, moved there by one of the former pastors. Some of the people in the parish, few innumber, would like to see it moved back to behind the Altar along the back wall.

After talking to the Archdiocesan Liturgist, it was suggested that where it is now located is not a problem, and to keep moving it would be a problem.

I think that your current pastor is trying to interprete things his way..... and his use of a Phd as authority does not hold water... (as some would say... phd stands for piled higher and deeper).

When looking at the documents from Vatican II one only needs to go so far as "Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery." Paragraph

52 Where reservation of the Blessed Sacrament is permitted according to the provisions of the law, it may be reserved permanently or regularly only on one altar or in one place in the chuch. Therefore, as a rule, each church should have only one tabernacle, and this tabernacne must be safe and inviolable.

53 The place in a church or oratory where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in teh tabernacle should be truly prominent. It ought to be suitable for private prayer so that the faithful may easily and fruitfully, by private devotion also, continue to honor our Lord in this sacrament. It is therefore recommended that, as far as possible, the tabernacle be placed in a chapel distinct from the middle or central part of the church, above all in those churches where marriages and funerals take place frequiently, and in places which are much visited for their artictic or historical treasures.

All that being said, It sounds that your church had a prominent place where the tabernacle was located, and therefore, there was no reason for it to be moved.

In regards to the website that you included, I would have to disagree with some, and agree with some of his points. To see what they did to the inside of the church raises questions.... What did they do with all the art and so forth? The removal of the communion rail, I can see. But Vatican II did not say that all things had to be removed.... it said that when building new churches, they should be kept simple, so that one can easily focus on what is taking place... that is, we come to worship God, not to admire the beauty of the church. However, Vatican II also said, that we must appreciate the beauty that art brings, and we must not forfeit our past. If things are to be removed, they should be placed elsewhere for appreciation. Too many times, things were removed and tossed, or simply given away.

I'm going to stop here, otherwise I'll start preaching, and God only knows when I may end.

God Bless,

Fr. Ray