D. Madison: Tabernacles must be moved to center of sanctuaries

For your Brick By Brick file.

More great news from the Extraordinary Ordinary of Madison, His Excellency Most Reverend Robert C Morlino.

This comes by way of the liberal (for Madison a tautology), secular newspaper the WSJ.  My emphases and comments.

At area Catholic churches, the tabernacle, ‘Christ’s dwelling place,’ moves to center stage

ASHTON — Like centuries of Catholic priests before him, the Rev. Tait Schroeder consecrated the communion bread at a midday Mass last week, turning it into what the denomination’s faithful believe is the actual body of Jesus Christ.

After offering the sacramental bread — referred to as the Eucharistic host — to parishioners, Schroeder walked the unused portion to an ornate, safe-like box behind him at the front of the sanctuary.

In this secure shrine, called a tabernacle, the host would dwell until needed for the next Mass, available all the while for the faithful to pray before it or for Schroeder to take it to home-bound parishioners.

As Christians around the world mark the birth of Christ in Bethlehem this Christmas season, many Madison-area Catholics are learning more about the profound role of the tabernacle in their parishes. [It’s true, but it is amazing to have to read a sentence like that.] Madison Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino has directed priests to move the tabernacle to a prominent spot at the center of the sanctuary at all diocesan churches. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]

The directive was announced at an annual gathering of priests in September and could affect about half of the 134 worship sites in the diocese, although no exact count is available, said Patrick Gorman, director of the diocesan office of worship, which coordinates liturgical matters for the bishop and will be leading the effort. At these churches, the tabernacle may be off to one side of the sanctuary or in a separate side chapel altogether.

Because church law requires that a tabernacle be immovable and made of solid material, the directive will require some cost and effort at some parishes, Gorman said. The bishop is giving priests three years to accomplish the goal, until October 2018.  [I would have given 3 months, but… hey!  He has the 10K foot view.]

Gorman said the bishop’s intent is to place more emphasis and reverence on the Lord’s presence at the Eucharist, the term used by Roman Catholics for communion.

“This isn’t just another piece of furniture in the sanctuary,” Gorman said. “It is housing the living God.”

Morlino had been moving in this direction for a decade or more, encouraging priests in general to relocate tabernacles and requiring it during parish renovation projects, Gorman said.

St. Peter Catholic Church, where Schroeder is priest, is an example of what Morlino considers an ideal placement of a tabernacle, according to the diocese. The neo-gothic church, constructed in 1901, is in Ashton, an unincorporated Dane County community northwest of Middleton.

The tabernacle is at the central axis of the church, right behind the communion table and part of a soaring, decorative high altar that includes an array of statues and religious iconography.

“It really is the focal point,” Schroeder said of the tabernacle. “It draws our hearts and minds to Christ and to our belief that he is really present with us.”

Schroeder said the tabernacle at St. Peter had moved around some over the decades, residing for a time off to the side of the sanctuary. His predecessor moved it back to its current, original spot.



Read the rest there.

You might be surprised that the piece does not include the usual naysayers with a contradictory message.  Then there is the horrid combox.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    God bless Bishop Morino! And, praised be Jesus Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament!!!

  2. Tradster says:

    While I, too, would have given far less than three years, I heartily applaud the good bishop. May his fellow bishops quickly follow his lead.

    I noticed that the article mentioned one parish being renovated with new carpeting. Hopefully one day carpeting will also disappear from Catholic churches.

  3. Patti Day says:

    Amen! Amen!

    Hey WSJ, The Catholic Church is not a “denomination”.

  4. bbmoe says:

    I’m still suffering from a mild PTSD from two recent visits to churches in Bozeman, MT and Corpus Christi, TX. The latter had the tabernacle in a vestibule that doubled as a side door, so if you didn’t go out the main doors to glad hand the priest, you could go out the side and say ‘bye to Jesus. It was…not what one could wish. The tabernacle in Bozeman was in the adoration chapel that was separated from the main body of the church by a glass wall. The back of the tabernacle was up against the glass, so if you felt the need to reverence the tabernacle (I did; I can’t say many people did for obvious reasons) you were genuflecting to the back of a tabernacle that was not constructed for 360º viewing. It was ugly and stupid.

  5. mtpensaventus says:

    “The Communion table”

  6. Gabriel Syme says:

    Great job by Bishop Morlino! His Brother prelates should follow his lead and ensure the same standards in their own dioceses.

    Merry Christmas to Fr Z and all his blog readers! All the best for 2016!

  7. andia says:

    Wonderful to hear!

    My new Pastor, Fr Steven Jekielek of the Diocese of Buffalo, did this on his own – with in weeks of taking over as pastor. He removed the glass wall in the “adoration chapel” and placed the tabernacle back in the Church on the altar dais. Not center because it would be obscured by the altar, but to the right side and prominent. ( Basically the most prominent place the pastor could place it without knocking out the back wall and completely redesigning the church completely) . He says it’s just the start of changes to the Sanctuary. I am so blessed with this pastor!

  8. TWF says:

    Good news. His Grace, the Most Rev. Michael Miller, Archbishop of Vancouver, issued a similar decree a few years ago. Exceptions were made where the architecture was such that great cost would be involved in the renovations. That being said, I think exceptions are pretty rare.

  9. Kent Wendler says:

    Bishop Jenky (Peoria) issued the same directive several years ago, and it really, REALLY upset one of our parishioners. He is an emeritus art professor, and he had designed the elaborate tabernacle for where a side altar used to be before our church was renovated. It was unsuitable (too big) for moving to the old high altar (which isn’t used for that since *versus populorum*)

  10. Midwest St. Michael says:

    There are more and more bishops who are doing this. :^)

    It is so heartening to see!

    Blessed be Jesus – in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar!

    Fr. Z, Merry Christmas to you. Yours is the *first website* I check every morning (well, it is neck-and-neck with Wunderground for my area). ;^)


  11. jltuttle says:

    “It really is the focal point,” Schroeder said of the tabernacle. “It draws our hearts and minds to Christ and to [the fact] that he is really present with us.”

    He was technically correct with the “our belief,” but I felt an edit was necessary to emphasis the truth of the matter. Religion these days is often made to be nothing more than a regrettably necessary prejudice. But perhaps he was misquoted. I once was the victim of what passes for newspaper verbatim, so I know how bad it gets.

  12. Alice says:

    Kent Wendler, you beat me to mentioning Bishop Jenky. Also, we’re clearly members of the same parish. I have to say that our previous pastor impressed me with the way that he moved the Blessed Sacrament back to the high altar and left for his new assignment fewer than 24 hours later.

  13. Charivari Rob says:

    Father Z., when you have a chance, could you write a little bit more about that “…church law requires that a tabernacle be unmovable…” part?

    That surprised me. I’ve seen plenty of “old, high altars” with integral tabernacle, but have also seen some “old, high altars” where the tabernacle was not an integrated part of the altar’s structure but was a massive, sturdy, dignified, precious metal object that rested on the altar.

  14. FXR2 says:

    Thank you for letting us know of the outstanding work of Bishop Morlino!

    Is the the 10K foot view somehow akin to the 1,000 yard stare? Are the tabernacles also to be veiled?

    Gaudete, gaudete, Christus est natus!


  15. idelsan says:

    The only problem is that if the altar it’s not ad orientem, you celebrate Mass with the tabernacle behind you. I know, I know, you are going to say to change that too, but you can not do everything you want. Even when you are right.

  16. Mojoron says:

    We went to Colorado to ski several years ago, during the time of Archbishop Chaput, and stopped at a church in Aurora, CO to attend Mass on the way up the the ski mountain. We were aghast that the tabernacle wasn’t in the main church, but off to the side in a room they called their Adoration Room. The Priests/Deacon made a big ceremony of obtaining the Consecrated Hosts from the Room, but when Communion was over, the ceremony didn’t exist. I made comment to Archbishop Chaput, using his email address at the Chancery, and asked him why does that church have the Tabernacle away from the Altar of Sacrifice and he referred me to the Pastor who really couldn’t give me a good reason. Anyway, we don’t attend that church any longer when we go skiing, we go to a nice church in midtown which has a great choir and lots of ceremony.

  17. Mike says:

    Last night I went to an Episcopalian service for in laws sake. Lots of fine folks beautiful song candles and even a good sermon….but He was clearly not sacramentally present and indeed everyone acted as if was wasn’t there! Not a single genuflection.
    Praised be the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament!

  18. Cincinnati Priest says:

    Kent Wendler:

    Your comment about the disgruntled parish artist is a good reminder to priest readers why it is better to commission non-parishioners to do all artwork for parish.

    Many parishes have “folk art” which is objectively not fine art (some pretty horrid, truth be told), but can’t be removed by a future pastor without hurting the feelings of a parishioner, effectively holding good taste hostage until the parishioner dies or moves on. Or could get a scenario like this one, where pastor did the right thing in making a change, but this artist was so focused on baving his own work in the church that he failed to look at the common good.

    Much better to be objective about artistic standards and go outside the parish for artists.

  19. pelerin says:

    Some forty two years ago we moved into a new parish. The Tabernacle was still in a central position behind the altar as it was in most churches at that time. A few years later the Tabernacle was moved to a side chapel which had previously been the Lady Chapel. This year plans were drawn up to re-position the Tabernacle back to the centre behind the altar. It has come full circle now but I do think it was a pity it was ever moved in the first place.

  20. Maineman1 says:

    After an absolute horrible Christmas Eve Mass at an Ordinary Form parish in the Seattle Archd. last night, I have decided to not attend Mass anymore. The outright fury I harbor in my heart is not respectful of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor is it conducive for preparing my heart to worship at church.

    Great news for the Diocese of Madison! I wish I lived there.

  21. joecct77 says:

    I wonder if His Excellency would welcome a transfer to Washington where our present Eminence has reached the mandatory retirement age?

  22. Just to point out that as far as I know the idea behind moving the tabernacle away from the central position was reverence: it was done so the priest celebrating Mass in the OF would never have his back to the Blessed Sacrament; and not out of irreverence to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, or in order to diminish the importance of the Real Presence. If the effort in some places resulted in positioning the tabernacle in awkward or out-of-the-way places, that’s unfortunate. There are a number of churches around here where the tabernacle is in the sanctuary facing the people – only to the side and not in the centre. In churches where there are side chapels or altars to the side of the main altar, the tabernacle is sometimes placed there. However, I agree that it is best to have it in the centre.

  23. Eugene says:

    This man should be made a Cardinal

  24. frjim4321 says:

    My take is that when reservation becomes more important than the celebration of the liturgy it is a true distraction in that it undermines a correct Eucharistic Theology, and the mass becomes little more than the method of producing consecrated hosts. I’m all in favor of providing a suitable reservation chapel. Examples abound, for instance St. Peter’s in Rome and the National Shrine.

    [Your comment doesn’t seem to be relevant to this post. There is no conflict, as you seem to suggest, between reservation of the Eucharist and celebration of “the liturgy” (by which you might mean Holy Mass and you might not). Furthermore, comparing parish churches to San Pietro or the National Shrine is ridiculous.]

  25. rmichaelj says:

    To maineman1,
    If you can’t find an EF then find an eastern rite parish. Anything rsther than not to go to mass.

  26. boxerpaws63 says:

    been fortunate.never attended a church where it wasn’t. Our new church,St Gregory’s (Thaumaturgus )

    St Gregory’s

  27. boxerpaws63 says:

    been fortunate.never attended a church where it wasn’t. Our new church,St Gregory’s (Thaumaturgus )

    St Gregory’s

  28. Simon_GNR says:

    Where to place the Tabernacle? I’m sure that I’m in a small minority of the readers of and commenters on this blog, in that, with due consideration for the architecture of a church, I strongly prefer the tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament to be in a separate chapel or apse adjacent to or near the sanctuary. This is in line with n. 315 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

    The reserved Blessed Sacrament has virtually no part to play in the Mass. The two purposes of reservation are (i) for Holy Communion outside of Mass, such as viatecum for the sick or at the Good Friday Liturgy and (ii) for Eucharistic adoration, e.g. Benediction, again outside of Mass. Yes, the placing of sacred hosts in the tabernacle for reservation does take place during Mass after the communion of the faithful, but the common practice of using the reserved sacrament as a supply of ready-consecrated hosts for the communion of the faithful at Mass falls short of the ideal. In Eucharistae Sacramentum I. I. 13, Vatican II states:

    “Accordingly fresh hosts should, as a general rule, be consecrated in every celebration of the Eucharist for the communion of the faithful.”

    Rarely have I seen a celebrant even try to apply this general rule.

    In many, perhaps the majority of, churches, such as my own parish church, there is nowhere suitable for the tabernacle to go except at the back of the sanctuary behind the free-standing altar, but this has the disadvantage that when offering Mass facing the congregation the celebrant has his back turned on the reserved Blessed Sacrament. [I know a solution for that.] In one large, modern church near me and at my local cathedral (Sheffield, Diocese of Hallam, England) the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a separate chapel set aside for quiet prayer and I favour this arrangement.

  29. frjim4321 says:

    Simon gets it.

  30. St. Rafael says:

    This is great, but something jumped out at me that also could be looked at. The article mentions the diocesan “office of worship.” If that is really the official title, I would propose and advise Bishop Morlino to make a name change. To the office of sacred worship or the office of divine worship.

  31. Imrahil says:

    Dear Patti Day,

    well yes she is (just as much as Christianity is, yes it is, a religion). Just the right one.

    Dear Simon_GNR and rev’d dear Fr Jim,

    I agree it is open to debate whether a separate chapel of the Sacrament might not be the better solution if working under the hypothesis that there shall be versus populum celebration. However, as our reverend host rightly says, there needn’t be:

    if I know a manner how to
    1. look into the same direction as the people where
    2. this direction happens to be “towards the Blessed Sacrament”, also, so that,
    3. the back is not turned towards the Blessed Sacrament but
    4. the Blessed Sacrament is at the center of the Church,

    that’s four arguments why to choose precisely such an arrangement.

    As a benefit, those who wish to pray privately outside Mass-times may use the entire Church – not just a separate chapel.

    While it is true (Pope Benedict also said that somewhere) that the Mass is prayed towards the cross, there are some legitimate developments in the liturgy; and that this direction now is towards the Blessed Sacrament, I consider it a legitimate development that it is also prayed towards the latter. After all, Christ is present there with Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

    [Note: as far as I know, bishops do not celebrate at an altar where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved – I guess that’s because the bishop, who, as St. Thomas says, represents Christ as bridegroom of the local Church, and the Blessed Sacrament together would be “too much”, if I may put it colloquially… and, by extension, Cathedrals and also the papal basilicas which have a Throne have their sacramental chapels.

    But that shouldn’t deprive the other churches of having their Tabernacles right at the center, with a side-altar ready for reservation on Holy Thursday and when the bishop comes.]

  32. THREEHEARTS says:

    St JP2 asked many years ago that the Gate be put back into the altar rails. When are the altar rails to be reinstalled? A local priest in the Vancouver diocese took out the altar rails as he felt not in touch with his people. This was a church where when I attended years ago you could not get into confession, the Saturday line ups were so long. The reason this priest is out of touch with his PARISHIONERS is simple: very few go to confession.

  33. robtbrown says:

    Simon R and FrJim,

    I have always considered it silly to speak about reserving the Sacrament on another altar. In the great European Cathedrals, the Sacrament is reserved away from the high altar, but in my experience it is in a chapel where daily mass is said. The practice in the US was often to put the tabernacle on a shelf off to the side–which of course means confusing sight lines.

    Speaking of confusing sight lines, I have little use for the semi-circular nave: Theater in the round is one thing, Mass quite another. The Early Church enthusiasts fail to mention that the Roman theatrum structure was not adopted. Instead, the design of the nave was longer than it was wide This establishes sight lines in which the Sacrifice of the Mass is not confused with a tabernacle placed in the center.

  34. robtbrown says:

    Imrahil says:

    Dear Patti Day,

    well yes she is (just as much as Christianity is, yes it is, a religion). Just the right one.

    Patti Day is right on this one. The Church is an historical reality, given its validity by Apostolic Succession. Denomination refers to groups (congregations) whose link is (or was) a book–what Newman called “Bible Religion”.

    Christianity is something that follows from the Church but is not coterminous with it. It is an error of Protestantism and of the Doctor Equivocus Karl Rahner to confuse the two.

  35. benedetta says:

    The Eucharist is both the focal points of the Mass as well as the church and the Church. Not the novus ordo celebrating altar traipsing…er…talk show host…um…presider today will be…or, for that matter, emhcs and lectors and others all as good and wonderful as they may in fact be. Local parish churches which are not cathedrals with several altars to them ought still be open 24/7 so much as possible so that outside of the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass souls may make prayerful visits even without Father to actively orchestrate and conduct everyone’s participation according to his likings. Whether Father is commandeering the altar or no, the Eucharist should be there for the faithful, in season, out of season, in times of desperation, war, plague, famine, persecution. Personally I find the little novus ordo girm addon gimmick of having a little reverential “moment” when all the emhcs do the little freeze tag routine whilst the Blessed Sacrament is “locked away securely” kind of creepy and weird. It’s as if, “now there is no more need for Jesus, we’ll just lock him away for safe keeping in the liquor cabinet” and then Father tells us when we can all leave and go out for one another etc. Whether Jesus is present or not is simply not up to Father or us, not dependent upon the tabernacle or key or little frozen moment that signals that Mass has ended. It seems to me that Fr. Groeschel had it right, he got it, may God rest his soul, when he compared priests to being “a little like janitors”. In a sense, communion doesn’t depend upon whatever Father says or not, though I expect for people like frjim4321 and others who like things set in their girm conservatism this a bit anarchic for their sensibilities, but priests and Bishops do have a responsibility to us all, The Faithful, to both secure the sacrament and make it accessible to us in all the forms that Holy Mother Church encourages, the sacred rites of the Mass, in Adoration — Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament,, and in the tabernacle, and in other ways as well. I’d be interested in knowing how many people make visits to their parishes where the tabernacle is way off from main altar front and center and what that’s like…locked? dark? not welcomed? not encouraged? Hmmm.

  36. LeeF says:

    You ask an honored guest to sit at the HEAD of the table. You don’t seat him in a separate room apart from the others.

    And while it may kinda make sense that the tabernacle be in a separate chapel if daily Mass is said there, that is cured by not constructing day chapels in the first place. The priest can always ask everyone at daily Mass to move somewhat to the front and center of a larger church without packing them in cheek to jowl.

  37. graytown says:

    With all due respect –
    What took so long Your Eminence ?
    Time is running short and we’re burning daylight.
    Just attended an out of town Church.
    The Tabernacle was located at a side chapel near a side entrance.
    Many people passed through that entrance – not one – and I mean – NOT ONE person acknowledged the Presence of Our Lord.

  38. Midwest St. Michael says:

    Dear benedetta,

    I have been thinking and praying (well, mostly thinking… sorry Fr. Z) about an appropriate response to frjim and simon’s posts.

    I now thank the Lord I do not have to. Yours is simply an excellent response.

    (BTW, I must admit, I *always* love your posts… Supertradmum’s, too.)

    God bless you,

  39. benedetta says:

    MSM, thanks!

    I guess in comboxes these days venturing to defend the central place of the tabernacle, many of us run the risk of getting beaten down by the “uncharitable” and “unkind” j’accuse, however by the very same token moving the tabernacles away has itself represented instances of unkind and uncharitable communications, from the clericalist heart to novus ordo church goers.

    If we accept the theological premises as concisely articulated above by frjim4321 & Simon, then it ought to cohere in terms of our daily experiences of “Church”, no? Have people really put humanist reverence at the center, during the Mass or otherwise, with tabernacles in separate, secure location, by and large, in the West? Yea or nay? If we look at the scourge of the culture of death which is only on the rise in all of its manifestations, we conclude that, since the advent of this teaching on “church architecture”, indeed people are not by and large as a result showing the greater portion of humanist mercy having gone out to love one another as He has loved us unconditionally. If people, within the Church even, still believe that a “choice” to slaughter before being permitted to even live is just fine and we can all of our own powers be charitable in our communications regardless, well. What to say to this. Even the most giant load of snark I can put here about altar mc’s couldn’t begin to fathom the depths. Unfortunately. It’s an occasion for sadness for me, not triumph nor righteousness, but of abject and utter failure. The Holy Family is on the move just as always. Fleeing, foxes have holes…

    Some perhaps believe that despite all we can still have Christ centered Christmases in cultures mired by torture, violence, horror. I suppose some who would shoot the messenger(s) here have never visited the Nat’l antiCatholic Reporters comboxes, no?

    As St. JPII nicely and succinctly appealed to one and to all: “If you desire peace, then work for justice.”

    Please pray for me.

  40. Fr. Thomas Kocik says:

    To those like frjim4321 who are (rightly) concerned that the Mass not be construed as merely an elaborate ceremony for producing the Blessed Sacrament, when in fact it is the sacramental re-presentation of Christ’s atoning Sacrifice and, at the same time, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, I say: all the more reason to reunite altar and tabernacle. This more clearly shows that the Sacrament is absolutely inseparable from, and a fruit of, the Sacrifice of Calvary. Pope Pius XII warned against separating the altar and tabernacle for this very reason.

  41. benedetta says:

    Let’s just come out and admit it that the real reason why the arguments put forth often fail to convince is because they are in effect just a try at a game of keep away — or hide the ball — the obsessive worry that young people may somehow still despite all their efforts discover that there is an altar the tabernacle sits on which is still a perfectly excellent place, as always, whereupon a priest may offer the Mass for himself and the faithful. In other words, there is not a good theological foundation but the more vigorous the objection to tabernacle placement is about something completely else, an irrational fear that people will decide they aren’t finally satisfied with all the changes in church architecture as it were…

  42. The Cobbler says:


    I’m a bit late on this, but… Try taking that fury and channelling it into “I’m gonna go and worship no matter how silly they act or how bad they make me feel, that’s what!”? Forget respect if you have to. Don’t receive if you’re not disposed. But don’t let the hippies win either! There’s a reason God gave us anger, after all; just ask Bruce Banner (hey, the character is supposed to be Catholic last I heard…).

    Unless you can find a traditional Mass (either in the Latin rite, or, as another commenter suggested, one of the others), in which case, of course, go for it — refuge shouldn’t be begrudged to anyone in this vale of tears.

  43. The Cobbler says:

    (I should add re. the first suggestion that I’ve more or less been there, sooo… Yeah, I do know how hard it is to pull off, I just think it’s way better than giving up. Never give up, never surrender!)

  44. Mike says:

    benedetta gets it.

    Evangelization is futile if not anchored in the adoration that we owe as creatures to Him Who made us, became man and died to save us, and is really present in our tabernacles.

    The price of defeating Modernism is eternal vigilance, ideally before the Blessed Sacrament.

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