QUAERITUR: Can a layperson expose the Blessed Sacrament?

From a reader:

I have an adoration chapel nearby that presents the Blessed Sacrament in a beautiful tabernacle / monstrance with a hinged door that opens to showcase the Consecrated Host. It is behind a small altar on a raised, sanctuary-like platform.

Am I allowed to “open / close” this door? I was told by a parishioner that I could, but I honestly don’t feel as though it’s proper for me to touch this vessel – even if it’s for adoration purposes.

Instead, I’ve been sitting in the chapel by myself in front of the closed monstrance. I don’t think that lessens my ability to pray, but I’d like to properly adore Christ, too. I don’t know if I can approach or not. I feel like if I can’t touch an actual monstrance, I can’t touch an adoration tabernacle.

There is a document called Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass (par. 82-100) that covers this situation.  This document provides that laypersons may – under certain conditions – expose the Blessed Sacrament in the absence of a bishop, a priest or a deacon.

The ordinary minister for Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is a bishop, a priest or a deacon. They are also the only ones permitted to give Benediction (Blessing) of the Blessed Sacrament.

However, in the absence of a bishop, a priest or a deacon – or I suppose if the cleric present is physically unable to do so – the following lay people are permitted publicly to expose publicly expose and publicly to repose the Blessed Sacrament:

  • an installed Acolyte
  • an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion
  • a member of a religious community or of a pious association of laymen or laywomen dedicated to Eucharistic adoration who has been appointed by the local Ordinary

These people may open the tabernacle and put a ciborium on an altar or put the lunette with a Host in a monstrance. They may then, consequently, repose the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle.

So, if you are going to be involved in this, meet with the pastor of the parish where this chapel is or contact the local bishop (who will probably refer you back to the parish priest). You cannot be an Acolyte, for only men are admitted to that ministry, but you could be an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.  Becoming an EMHC has a process.  The pastor will know what it is.

And never… never… just assume that you can do this without checking with the pastor, just to be clear and sure.

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33 Responses to QUAERITUR: Can a layperson expose the Blessed Sacrament?

  1. Phil_NL says:

    Did we just find a goodjob for an EMHC?

    Small miracles abound.

  2. frjim4321 says:

    (1) I read that pretty fast, but don’t think I saw the important reservation that the EM is not to offer any kind of benediction. [Read a little slower.]

    (2) I thought I had read some kind of prohibition against tabernacles with special doors like that . . . or that glass doors of tabernacles aren’t encouraged. [Good point. I think you may be right.]

  3. The situation described sounds similar to the one in the parish church nearest me (and which I understand is increasingly common in adoration chapels); for pictures:

    http://www.ourladyoffatima.org/Adoration/chapel.htm

    This adoration chapel is open 24 hours daily to all who know the combination to enter when the church it’s otherwise unoccupied, but adorers are not signed up for all times of day and night. So parishioners are instructed to close the outer doors of the repository when they leave the chapel unattended. (One typically kneels on the kneeler when doing this.)

    The monstrance stands behind a transparent glass pane inner door –shown opened in the second photo–which is closed and locked except when a priest unlocks it. So the layperson who opens or closes the repository’s outer doors, upon entering or leaving the chapel, never touches the monstrance or any sacred vessel, and would not have physical access to it without breaking the pane. The prevalent interpretation is that this obviates any need for clerical or quasi-clerical status.

  4. mamajen says:

    Interesting. I was an EMHC and never knew this. I assume this is not a perpetual adoration chapel then? Our parish has one in which there is someone present 24/7 and the Blessed Sacrament is always exposed, so no need for opening and closing doors.

  5. george says:

    A couple parishes back we had weekly adoration from 9am-midnight on Fridays. I was signed up for the last shift. Our pastor at the time asked me to repose the blessed sacrament at the end of my shift so that he didn’t have to come to the church at midnight. I did it the first time (he asked me when I first got there and I didn’t really want to refuse with no knowledge), but checked later to see if that was proper. I found that only EMHC’s could do so and I am not one. Father asked me the next month and I had to tell him “I’m sorry, but I’m not an EMHC, so I am not allowed to do that.” He seemed a little perturbed, but didn’t ask again. Our sacristan (an intalled EMHC) did it thereafter.

  6. iPadre says:

    I have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on Monday thru Friday from 12:00 pm to 12:00 am. I am the only priest and I have an older deacon. When I am on my day off or on vacation, the deacon assists with Exposition, however, he would never be there for Midnight, so, the head of my Adoration Committee exposes and reposes. I was not comfortable, but if not for this indult, daily Adoration would not be possible. My head coordinator is a man with deep devotion and reverence for the Most Blessed Sacrament, so I am very comfortable.

  7. Midwest St. Michael says:

    Okay, somebody help me here.

    Does the same apply when the Blessed Sacrament is being reposed into the Tabernacle?

    I was asked to do this at our parish for the closing of Adoration at the end of the day. If I am *not* a EMoHC should I *not* be doing this?

    Can a layman like myself do this? If not then should I approach our pastor to be appointed as an EMoHC? (he is usually there at his residence at the time for closing of Adoration, but does not want to be bothered with reposing the Sacred Host)

    Please help – I do not want to be disobedient to these norms involving our Blessed Lord’s True Presence in the Holy Eucharist.

    MSM

  8. Midwest St. Michael says:

    Oh, sorry. Just saw geroge’s post above. :(

    Got my answer.

    Thank you, george. :)

    MSM

  9. Mike Morrow says:

    Obviously, the “installed Acolyte” designation does not refer to the typical altar server.

  10. Fr Jackson says:

    It’s short a path from this to a lay-led quasi-liturgy of “benediction of the Blessed Sacrament” that includes everything except – the benediction! I witnessed just such a “ceremony” in a Catholic school in New Zealand.
    It’s my opinion that while we could keep our heads down and just follow the letter of the law in cases like this, it would be better to take a step back to evaluate how this type of widening of permissions actually considerably opens the door to abuses, and fails to form the kind of mentality that we want to see amongst Catholics (i.e. lex orandi lex credendi). If I were to have this discussion with one of the faithful, I would probably end up asking why they can’t just adore Our Lord inside the tabernacle, if there is really no priest or deacon available.

    [I agree with your point. However, for now the law is the law. And by this law it is far easier in many places with a shortage of clergy to foster extended Eucharistic adoration.]

  11. Fr. Jackson: “I would probably end up asking why they can’t just adore Our Lord inside the tabernacle, if there is really no priest or deacon available.”

    I have the same question, having observed the situation illustrated above with a succession of pastors (one of whom was a canon lawyer, a stickler for discipline and orthodoxy, and is now a respected bishop with no-nonsense views). Because I suspect that these more flexible exposition situations across the country may correlate with a more casual attitude towards the Blessed Sacrament than prevailed when it always remained locked within a closed Tabernacle, and visual exposition occurred only within the Mass and in formal Benediction and processions.

  12. ppb says:

    I know of several parishes around here that conduct their “adoration hours” exactly as Henry Edwards described. A sign instructs people to open the doors of the tabernacle when they enter (which reveals the Blessed Sacrament already present in a monstrance, but within the tabernacle itself) and close the doors when they leave. Not all of them have glass panes protecting the Blessed Sacrament, either (though I believe in all those cases one has to know the combination in order to get into the room.)

    Is this particular situation addressed in the documents, and is it allowable? Personally, I have never felt comfortable with this situation as a layperson. I have innocently walked into adoration chapels during “adoration hours” to find that the Blessed Sacrament was simply left exposed and unattended for who knows how long. In those cases I will carefully close the tabernacle doors when I leave, but I don’t feel comfortable opening the doors myself. My understanding is that Exposition is supposed to be a special form of public worship of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and I question whether this “do-it-yourself” method of personalized exposition is really in line with what the Church means by exposition and adoration. One can always adore the Blessed Sacrament with the tabernacle doors closed.

  13. MyBrokenFiat says:

    Thank you, Father, for taking the time to answer this for me!

    Henry Edwards, your example is EXACTLY the type of monstrance/tabernacle I had in mind. I just posted photos of it on my own site (which is what solicited the question in the first place).

    http://www.mybrokenfiat.com/1/post/2012/08/who-is-fr-trad-his-identity-and-church-revealed.html

    I’ve never wanted to be an EMHC before (especially since I’m a woman), but as Phil pointed out above, this might be the one and only use I’d ever have for it. Ha ha!

  14. frjim4321 says:

    Sadly, a classmate’s parish conducts adoration with exposition in the daily mass chapel which is in the back of the church near the main entrance, quite a distance from the tabernacle.

    I am not making this up at all, but when there is no one there the monstrance with consecrated host is reserved in a CLOSET in the daily mass chapel.

    So many problems with reservation, exposition and adoration. It’s a quagmire. We have adoration here sans exposition 8a – 4p weekdays, 9a-5p Saturdays and Sundays between masses. Only one priest, no deacons. Neighbor has 24/7 exposition so those here who are so inclined assist them in filling up their weekly grid.

  15. Michael_Thoma says:

    What is wrong with Adoration without Exposition? Is there a greater indulgence or blessing associated with it? Is there another reason Latin Rite Catholics prefer to see the Precious Body, in contrast to praying while the Precious Body and/or Precious Blood are within the Tabernacle?

  16. APX says:

    So can I gather from this that I as a lay person cannot actually close the tabernacle in our 24 hr Adoration Chapel if the next person doesn’t show up for their holy hour and there is no one else left there? We are instructed to close and lock the tabernacle and place the key in a locked repository, as well as to leave a voicemail for the pastor noting the incident. There are strict instructions that only a priest may open the tabernacle. Further, our priest instructed us that it is a mortal sin to leave the blessed sacrament unexposed.

  17. mamajen says:

    In our chapel the rule is if the next person doesn’t show and a substitute can’t be contacted, we need to stay until the person after that comes. We definitely aren’t to leave the Blessed Sacrament exposed. There’s no tabernacle in our chapel, just the monstrance. My husband stayed almost two hours one time. It’s amazing to me that our parish has been able to find the volunteers to keep it going for about 10 years now in a relatively small community.

  18. Choirmaster says:

    @frjim4321, et at.: Regarding the unique “door” on the tabernacle. My reading of this post causes me to think that this “door” is not some kind of special glass door, but that inside the tabernacle there is a monstrance-like contraption that exposes the Blessed Sacrament. This way, when the “door” is open, the Sacrament is exposed, and when the “door” is closed, the Sacrament is reposed.

    It didn’t seem to me that this was anything other than an ordinary tabernacle door. The only difference here is that maybe they have set it up such that a layperson would not actually have to touch a monstrance or a host to successfully expose and repose the Sacrament.

  19. frjim4321 says:

    What is wrong with Adoration without Exposition?

    Nothing at all, plus no worries about exposing, reposing, scheduling, etc.

  20. jhayes says:

    As I understand it, the celebrant of a Mass can appoint anyone an EMHC pro hac vice for that Mass if there are not enough regularly appointed EMHCs available. I wonder if that same principle might not allow the pastor to put out a notice saying “if the next person doesn’t show up to continue the adoration, you’re appointed as an EMHC for that one time to repose the Blessed Sacrament – and, similarly, if you arrive and the Blessed Sacrament isn’t exposed.”

    Or,

    In some dioceses (most?) the bishop has delegated the appointment of regular EMHCs to the pastor. In that case, he pastor might appoint all of the members of the adoration society as EMHCs for that one purpose.

    I’d be in favor of solutions that make it possible for Exposition and Adoration to go ahead.

  21. Choirmaster: The only difference here is that maybe they have set it up such that a layperson would not actually have to touch a monstrance or a host to successfully expose and repose the Sacrament.

    This is NOT the common situation illustrated in the photo I linked above. When the layperson opens the doors to the repository, the monstrance with host remains behind a fixed glass partition, and therefore CANNOT be touched by the layperson.

  22. frjim4321 says:

    This is NOT the common situation illustrated in the photo I linked above. When the layperson opens the doors to the repository, the monstrance with host remains behind a fixed glass partition, and therefore CANNOT be touched by the layperson.

    Seems somewhat disrespectful and relegating the consecrated host to little more than a curio. I am pretty sure I’ve read something official that has ruled out these curio-cabinet tabernacles.

  23. frjim4321, for once at least, you and I verge on an area of agreement, although I might phrase it more in terms of risking the encouragement of a more casual view of the Real Presence than does a closed tabernacle.

  24. Tim Ferguson says:

    I remember, many moons ago, when a caller called in to Mother Angelica’s show and was complaining that their new parish priest was not allowing them to do their First Saturday devotions because he stopped exposing the Blessed Sacrament on First Saturdays. Mother Angelica’s quite sensible (naturally) response was to ask the caller if the doors of the church were still open. The caller said yes, and Mother Angelica said, “Then you can still pray before the Blessed Sacrament, by kneeling in front of the tabernacle. Unless you’re like Thomas, you don’t need to see the Lord to know that he’s there. In fact, even if Father starts locking the doors of the church, you can kneel on the front step and adore the Lord.”

    I love Eucharistic Exposition (and I’m certain Mother Angelica does, as well), but I also think that we can pray before the Blessed Sacrament even when not exposed. I think Fr. Jackson’s concerns are well placed. While keeping within the law – with its wide and generous encouragement of Exposition, and provision for extending that provision even when and where clergy are in shortage, I think it’s wise to keep an eye on the issue. If the Blessed Sacrament cannot be exposed, we can still keep company with Our Lord.

  25. I love Eucharistic Exposition (and I’m certain Mother Angelica does, as well)

    Indeed, given that she founded the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, and personally designed and built a beautiful shrine for their perpetual Eucharistic Exposition.

  26. jacobi says:

    This again raises an interesting point about the wider uses of, and reasons for, EMHCs.

    The underlying principle is that the handling of the Sacred Species is the “privilege of the Ordained”, as emphasised by John Paul II, going back to at least Aquinas.
    EMHCs or more properly emHCs, are permitted to handle in exceptional circumstances. They are appointed for a set period not indefinitely. They are not permitted to be used routinely. Where ongoing need is foreseen, then there is a requirement to appoint an acolyte or deacon, from within the male laity, as Father Z has pointed out.
    Clearly these rules are widely abused by those who have prime responsibility, namely, parish priests, who really ought to think more about their responsibilities. Similarly it is up to emHCs who are routinely used, to consider their position.

    This is not about “applying the rules”, but about showing due respect for the Body and Blood of Christ, wholly and truly present in the Sacred Species.

  27. Joseph-Mary says:

    I have been an EMHC for years. They recruited many of us in our 20s. I no longer serve at Mass as I do not belong up there in the sanctuary however I visit the homebound.

    Anyway, in my previous parish I exposed and reposed the Blessed Sacrament for adoration for 13 years (before I had to move away from that place) because the priests and deacons–the priests lived just across the street–would NOT do it. I used to apologize to the Lord that I was sorry that there were no ordained hands to perform this service for Him and His faithful. But that way we had a day of adoration a week. No clergy or modern ‘sister’ would come.

  28. Mamma B says:

    I appreciate this discussion, because I am an Eastern Rite Catholic , but sometimes i go to adoration chapel at the neighboring Roman Catholic Church. Please forgive if I do not use the correct terms for everything as we do not have this custom. The Host is in the monstrance inside a wooden tabernacle with solid wood doors that close and lock with a key. There is perpetual adoration but when someone doesn’t show up, the person who leaves (any person) is supposed to push in the sliding wooden tray that the monstrance sits on (which can be done without touching the monstrance) then close and lock the door, and place the key on a designated hook. If you come in and no one is there, you reverse the above directions. There is not any sort of barrier that would prevent you from touching the monstrance. It seems like this is not okay based upon what i read above????

  29. Precentrix says:

    Mama B,

    It is better than having lay folks handling a) Jesus or b) the lunette (the glass part of the monstrance). Technically the base part of the monstrance isn’t such an issue and, traditionally, could be touched for the purposes of cleaning etc. while, for example, other items like the chalice and patten were absolutely off limits. The problem is that this whole situation is compounding the blurring of roles between clergy and laity. Also, I am a little concerned that the tabernacle key would be so easily accessible, especially with all the news of acts of sacrilege in recent years.

  30. irishgirl says:

    Henry Edwards-Mother Angelica did not ‘found’ the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration. The Order actually began in Troyes, France in 1854 (on December 8th, the very day the Immaculate Conception was declared a dogma). Foundations came to the US, mostly from Germany and Austria.
    I think you were referring to the individual monastery which Mother Angelica founded fifty years ago in Alabama, Our Lady of the Angels.
    Just so you know…. ; )

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  33. Ambrose Jnr says:

    After reading this, I’m wondering more and more whether EMHCs are actually taking over the role of deacons almost completely, although being much less formed, theologically; not being clergy; and not having received holy orders.

    Is all this not counterproductive for growth in the diaconate?