QUAERITUR: Posture when tabernacle door is opened.

From a reader:

I have searched everywhere and I cannot find norms for what are the appropriate postures of the faithful when the tabernacle door is opened in Church, outside of Mass, for a communion call, etc… in a Church.

On one hand I have seen places where everyone goes about their business, no matter what proximity you are to the tabernacle. Only the minister offers revererence.

I have seen other places (rare) where the opening of the tabernacle door for a communion call was like exposition of the Eucharist, everyone in the Church was expected to stop and kneel until the Minister closed the door.

A third interpretion indicated special reverence was due only those in the Sanctuary at the time knelt, but all others continued moving in the Church, following the normal reverences designated for when the crossed in front of the tabernacle.

Where might I find the correct norms for this? I guess the last interp. seems most balanced since the mere attendance to sick is not a public act of worship, and are we to presume everytime the tabernacle doors are opened we in effect are engaged in an exposition of the Blessed Sacrament?

I don’t know if this has ever been described in the Church’s liturgical law.  However, I am pretty sure that the perennial practice is that when the door of the tabernacle is opened, people should stop what they are doing and kneel.

Consider the reverential awe Moses had for the God in the burning bush and glimpse through the cleft in the rock.  Consider the reverence shown the Ark of the Covenant and the Temple.  Consider Peter kneeling before the Lord and saying that he was just a sinner.  Consider Whom we have reserved in our tabernacles.

Yah… when the door is opened, get down on your knees, people!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. JonPatrick says:

    Back when we attended a parochial Extraordinary Form Mass, a portable tabernacle was set up on the altar, then before Mass Father would transfer the Body of Christ from the permanent tabernacle that was stuck out of the way in the back corner of the sanctuary :( At that time everyone would stop what they were doing (e.g. altar boys lighting candles) and kneel including people in the pews, until the hosts were reposed in the tabernacle on the altar. The same happened in reverse after afternoon Vespers.

  2. wanda says:

    Thank you to the questioner and to Fr. Z. for the response. I knew that we kneel whenever the Eucharist is transferred, but I’ve never heard that we should stop and kneel whenever the tabernacle door is opened. Reason no. 599 why I read this blog. Thank you, Father Z.

  3. Faith says:

    and if the doors are opened so that you see that there’s nothing inside???

  4. PaulS says:

    Thanks for the great comment Fr. Z. However there was another twist to my question. If there is no explicit norm (as opposed to cases where clearly ones exist- i.e. when crossing in front of the Tabernacle, or if the minister opening the Tabernacle) should this be taught as a worthy pious custom , but not strictly obligatory- for example like using holy water upon entering a church? In other places for example the Church does give options for the faithful- one may sit or kneel after receiving holy communion. (some would say kneeling is a more worthy custom). Remember we do have to contend with those who have lost the practice and will want to know where it is prescribed.

  5. @Faith:

    This was my first thought too. In my time as sacristan we had rare occasions, where no holy body of Christ was present (everything consumed in the last mass and no pyx for the exaltation in the tabernacle) my orders where clear: the doors of the tabernacle had to be open and the curtain too, so that everbody could see it is empty and the eternal light had to be extinguished. The faithful were expected to do their reference towards the altar (the tabernacle was to the left on the side since the changes after Vat II). It was my job to reenlight the eternal light during the communion of the next mass, so that the body of Christ returned with the sign of HIS presence on.

    Imho the open tabernacle can express two meanings:
    – no holy body of Christ present -> reference towards the altar/cross due
    – holy body of Christ present i.e. montrance et. al. -> search for it and make your reference towards it

  6. Faith says:

    Thanks Marcus I was thinking in particular of when it’s my church’s turn to host the Interfaith Services. Some of the churches in town get together and have musical selections, or some kinds of performances. On just such occasions I see that our tabernacle doors are very obviously opened wide. I note that the Catholics automatically genuflect toward it.

  7. Sandy says:

    I’m glad to see your final sentence, Father! There’s a huge gulf between what some of us experienced over the decades (especially when taught by the good nuns), and what happens in these “modern” times! We Catholic school kids ALWAYS knelt when the tabernacle was opened, and of course I still do, if there’s a tabernacle present! I was just talking to a friend this morning about the treasure of my upbringing and education by nuns all the way through college – when it was a true Catholic college!

  8. Faith says:

    On the lighter side: Have you ever found yourself genuflecting in a movie theater?

  9. pattif says:

    We have been having our sanctuary floor relaid for the past several weeks. During the week, when the workmen are in, the Blessed Sacrament is transferred to another tabernacle in sacristy, then transferred back to the main tabernacle in the sanctuary for the weekend Masses. The process described by Marcus is followed: when the Blessed Sacrament has been removed, I remove the tabernacle veil, open the curtains, leave the door open and extinguish the sanctuary lamp. When the Blessed Sacrament is returned, the process is reversed. Mind you, then I have the most terrible trouble trying to remember to stop genuflecting whenever I go into the sacristy. And yes, whenever the Blessed Sacrament is moved, we kneel.

  10. Ben Yanke says:

    @ Pattif:
    Haha! I go through the same thing every single holy week. I am at church most of the day, every day during holy week setting up for our big celebrations at the cathedral parish. Come Holy Thursday, when the Eucharist is moved from the tabernacle, it is quite difficult to stop genuflecting to that empty metal box. But by the time the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion rolls around, I’ve walked by it about 100 times (yeah, really.), I usually have broken the habit.

    And likewise, after the Easter Vigil, to the shock and horror of those praying after Mass (and many of them know me too), I usually walk by it several times without even thinking twice… until it hits me, and I go back and pray in reparation for a few minutes… :)

    ‘Tis the life of a sacristan…

  11. Tina in Ashburn says:

    At the Ordinary Form/New Mass, after Communion, I thought the understanding is that one does not have to kneel once the Tabernacle doors are closed. In our parish, you see most people start to sit when the priest has finished with Communion and goes and locks the Tabernacle, and then sits himself for the meditation after Communion. With the click of the key echoing through the church, people start to sit.

  12. oldCatholigirl says:

    At our cathedral, the tabernacle has for many years been at a (beautifully appointed) side altar. Reverence is pretty much the norm– at least at the daily Mass which I often attend. However, it seems to be the regular custom for the celebrant to go to the tabernacle during the recitation of the Agnus Dei to get additional Hosts for Holy Communion. Since everyone is already standing, no one kneels. I have long thought this to be a practice which tends to discourage the practice of kneeling when the tabernacle is opened. Also, most of the celebrants–not all–do not make a practice of genuflecting to the tabernacle on entering and leaving Mass. (After all, it is not in the center of the church, and is somewhat obscured from many angles by a pillar.) I’m afraid that many people are forgetting Who is in the tabernacle, which is evinced by an only somewhat subdued hullaballoo during large gatherings on special occasions (especially when people are leaving). On the other hand, Adoration is held all day on First Fridays, and the Host in the monstrance is treated with all due silence and reverence.

  13. Titus says:

    Different societies have different customs about reverence, so this isn’t a world-wide mandate, but this is what I was taught and what I have always done:

    1. If the tabernacle is open and the Blessed Sacrament is inside, it’s the same as if the Host were exposed in a monstrance.
    2. This means that if you’re passing by, or doing something else, you should stop and kneel.
    3. If you enter the church, or leave your pew, or cross in front of the tabernacle, you should genuflect on two knees instead of one (I’ve heard that this is not the proper rubric for liturgical ministers any longer: but the Missal doesn’t say what you do as a layman).
    4. You should not engage in unnecessary talking.

  14. PeterC says:

    In our school’s small oratory where Our Lord is reserved at another safe before everybody leaves the school, every time the priest passes the sanctuary area to transfer back our Lord in the tabernacle, everybody stand (I guess in honor of the priest), then kneel as he processes back to the sanctuary. Everybody knows since he vests in surplice, stole, and humeral veil. I guess it works if people are aware what’s going on.

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