D. Fort Wayne-South Bend, Bp. D’Arcy’s norms for TABERNACLES

From a reader comes new from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, where His Excellency the exemplary John M. D’Arcy is bishop. 

His Excellency has made a statement about the placement of the tabernacle in churches of the diocese. Document.

Here is the cover letter with his statement with my emphases and comments:


June 14, 2009 Feast of Corpus Christi

To Priests, Deacons, Religious, and to All the Faithful,

The presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is at the center of our faith and of the devotional life of our Catholic people.

In recent years, the place of the tabernacle in our churches has become a source of controversy. This should not be. The Eucharist, whether we are referring to its celebration or to the place of reservation, should always be a means of unity and communion, and never of division.

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[Amen. Alleluia.]

Because of my responsibility to foster the devotional life of our people, and to keep it sound, I have asked our Office of Worship to prepare norms for the placement and design of the tabernacle in this diocese. These norms were brought before the Presbyteral Council, the Liturgical Commission, and the Environment and Arts Committee. Suitable refinements and improvements were prepared.

These norms are promulgated to the Diocese of Fort Wayne–South Bend on June 14, 2009, the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of the Lord. They will be effective on August 4, 2009, the Feast of Saint John Mary Vianney, the patron saint of priests, in whose honor the present Year for Priests has been dedicated by the Holy Father Benedict XVI.

I urge all priests to follow these norms carefully and completely, and most importantly – to foster devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.

With every best wish and prayer, I remain

Sincerely yours in our Lord,

Most Reverend John M. D’Arcy
Bishop of Fort Wayne – South Bend


"But Father! But Father!", surely you are by now eagerly shouting.  "Don’t leave us in suspense!  What does the bishop really say?"

Here are a couple highlights from the norms which you can read on your own.

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. Any exception to this norm must be approved by the Diocesan Bishop, and must clearly demonstrate itself as a worthy alternative that would accentuate the sacramental nature of the church building and contribute to the spiritual life of the worshiping community.

6. In those existing places of sacred worship where the tabernacle is currently located elsewhere in the sanctuary or the main body of the church, a liturgical consultation with the faithful and with the Diocese should begin, regarding the possibility of moving the tabernacle to a central position in the sanctuary. Especially if the tabernacle in a particular church was central at one time and then was moved, it should be returned to its original location.

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. [Amen. Alleluia.  I would add RECEPTION as well… but that is not the topic of these norms.] 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. Under extraordinary circumstances, such as if it became necessary for a church to host an event of a purely secular nature, the Blessed Sacrament may be removed from the tabernacle and transferred to the sacristy or another suitable place. The location should be secure, with the ciboria veiled and the Lord’s presence clearly marked.

WDTPRS sends huge kudos to Bp. D’Arcy for another good day’s work in the Lord’s vineyard.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Tina in Ashburn says:

    woo hooo! Nice, Bishop D’Arcy. That’s a lucky diocese.

  2. TNCath says:

    Bishop D’Arcy wrote: “The location should be secure, with the ciboria veiled and the Lord’s presence clearly marked.”

    Wow! That’s the first time I’ve heard a bishop refer to a ciborium veil! Brick by brick, ciborium by ciborium, veil by veil.

  3. It warms my heart to see this. This is the problem, people dont understand the real presence, because we place the Lord off to the side like the uncle no one wants, but has to see at dinner once a year. Just the opposite, Kudos your Excellency.

    I have a question on the canon on this – I had thought I read somewhere that in churches where a community is praying the divine office, it is more appropriate to have a blessed sacrament altar.

    Also another example, well question – What of Cathedrals (like my own Diocese’s) that have a Blessed Sacrament Chapel close to the altar, what is the norm there? Keep in mind his Excellency Raymond Burke, was here, and I dont recall him ever mentioning it, and if anyone would catch something like that it would be him.

  4. Matt says:

    Seconding Patrick’s question about cathedrals. One beautiful example is the Basilica in D.C. It has a beautiful chapel, off to the side, that is dedicated solely to reverence for the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle.

    Are cathedrals a special case?

  5. Ceile De says:

    I do not know if cathedrals are a special case but I do know that our cathedral, Our Lady of the Angels, has all the Catholic elements – if one looks very carefully. There is one combined baptistry/holy water font at the very back of the Cathedral – not near the doors. The Blessed Sacrament Chapel is nice but hidden away from the Sanctuary, ass are the Confession boxes and the side altars. The only hint whatsoever of Catholic identity in the main Sanctuary is the Cardinal’s hat suspended way above the Cathedra.
    So, all the elements are there but marginalised – when people get used to that, will they even notice if they are omitted from future designs? Or was that the whole point? Marginalisation prior to elimination?

  6. Blessed Karl says:

    Wow! This is very beautiful! Bishop D’Arcy appears to be doing the brick by brick!

    It is good to see more of the Catholic hierarchy warming up to the vision of Pope Benedict… or rather of God. Thankyou Fr. Z for reporting this!

  7. Rellis says:

    When a priest at my parish did an instruction on Summorum Pontificum and what a TLM would look like, he removed the Blessed Sacrament. His explanation was that people were coming to hear him speak, and if Our Lord were there, all the attention would rightly be on him.

  8. FINALLY, Atta Boy, Ft Wayne is very lucky indeed, may the rest of the bishops take note, I’m forwarding this to our priest, I pray he takes it in the appropriate light

  9. Central Valley says:

    If only we had a sheperd like this in the diocese of Fresno Ca., where liturgical abuses abound.

  10. I think Cathedrals are a special case if I remember correctly, as Cathedrals generally have more traffic.

    Deo Gratias indeed.

    Ceile De: In short, yes (Marginalization will lead to elimination), Los Angeles (I’m there too) is a Liturgical wasteland for all intensive purposes even though there are a few bright spots such as St. Therese in Alhambra, Holy Trinity in Los Angeles, and Holy Innocents in Long Beach.

    I pray that our diocese takes on norms like these.

  11. Daniel says:

    Cathedrals often have a chapel or at least a side altar for the Blessed Sacrament because (in general) traditionally the cathedra was located to the east (behind) the altar itself. Essentially the cathedral’s layout, moving from west to east, would be nave-altar-cathedra. Granted that this was not followed everywhere in the same fashion, but the idea was very widespread. You can read a good description of this, using St. Charles Borromeo’s directives for church architecture, at http://www.sacredarchitecture.org/articles/charles_borromeo_and_catholic_tradition/

  12. Sarsfield says:

    Bravo, Bishop D’Arcy. In my diocese (Louisville), first-time visitors to the cathedral need a seasoned tour guide to locate the tabernacle. In fact, one must go through a door and walk down a long hallway that leads somewhere behind the main altar before locating the broom closet, er, chapel in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. I had hoped this would change with the arrival of Abp. Kurtz, but, alas, no such luck.

  13. Therese says:

    Yes, I believe that cathedrals and other churches with a high number of pilgrims, weddings, and other things that might impede adorers are allowed to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in a separate chapel, as this article touches on:

    Readers might also be interested in the PDF edition of the document, which includes pictures of exemplary tabernacles. It can be found here:

  14. Papabile says:

    Perhaps the Bishop is not aware that the IGMR states that people ARE to genuflect during the Sacred Triduum.
    From the GIRM: “274. A genuflection, made by bending the right knee to the ground, signifies adoration, and therefore it is reserved for the Most Blessed Sacrament, as well as for the Holy Cross from the solemn adoration during the liturgical celebration on Good Friday until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.

    Also, of interest, before the Council, it was common to genuflect to the Altar Cross.

  15. JimC says:

    Speaking of genuflect, have you noticed the large number of people of all ages who genuflect with their left knee (they are not kissing the bishop’s ring — that is long forgotten) and cross themselves with their left hand? We need a return to basic Catholic behavioral norms in a church. This is one more thing I never hear about from the pulpit but I know all about Father’s extended family and the liberal part of the Carmelite Order.

  16. You know what the problem will be with all this? People in their 60s and 70s will appear at parish functions with pictures of weddings, confirmations, baptisms, etc. from the 1950s and 1960s. And do you know what those pictures will show? Tabernacles in the middle of the main altars as the Tridentine Mass was the only Mass which existed. And then they will say to their “pastors”, YOU ARE NOT SHEPHERDS (PASTOR in Latin). You have been nothing but hired hands who ran when the wolves of the Second Vatican Council came and uprooted out faith.

  17. mpm says:


    I think the PDF version is unfortunately truncated; at least I am only able to read through the end of p. 7, and the sentence is not complete.

    On the other hand, the photos of the tabernacles are very beautiful!

  18. Maureen says:

    Re: genuflection on left vs right knee

    This was worrying me, because my mother is usually the encyclopedia of pre-VII stuff and she never heard of it, but some of you are so very positive. Heck, we never did anything about this in my medieval recreation group, and there’s a bunch of people who are rubric-happy for court stuff if I ever knew any.

    But I have now come across a good amount of material claiming that this is just a regional thing that certain orders promoted, not any matter of church law or universal tradition.

    It’s nice to know what really is required, and what’s just a custom of certain places and times. That way, nobody freaks out when they see people following another allowable custom than the one they were taught.

    And a good thing too, because I can’t balance if I try to genuflect on the right knee (for me, the wrong knee). Keeling over in front of the tabernacle wouldn’t impress the good Lord any, and I very nearly did that a couple times already, trying to do the right knee thing.

    For what it’s worth, I always heard that the graceful way to genuflect or give a knee to anyone was to kneel on your non-dominant side, thus allowing yourself a better chance to get up again. This didn’t seem very important when I was a kid, but my older joints agree with this plan. I guess the ambidexters can do whatever they want.

  19. Joan says:

    Maybe we should write to Bishop D’Arcy to show our support. Everyone is willing to write to bishops to complain, but we should write to encourage them, too!

    Fort Wayne Chancery
    1103 S. Calhoun Street
    P.O. Box 390
    Fort Wayne, Indiana 46801
    (260) 422-4611

  20. Therese says:

    Perhaps it was a temporary bandwidth issue? Everything seems to be coming through now.

  21. *As far as I know*, there is no alternative possible and in any Orthodox (or Eastern Rite) church, the tabernacle will be on the altar, behind the iconostasis. There is a picture of the altar (and tabernacle) in my parish here:


  22. Mark McGrath says:

    What secular event would be held in a Catholic Church that would necessitate the removal of the Blessed Sacrament?

  23. Art ND'76 says:

    D’Arcy was our bishop before we moved from South Bend to San Jose, CA. After our move I still heard excellent homilies from him when he presided and preached occasionally at the Notre Dame masses that used to be on the Hallmark channel.

    I am especially heartened to see his call for making the tabernacle accessible for prayer during the day — for me that is significant for the on-going prayer life of a community.

    I also wonder with Patrick Finley about whether the public Liturgy of the Hours should be prayed in the main body of the sanctuary with the presence in the tabernacle. I remember our parish pastor in South Bend having all of the priests and deacons in the rectory pray the morning and evening divine office in the church so that we in the laity could participate with them (which I really miss now, 19 years later). I don’t recall whether the tabernacle was emptied or not during the divine office.

  24. Pax Britannica says:

    Cathedrals may be different – but not all. It’s a pity he’s not archbishop of Paris, where in the re-ordering of Notre Dame Viollet-le-Duc’s large and magnificent high altar tabernacle was pushed to the side ‘out of the way’ (??), and the gradines removed. The big six candelabra are currently dispersed in side chapels.

  25. Frank H. says:

    Mark McGrath – In our church are held elementary school graduations, presentations on portable TVs for Bible study, occasional lectures on church topics outside of Mass, etc. I am always uncomfortable while these are taking place, due to the proper central positioning of the tabernacle.

  26. AJP says:

    does anyone know if these norms will also apply to chapels on Notre Dame’s campus? There must be at least 30 different chapels there, in addition to the Basilica. Most of these chapels are in dorms, and as far as tabernacle layout goes, it’s all over the map. Many chapels (especially in the women’s dorms) have been wreckovated so badly it borders on sacrilege. On the bright side, given the small size and simple layouts of these chapels, it would not be difficult to rearrange most of them properly. But as we know, ND is run by an order, not the diocese. So do the bishop’s norms apply to ND, or are they exempt?

  27. Frank H. says:

    Maureen, please note, from the GIRM:

    274. A genuflection, made by bending the right knee to the ground,…

  28. Nicholas says:

    Mark McGrath:

    In addition to the cases Frank H. mentions, if construction or repairs are being performed in the church, it is appropriate to remove the Blessed Sacrament. My parish is currently receiving much-needed repair to damaged plaster and paint, and on days when work is being done the Eucharist is reserved in the sacristy.

  29. Heather says:

    I guess I’m the only dense one…I don’t get why the text at the end has a line through it…can anyone explain?

  30. OPfriar says:

    AJP —

    The bishop’s norms would apply to any chapel in use by the faithful. Since, presumably, every chapel on campus is used by students, the norms would have to be enforced in them all. The only exception (possibly…I am not a canon law expert) to the norms might be if the religious there have a private chapel, used only by them, to which the faithful are *never* allowed. In such cases, the bishop’s norms (perhaps) might not be absolutely required, on the basis that his norms govern the *public* celebration of the liturgy within his diocese and that the internal celebration of the liturgy by a religious community within a fully cloistered portion of their own religious house is not a “public” celebration of the liturgy…at least not in precisely the same way. (In such a case the liturgies still are “public” in a certain sense of the word, but the use of the adjective “public” there is an analogical rather than a univocal predication). So all I’m saying is there *might* be a sliver of a loophole approached from that perspective. It would probably take a team of canon lawyers to tease out all of the details. (Of course, one prudently might raise the question of whether a religious community vis-a-vis their local bishop should be looking for “loopholes” in the first place…)

    But one thing is absolutely certain: as soon as a religious community invites the laity (or anyone outsiders at all–whether clergy, religious, or lay–who are not members of their particular religious community) to join in the liturgies in their chapel, even if such invitations happen only rarely, then by that very fact they are bound to all of the norms issued by the bishop regarding the public celebration of the sacraments/liturgy within his diocese.

    That’s my understanding, at least. This isn’t my area of expertise so I defer to those who are experts, should one chime in and correct anything I wrote.

  31. Robert Medonis says:

    Here are some other Los Angeles churches that are good liturgically (more or less)

    St. Casimir (Lithuanian) Silver Lake

    St. Anne (Melkite Rite) Hollywood/Studio City. Prettiest Catholic Church in LA of any rite. IMHO.

    St. Andrew Russian Greek Catholic Church (Byzantine Rite Russian Usage) El Segundo.
    Very pretty church.

  32. Charivari Rob says:


    In the absence of a ‘church hall’/school cafeteria/auditorium/gym, the ‘worship space’ may be the only suitably large space for some gatherings that the pastor might see fit to call (or permit).

    Off the top of my head, well… the others suggested a few likely activities. Another one might be if the pastor saw the need to convene a parish meeting – speak at greater length about business matters than appropriate during the homily or announcements at Mass, allowing for give-and-take not possible in Mass, and involving more people than a usual council or committee meeting.

  33. mpm says:


    Thanks. I don’t know what the problem was, but I was looking at the last item on the list from the Bishop’s site. The one with the “sequential” ordering came up quite nicely.

    BTW, Notre Dame’s beautiful Basilica of the Sacred Heart tabernacle is used as a good example of what the Bishop has in mind, and well done too. But the cathedral one in front “takes the cake.”

  34. Now for phase II….

    Everybody print out the document and flood your bishop’s office with copies of it. Then, pray for your bishop and priests of the diocese.

    I think folks from the FWSB diocese may want to let Bishop D’Arcy know how they feel with Mass Cards and promises of prayer in “thank you” cards.

    Deo gratias!

  35. Hmmmm….I wonder if Archbishop Vigneron would move the Tabernacle back to a more appropriate place at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral.

  36. Hidden One says:

    Bp. D’Arcy has put a smile on my face.

    Now, a question: Are there such norms in Lincoln? [Do they need them?]

  37. Jayna says:

    This is the norm for the Archdiocese of Atlanta: “The tabernacle shall be located in the main body of the church within or near the sanctuary area, such that it is in clear view of the seated congregation.”

    On the bright side, we have the norm…however, my parish seems to think the tabernacle should be in a chapel that is behind the congregation (actually, for a long time I had no idea it was even a chapel because people use it as a cry room during Sunday Masses). The newer churches in the Archdiocese are definitely getting the picture, though. Beautifully ornamented gold and silver tabernacles that are worthy of what they contain, not the wooden box with brass doors I see every day in my church. But things are changing, so hopefully that will change too.

  38. ED says:

    Bishop D’Arcy is 77 so he wont be around long but his greatest act was when he was auxiliary bishop of Boston when he was the only bishop in that diocese that warned Cardinal Law not to cover up the sex scandals he wouldnt go along with the rest.

  39. stigmatized says:

    if it was wrong to put tabernacles off to the side then why did they do it?

  40. Central Valley says:

    Ed, very good point about D’Arcy in Boston. D’Arcy was cast out because he said tell the truth, if only Cardinal Law and other american bishops would listen.

  41. Michael says:

    As I say everytime he comes up on this site: I love my Bishop!

  42. Matt Q says:

    God bless Bishop D’Arcy. While we appreciated his stand regarding the Notre Shame controversy, I’m surprised but very pleased he has also taken such a stand as this–something he can truly effect. I wonder how many of the clergy were flopping around on the floor when the news broke. Slowly ( ever so slowly ) but surely… Praise God!

  43. Matt Q says:

    Mark McGrath asked:

    “What secular event would be held in a Catholic Church that would necessitate the removal of the Blessed Sacrament?”


    For the most part, it’s usually something like a concert–of sacred music or a choir performance.

    = = = = =

    Stigmatized asked:

    “If it was wrong to put tabernacles off to the side then why did they do it?”


    It’s because we are in the age of do as you dang well please, and of bishops who couldn’t care less.

    = = = = =

    Diane at Te Deum wrote:

    “Now for phase II…

    Everybody print out the document and flood your bishop’s office with copies of it. Then, pray for your bishop and priests of the diocese.

    I think folks from the FWSB diocese may want to let Bishop D’Arcy know how they feel with Mass Cards and promises of prayer in “thank you” cards.

    Deo gratias!”


    Save paper and time, especially in my Archdiocese. The cardinal-archbishop will be gone in 2011, so no one is expecting any continuity hermeneutics in his waning days.

  44. Fr Tim says:

    We are just about to do this here!

  45. Kimberly says:

    I noted that the word “should” was used many times. Problem is, many priests say that the word “should” does not mean “must” and can be taken to mean that it is an option. I hear this over and over. Why not use the word “must”, that is how the dictionary decribes the word “should” anyway.

  46. john uk says:

    Stigmatized asked:

    If it was wrong to put tabernacles off to the side then why did they do it?
    and Matt answered:
    It’s because we are in the age of do as you dang well please, and of bishops who couldn’t care less.

    Not, IMHO, quite so clearcut, Matt. If the tabernacle is behind the altar, which has been moved forward to facilitate Mass being celebrated facing the people, the priest is then obliged to celebrate with his back towards the Most Holy. I think that was the principal reason tabernacles were moved to one side. One feels [or shpould feel] distinctly uncomfortable celebrating Mass with one’s back permanently towards the Lord: even worse if the Chair is placed s one sits with one’s back to the Lord.
    Unfortunately the new norms at
    whilst laudable in so many ways for their emphasis on a worthy setting for the Blesed Sacrament reserved, on proper reverence for the Sacrament, and restoring It as a focal point of prayer and worship in churches, do not address this particular conundrum.

    To my mind the only solution is the hanging pyx, so beloved in mediæval England, suspended over the high altar. Unfiortunately this is often not permitted, and has serious security issues in our own time when sacrilege is not reckoned as a heinous sin by so many.

    John UK

  47. john uk says:

    On reflection, having re-read my previous comment and the new norms, another soultion might be to place the tabernacle on its central axis behind the high altar so high that the priest, rather than having his back to the Lord, is clearly beneath the Lord.
    From the photographs in the booklet, it looks as if
    Saint Thomas Aquinas College Chapel, Santa Paula, California
    might work in that regard, and possibly
    Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, La Crosse, Wisconsin
    Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Notre Dame, Indiana.
    With regard to the last, the tabernacle possibly needs to be slightly higher,, and what happened to the old S.C.R. ruling about a whit light to denote the Presence of the Lord? Similar, however beautiful the tabernacle, the old rule insisting on a conopæum, veil, or curtains of the liturgical colour also helped the faithful to readily know that the Lord be present.

    John UK

  48. Patronus says:

    John UK,

    I think you need to lighten up, man. The reasoning and proposals you make have a few problems, in my opinion.

  49. ssoldie says:

    After 40+ years in the desert of chaos and confusion, finally, finally, thank, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost for the graces bestowed and accepted on so many of our Shepherd’s to know what the Church has taught for all the years. brick by brick.

  50. stigmatized says:

    the suspended pyx was not to facilitate mass celebrated facing the people. mass was never celebrated facing the people in england, or anywhere else for that matter. having mass celebrated facing the people is the same as having the tabernacle off to the side. why don’t people post things as to why mass facing the people is ‘wrong’? it was only luther who had mass facing the people.

  51. john uk says:

    Patronus wrote:
    I think you need to lighten up, man. The reasoning and proposals you make have a few problems, in my opinion.
    Sorry if I came across as unduly heavy. After all We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song! in the words of the great Augustine, and the joy, the fruit of Spirit of St.Paul, the heavenly joy for which so many of the prayers at Mass ask, the boundless joy in heaven over one sinner that repents, the joy tha comes from knowing that sins are forven, ahould be the mark of every Christian. But, Patronus, I digress: I should be grateful to be enlightened further as to the problems you find in my reasoning and proposals.

    Stigmatized commented:
    the suspePded pyx was not to facilitate mass celebrated facing the people. mass was never celebrated facing the people in england, or anywhere else for that matter. having mass celebrated facing the people is the same as having the tabernacle off to the side. why don’t people post things as to why mass facing the people is ‘wrong’? it was only luther who had mass facing the people.

    Stigmatized: I was merely trying to answer your question as to why tabernacles were placed to the side: it was a consequence of re-introducing the practice of saying Mass facing the people, which had largely been abandoned many centuries ago, aand I believe it came about so as not to dis-respect the Blessed Sacrament. I could have added that it was also felt desirable to concentrate on the Presence of Jesus in the Mass that was being celebrated at the high altar. Pulling the altar forward had separated the unity of tabernacle and altar which had hitherto existed.
    I was not suggesting that the Mass was celebrated anywhere in mediæval England facig the people..far from it .. but was suggesting that in places where the altar was forward, the hanging pyx might be one way of restoring the unity of the altar of sacrifice with the Sacrificed.
    As to the second part of your comment.
    It is probable that the earliest Christians gathered around their dining tables for the Eucharist, which as we learn from the New Testament rapidly separated from the accompanying meal.
    In the great basilican churches which emerged following the legalisation of Christianity, it seems likely that the[bishop and his] priests and ministers sat behind the altar around the apse for the first part of the Mass. It is a moot point as to whether they stayed behind the altar from the offertory onwards: I myself prefer the idea that they then came round and faced east, though the presence in some of the Roman basilicæ of a sheer drop west of the altar [and in one or two other churches across Europe] is against my own preference. What modern scholarship seems to show is that what ultimately governed the direction of the liturgy was facing east, the rising sun, and where the church was built so that the people were geographically east of the altar then Mass would be said facing the people.
    As far as I know, Martin Luther never had Mass \”facing the people\”: indeed, Lutheran churches and liturgy were conservative in their setting compared with what happened to churches in the wake of Vatican II.

    My own preference might be for Mass said ad orientem priest and people facing the same way: but that is a far cry from my believing that Mass said \”facing the people\” is in any way wrong, the more so when to assert so would be in opposition to the way St.Peter, St Paul and the Apostles probably celebrated, most of the Popes (the earliest ones as the norm, the later exceptionally).

    What is so often \”wrong\” – or more accurately sinful – is the way Mass is so often celebrated, in whatever direction and with whatever rite, with a lack of reverence, or carelessly, or without regard to the norms the Church ordains. What is also wrong, and sinful, is the way some approach Communion without heeding St Paul\’s warnings in 1 Corinthians chapeter 11 vv 27-30,

    John UK

  52. Patronus says:

    John UK,

    My apologies – I was probably a little harsh and rushed myself in posting such a knee-jerk, terse comment. I read again what you wrote – this time more carefully – and actually think you have some interesting things to say, particularly in proposing that tabernacles were moved to the side by some after the Council because of the aversion to having one’s back to the Lord. At the same time, I do think that’s probably oversimplified, since even if that was an original impetus, it seems that it became overwhelmed by a liturgical worldview that saw an actual tension between altar and tabernacle.

    I also mistakenly thought, just from my haphazard reading of your first post, that you were proposing hanging pyxes as a viable and blanket solution. I do know some very seriously favor implementing them – but despite the historical precendent, I believe security (as you said) and maybe even visibility and accessibility concerns would trump any benefits.

    I do disagree with your basic premise, though – that having one’s back towards the tabernacle during the liturgy is inherently and seriously problematic. While I can appreciate the laudable reasoning that desires to respect the Blessed Sacrament at all times (and particularly during Mass, in light of the ritual action of the Extraordinary Form), I think the fact that the altar of sacrifice is the most important visual and sacral focal point during the Mass should outweigh the concern, especially since there is no thought or intention of disrespecting the Blessed Sacrament. I think it’s also a matter of architectural practicality when celebrating versus populum.

    And I am not at all opposed to your talk of a signficantly elevated tabernacle — but I think problems could be encountered if trying to quantify and mandate it, since a particular height could not easily be prescribed, and because there is the possibility of it visually overwhelming the altar even during Mass (though I don’t mean this as a criticism of large and exquisite reredoses in general). Also, if a tabernacle is located behind the priest, I suppose I don’t understand how it would be substantially different to have it more elevated and yet still behind. Practically speaking, this would seem to serve to ensure that the tabernacle is a constant visual magnet for the congregation, even during Mass, which might not be ideal.

    Still, you pose interesting issues – there is much we can think about when it comes to versus populum (without discarding the practice), in terms of maintaining a coherent liturgical worldview.

  53. stigmatized says:

    dear john, the primary roman basilicas had not originally been built as churches with eastward orientation, so the priest must stand behind the altar in order to face east…yes, just a few steps down as you said, but also curtains were drawn around the altar so that the priest wasn’t even visible during the anaphora. so the beginning of public liturgy in the church immediately draws from the former temple usages which include the holy place veiled from the people. liturgically, the altartable is meant to be a sign of the altar of sacrifice in the temple. one would have to sit on the floor on cushions around one’s coffee table to recreate the type of meal known in the early church. luther attempted to do so in the public church buildings and we are living with his model of worship imposed on us daily.

  54. stigmatized says:

    luther most certainly did celebrate mass facing the people. what you are describing as ‘conservative’ in the lutheran church is the result of the same 19th century revival of catholic customs which in england is known as the oxford movement.

  55. stigmatized says:

    while you might appeal to ignorance in defending the erroneous practice of massfacingthepeople, the lutheran theologians who so greatly influenced vatican ii were quite clever.

  56. john uk says:

    To Patronus:
    No offence taken :-)
    The history of reservation in itself is fascinating. Dix, in his Detection of Aumbries 1942, has an admirable summary.
    In the earliest days of the church it was the homes of the faithful: there were no churches.
    Once Christianity became legal, it was the priest’s house, and in churches, once these were safe from attack, usually the sacristy [which persisted in Italy until the 16th.century].
    The focus of devotion in churches from the 4th-9th centuries was normally the bare altar itself, the symbol of Christ himself,
    The earliest record of reservation on the altar was in 802 at Lindisfarne, probably the normal practice in northern England. The practice spread from England to those parts of europe Christianized by Anglo-Saxon and Celtic missionaries.
    The hanging pyx was nigh universal in England, even after the restoration of Catholicism in England under Mary, whence it had spread to France [Gaul]. In Genrmany the sacrament house was favoured, partly in response to the decree Sane of Innocent III in 1215, the first attempt to secure the place of reservation under lock and key in churches. Notwithstanding the decree, in Ireland, the practice of reservation in private houses continued, as did hanging pyxes in England. From Germany sacrament houses spread to Italy, where aumbries were also to be found.
    In France however, tabernacles on altars began to replace hanging pyxes from 1198 onwards. This innovation did not reach Italy until
    first introduced by St.Charles Borromeo in Milan, spreading to Naples in 1583 and Rome itself by 1600.
    In some places in France hanging pyxes survived, notably in Amiens Cathedral.
    Dix writes of this:
    Anyone who has seen the golden dove above the altar of the choir at Amiens . . will remember how it seems to dominate the whole space of the building, and how the sense of the sacramental Presence seems to radiate out from it upon the very soul of the beholder. (To me personally this has always seemed the most poetic and striking of all methods of reservation, and — considerations of safety and convenience apart — surely the most worthy.)

    I have been unable to discover whether this practice continues to this day at Amiens: recent photographs seem to show reservation in a conventual tabernacle upon the Lady Chapel altar.

    An interesting compromise emerged at Verona in 1525. The new bishop, Matthew Gilberti, finding the sacrament reserved in the cathedral in an aumbry in “some odd corner” [in quodam angulo] whitewashed and adorned the choir, aand hung the Sacrament in a ‘tabernacle’ of marble and crystal supported by four angels of brass, suspended over the high altar tanquam cor in pectore et mentem in anima like the heart in the breast and the mind in the soul. He ordered similar changes throughout the diocese and was soon imitated in surrounding dioceses.

    I would repeat my whole hearted support for the Bishop of Forth Worth-South Bend’s praiseworthy document he obviously stands in the noble tradition of Bishop Matthew Gilberti!

    John UK

  57. Dan says:

    Just last year His Excellency, Bishop Burbidge of the Diocese of Raleigh North Carolina moved the tabernacle from the left side of the Cathedral here to the center position just behind the altar.
    God bless His Excellency!

  58. john uk says:

    Dear Stigmatized,
    I should be very interested to learn further of Martin Luther’s celebrating facing the people. I know he wanted to do so, for in his preface to his The German Mass and Order of Divine Service, in January 1526 he wrote:
    (iii) On Sundays for the laity

    The Mass vestments, altars, and lights may be retained till such time as they shall all change of themselves, or it shall please us to change them: though, if any will take a different course in this matter, we shall not interfere. But in the true Mass, among sincere Christians, the altar should not be retained, and the priest should always turn himself towards the people as, without doubt, Christ did at the Last Supper. That, however, must bide its time.

    But he does not seem to have succeeded in carrying it into practice, other than for reading the lections, for later we read:

    [a] At the beginning then we sing a spiritual song or a psalm in German, in primo tono, as follows: Ps. xxxiv.
    [b] Then Kyrie eleison, to the same tone, but thrice and not nine times…
    [c] Then the priest reads a Collect in Effaut in unisono, as follows: ‘Almighty God,’ &c.
    [d] Then the Epistle, in the eighth tone… The Epistle should be sung with the face turned to the people, but the Collect with the face turned to the altar.
    [e] After the Epistle is sung a German hymn, ‘Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist,’ or some other, by the whole choir.
    [f] Then is read the Gospel in the fifth tone, also with the face turned towards the people

    How much later Luther’s wish for Mass facing the people would come about is not clear, for as late as 1965
    we find
    (The Lutheran Liturgy, pp. 417-419, 425-427)
    Nota bene: The text of the rubrics as found in the designated sources has been underlined. The rubrics which apply to Matins and Vespers have been deleted from this chapter only because they do not apply to the immediate subject.
    1. When the Officiant stands before the altar, he faces the altar for all sacrificial acts and the Congregation for all sacramental acts.
    2. The sacrificial acts of the Morning Service and of the Order of the Holy Communion are the Trinitarian Invocation, the Confession, the Introit, the Hymns and Canticles, the Gradual, the Creed, the Prayers, the Offertory, the Preface, the Sanctus, and the words of Institution. This listing is obviously intended to include the Kyrie, the Gloria in Excelsis, and the Collect.

    [see http://www.lexorandi.org/piepkorn.html for full text]

    I suspect that, since that was written 44 years ago, Lutheran churches will now be found where the minister faces the people, as Luther had desired 450 years earlier.

    John UK

  59. MarkAA says:

    Yes, Lutherans (in the U.S.) typically face toward the congregation during services. However, in many Lutheran churches the celebrant pastor will stand between worshipers and altar, facing the altar, back to from the people, and offer the prayers of the church. Nobody is in the slightest bothered by this, which makes me wonder why so many Catholics seem up in arms about the ad orientam coming back into Catholic masses.

    Also, Lutherans have retained some of the responses, including “And with your Spirit” instead of “And also with you.”

    Also, it very much depends on which Lutherans you mean. I’m referring to the relatively traditionalist Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, not the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). There are great differences between those synods — one being quite traditional/conservative and one being far more politically and theologically liberal. The differences largely parallel the kinds of differences you find in liberal Catholic parishes vs. traditionalist ones — the Lutheran denominations simply are more open about what “kind” of theology/politics you find there than Catholic parishes.

    Interestingly, it’s the liberal branch that has come closer to Rome (the Joint Statement) than the conservative one, although the conservative one has an official understanding of how to read scripture that is much closer to Rome’s understanding than the ELCA’s. Between the two branches, however, the staunchly conservative LCMS would make a much better ally to Rome than the waffling ELCA, and I hope to see that day.


  60. irishgirl says:

    Huzzah for Bishop d’Arcy!

    Now if my new Bishop in Syracuse would do the same in his cathedral-the tabernacle there is off to the side on a pedestal.

  61. Fr. Jim says:

    I was wondering what Bp. d’Arcy’s formation in liturgy has been, other than what was required for preistly ordination. Did he complete any advanced studies in liturgy, does anyone know? His letter seems based more on arguments of personal piety than on firm liturgical principles. Fr. Jim.

  62. Patronus says:

    Fr. Jim,

    I guess I don’t see the problem here. The letter is addressed to everyone, including the lay faithful – so he rightly takes an approach that speaks to (and as he says, actually draws from) the general experience of the lay faithful in his diocese.

    The document itself is full of liturgical principles and citations. So, I’m not sure where you’re coming from.

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