QUAERITUR: Tabernacle v. Monstrance and the presence people

From a reader:

Why is it inappropriate to leave the Blessed Sacrament alone when exposed in a monstrance (e.g. Adoration Chapels must have at least one adorer at all times), but appropriate to do so when it is replaced in the Tabernacle? What is so special about the walls of the Tabernacle?

That’s an odd why to put it.

First, the tabernacle can be locked.  It is like a safe.  A person with bad intentions cannot easily get into a tabernacle for the purpose of theft or desecration of the Eucharist.

That is not the case when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed in a monstrance.

This is also a good opportunity to point out that tabernacles should be made from the proper materials.  They should be strong and safe as well as dignified and beautiful. Normal glass, for example, is not an appropriate material.


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  1. APX says:

    Is the requirement with the exposed Blessed Sacrament really that someone must be present at all times/that it can’t be left alone, or that it must be watched by someone present at all times? Ie: if someone is sleeping in the adoration chapel it’s sufficient or does it not count because someone could still sneak in and steal the Blessed Sacrament? The English translation of Redemptionis Sacramentum uses the word “unattended”, but the original Latin uses the word “custodia” which relates strictly to watching, guarding, etc. I’m in the process of getting this clarified since I was recently instructed to leave the Blessed Sacrament exposed for about 4 hours with only a sleeping homeless person present in the chapel.

  2. mamajen says:

    I had always thought that it had something to do with being able to see the Blessed Sacrament, but the protection aspect makes more immediate sense.

  3. bwfackler says:

    my grandmother told me my great-grandfather was a member of a nocturnal adoration society in chihuahua, mexico where they would take turns sleeping all night at the church in front of the Blessed Sacrament. i always heard as well that we werent to sleep in front of the Blessed Sacrament, but maybe it wasnt always the custom everywhere

  4. Rich says:

    “The tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved habitually is to be immovable, made of a solid, opaque material, and locked is such a way that the danger of profanation is avoided as much as possible.” (Code of Canon Law, Canon 938, Section 2)

  5. APX says:

    Tabernacles can also double as a camouflage for the Blessed Sacrament.


  6. philbert says:

    It is important to remember that for a thief the Monstrance might well be an object of financial value. I know a convent where the establishing founder’s wife’s diamond earrings dangled either side of the stem! She had given them as a sacrifice of devotion 180 years ago.
    But theft apart, when the church is open we would not like the Blessed Sacrament to be exposed without anyone there. Complication may arise when the next “watcher” on the list doesn’t turn up and the current watcher simply has to leave. It can be very difficult to get hold of the priest to deal with the situation.

  7. pkinsale says:

    At the parish where I attend part of the offered Perpetual Adoration, there are several hours where it is unattended and a curtain drawn over the display window. The monstrance is inside a locked glass case. I have often wondered whether Perpetual Adoration is the right approach, or whether parishes should stick with 40 Hours and just ensuring a chapel with tabernacle is open 24/7.

    And when my daughter comes to Adoration with me, 11-midnight Sundays, I tell her there are two rules: Don’t fall asleep, and don’t wake Daddy.

  8. AJS says:

    This is a good reason for the Latin Church, if it wishes to maintain its affection for Eucharistic Adoration, to return to its traditional practice of limiting the practice to solemn moments. Traditionally Adoration was confined to immediately after Mass so it could be a solemn para-liturgical moment or to Forty Hours Devotion where the pinnacle of solemnity could be offered. This modern affectation found in “Perpetual Adoration” lends itself to a lack in solemnity, a complete divorce from the liturgical Sacrifice, and the severe risk of profanation. There was a good reason the traditional practice was so limited.

  9. Darren says:

    Interesting timing for this topic.

    My parish has had perpetual adoration for the past ten years. We seem to be having difficulty now maintaining scheduled adorers randomly between midnight and 6 AM. Due to this, the chapel people just this week made a change. So that Our Lord not be exposed when no one is present, and for those other emergency situations when one cannot find a replacement or someone has to leave and the replacement does not arrive… they replaced the beautiful monstrance…

    See here:

    With one of these: http://www.thecatholicshop.com/Tabernacle-32958.html
    I looked at Catholic shop web sites and found the very one.

    The reason is so the door can be closed to cover Our Lord when nobody is present.

    This plain brass “exposition tabernacle” has upset some of us. It looks worse in place on the altar in the chapel where everything now is better adorned than Our Lord. (They put it on top of the plate the four angels are holding up)

    So, since they are willing to allow ordinary lay people to close the door, why not let ordinary lay people place a nice gold silk cloth/drape over the monstrance? Never mind the idea of letting lay people actually close the little door etc… that’s another issue.

    Am I right to be upset over this? Am I right to feel that Our Lord is not being respected and reverenced properly? I know already that some people plan on going elsewhere to visit Our Lord, even though further away. Maybe the parish wants to close the chapel. I don’t know…

  10. Legisperitus says:

    Darren: It looks like a gold-plated washing machine.

  11. Faith says:

    The Archdiocese of Boston’s Pastoral Center has a Eucharistic Dove that acts as a tabernacle. http://www.flickr.com/photos/bettnet/2906418646/ It’s up too high for people to reach. (The priests who are have celebrated Mass there have some funny stories to tell.)

  12. Mike says:

    Is it a serious abuse if the Blessed Sacrament is left alone on the Altar in a Monstrance?

  13. Eugene says:

    Father Z. is it permissible to have the door of the tabernacle to be made of wood…Our church (Novus Ordo) was recently renovated, thanks be to God, they moved the tabernacle to the center…but i was rather disappointed to see that the tabernacle door is simply made of stained wood?

  14. Darren says:

    Thanks Legisperitus, now I am going to think of laundry while at my scheduled hour tonight! :)

    But yes, it DOES look like a washing machine… * sigh *

    Eugene… I have seen wooden-doored tabernacles, but also much more more hideous bronze, brass and gold ones. Perhaps if it is a high quality wood and not some cheap “faux-wood” that much furniture is made of these days.

    What are they doing to Our Blessed Lord placing Him in these ugly or plain “tabernacles” and “monstrances”???

  15. Susan the Short says:

    I saw a tabernacle in Lewiston Maine that was made of clear plexiglass. Inside was this hideous little ‘tent’ made of some sort of stiff fabric, with the ‘tent’ doors folded open.

    I suppose, Our Lord ‘pitched His tent among us’ was the loopy thinking for this horror.

  16. dominic1955 says:

    Even back in the old days the tabernacle door would sometimes be made out of wood. A number of old German-American churches in my state have a high altar made completely out of carved wood, including the tabernacle door. It has a lock on it, not a big deal. Plus, no matter what its made of, if someone is hell-bent on getting in there they will-just like your house or car.

    I also think that we should go back to the practice of having exposition less frequently, but with more solemnity. Certain religious orders had permissions to do perpetual adoration, and I think the practice is best maintained with them and not the parish church.

    Lastly, this is why the old rite had all these customs and practices associated with the different state of the Eucharist-you have to draw the line somewhere. Of course Jesus isn’t limited by the tabernacle walls, or the church walls, or anything else and of course its silly to be genuflecting all say in all directions were one to take that line of thought to its illogical conclusion. Double genuflections for the exposed Sacrament, single for it not being exposed and doing so only when you cross in front of the tabernacle (or enter/leave the sanctuary for setting up as is customary in some places for servers/clerics) and then doffing your hat/bowing your head/making the sign of the cross when you walk/drive by a church are all nice ways of making sense of our physical devotion while squelching overzealous nonsense or laxity.

    However, without all these customs, you get silly questions like this about the special-ness of the walls of the tabernacle because all that “went out” to be replaced by precious little of nothing. Nature abhors a vacuum so in comes silliness all around.

  17. ppb says:

    I think that exposition of our Lord in the monstrance should take place frequently, i.e. on a weekly basis if possible – for example, several parishes around here have Adoration for a certain number of hours on Fridays, and there doesn’t seem to be a problem with making sure adorers are present for the entire time frame. I do have concerns, however, about churches which say they have “perpetual adoration” but in practice are constantly leaving gaps when our Lord is unattended, or have some sort of “do-it-yourself” setup where you have to open and close the doors on your own. Perpetual adoration should only be done if all the hours can really be covered in a dignified way.

  18. Legisperitus says:

    I’ve seen a tabernacle that resembles a large bowling ball.

  19. Supertradmum says:

    I hope these links work. This is the Star Trek tabernacle in St Dunstan’s in Woking. One has to see it to believe it.



  20. APX says:


    Yes, is a major abuse. Our former FSSP priest told us from the pulpit it is a mortal sin to leave the Blessed Sacrament exposed and unattended. Redemptionis Sacramentum also lists the paragraph addressing this issue as one of the major abuses calling for the attention of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacrament. People have given up their lives to protect the Blessed Sacrament.

  21. Darren says:

    Supertradmum… that is… I don’t know the words…

    Now a Star WARS tabernacle would be MUCH nicer! :)

    Here is one of the worst I have beheld in my visits to churches in New Jersey…. at St. James in Springfield, NJ


  22. Darren says:

    Regarding APX: Redemptionis Sacramentum also lists the paragraph addressing this issue as one of the major abuses calling for the attention of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacrament.

    This is from Redemptionis Sacramentum:
    [138.] Still, the Most Holy Sacrament, when exposed, must never be left unattended even for the briefest space of time. It should therefore be arranged that at least some of the faithful always be present at fixed times, even if they take alternating turns.

    And then: Grave Matters
    [173.] Although the gravity of a matter is to be judged in accordance with the common teaching of the Church and the norms established by her, objectively to be considered among grave matters is anything that puts at risk the validity and dignity of the Most Holy Eucharist: namely, anything that contravenes what is set out above in nn. 48-52, 56, 76-77, 79, 91-92, 94, 96, 101-102, 104, 106, 109, 111, 115, 117, 126, 131-133, 138, 153 and 168. Moreover, attention should be given to the other prescriptions of the Code of Canon Law, and especially what is laid down by canons 1364, 1369, 1373, 1376, 1380, 1384, 1385, 1386, and 1398.

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