ASK FATHER: Blessed Sacrament in unattended church

From a reader…


I attend a local parish in a rural area that is a small mission church from a larger one 20 miles away. There is no daily Mass here, but the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the Tabernacle during the week.
Yesterday I inquired if anyone ever came to visit Our Lord during the week (since the church is locked at all times except for one Mass on Sundays). I was told that no one comes at all. They offered to make me a key so that I could come with my children to pray the Rosary. I am wondering if it is okay to leave the Blessed Sacrament alone like that all week? It is only a few minutes from my house, I can go every day… but I’m so bothered by the fact that no one seemed to be concerned about this?

By law, the Blessed Sacrament may be reserved in a church or oratory which is not a parish church only under certain conditions. Mass must be celebrated there at least twice a month, an individual person must be entrusted with the care of the Blessed Sacrament, and the church must be open for at least some time each day for the faithful to pray (canons 934 and 937).

The hosts reserved therein are to be renewed frequently (at least twice a month), a lamp must be kept burning before the Blessed Sacrament, and an annual period of solemn adoration must be held (canons 938-942).

It sounds like the situation of your chapel is, shall we say, less than optimal.

The idea of passing out keys to the faithful to have access to prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is one of those things that can frequently get out of hand at a parish, to the point that even having a lock on the door is superfluous. Yet, someone should ensure that the mission church is open at least for some hours of the day so that the faithful can access it.

Also, this church is probably under the care of some pastor of a parish. One of the first and most important duties a pastor has is care of the Blessed Sacrament. Somebody is responsible.

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  1. Bob B. says:

    Reminds me of a Jesuit high school where I asked if Jesus was present in the tabernacle because there was no light lit anywhere. The Jesuit priest said, of course there was. After a rather pregnant pause, I mentioned that there was no way to tell since there was no light. It took a few more seconds before it sunk in.
    It wasn’t there the next day either, but the maintenance man and I took care of it…it just makes you wonder.

  2. Our local perpetual adoration chapels have key code locks. Anyone who wants to visit can get the code from the front office. Maybe that could be an option at this place.

    Or, maybe some retired K of C guys could take turns watching the chapel while it’s open.

  3. Father, perhaps this person who asked the question, seeming like she is a firm and traditional Catholic can be its guardian and gatekeeper! What a wonderful opportunity!

  4. acricketchirps says:

    Traveling down Hwy 61 about five years back I was passing through a very small town a bit south of St. Genevieve, MO and I spied a small church on a hilltop. I turned off an wound up the streets necessary to reach its doors. When I arrived the door was unlocked so I entered and looked around for a while. Not by sound or sight did any soul make his presence known. The candle was burning at the the tabernacle so I said a decade probably and left.

    The experience still haunts me for some reason.

  5. Stephen Matthew says:

    What of the case of a parish that has more than one actual church? In that case the Blessed Sacrament must be reserved in all of them, yes? (This seems to be the case mostly where parishes are merged but none of the buildings are reduced in status to a chapel or oratory.)

    Also, the bit about being open for prayer for part of the day, must it be literally open or can the faithful having access via key or code or some other such arrangement be sufficient? It seems in the present age there are many places there is both good cause to reserve the Blessed Sacrament and yet also good cause not to simply have the doors of the church open to anyone who walks up.

    That said, I still know of a number of rural parishes that have the doors open 24/7/365, some don’t even have locks on the outside doors. These all have locks for the sacristy and such, but anyone can wander in at any time to pray.

    The parish here is open during daylight hours (and evenings if something is scheduled), but frighteningly the sacristy is often left unlocked, and the Tabernacle key is very poorly hidden inside the sacristy. Anyone who wanted to could, within 5 minutes of stepping onto the property, have access to the Blessed Sacrament with no one being the wiser. Many parishes do not secure the Tabernacle key. It is simply in some slightly inconspicuous place. It is practically inviting abuse of the Blessed Sacrament.

    The parish where I live has an off-site chapel, it was a bequest in the will of a lady, and she required that it be used as a place to build a church or chapel or the parish had to give up the property. The parish then went about establishing with the probate courts what the minimum standard for meeting the requirement of the bequest was, and it was determined it must be a consecrated space, it must have a permanent altar (and other liturgical furnishings) and the Blessed Sacrament must be reserved there. Well, it quickly degraded to the point that mass was never being said there according to any public schedule, increasingly few people were going there to pray, etc… So, the new pastor decided to remove the Blessed Sacrament (which may or may not violate the terms of the bequest). In any case, a sad business. It is depressing to go into that little chapel and see the tabernacle open and empty and know that the lamp is likely never again to be lit there.

  6. jflare says:

    As I consider this question, I find I’m wondering what happens with the average rural church in my original home diocese. When we have a single priest assigned to two, three, or more parishes, I can’t imagine that each church likely can have the Eucharist reserved in a tabernacle. I don’t think they necessarily CAN have a person there more than a few hours each week.

    Hmm. I wonder how that works. ..Aside from “not well”.

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