ASK FATHER: For the TLM does the tabernacle have to be in the center?

From a reader…


Fr. Z, are there some sorts of specified rubrics for the celebration of Mass in the Extraordinary Form if the tabernacle is off on the side, in what might be termed a side chapel, but is still visible from the pews all the way on the left?

I ask on the basis that the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception has the tabernacle in a chapel on the side, though this seems to be not an identical case.  [Separated by an ambulatory aisle and, hence, not morally present in to the sanctuary.]

Is there hopes for having a TLM without having to have the tabernacle repositioned? (This seems to be a bit of a hang-up point on trying to bring the TLM to the parish, and the pastor has told me that it would be immensely expensive to move.)

Given what you wrote, this is no problem whatsoever.  There are no special rubrics.

First, if the tabernacle is for some reason not in the center, but in a side chapel, then the Blessed Sacrament is not “present”, even though the chapel might be visible from some parts of the church.

For example, at the great church of the FSSP in Rome, the traditional parish of the City SS. Trinità dei Pellegrini, when there is a bishop as celebrant, the Blessed Sacrament is quite properly removed from the main tabernacle at the altar in the sanctuary, to a tabernacle at one of the side altars, half way up the nave of the church.  Those congregants who would pass before that tabernacle would want to pay their respects to the Eucharistic Lord, but the action in the sanctuary goes on as usual, that is, without the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.  At Communion time, one of the priests goes with servers to the side chapel altar and retrieves the Eucharist for distribution.  They process back to the sanctuary with the ombrellino over the priest with the ciboria.

The TLM does not require the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle.  As a matter of fact, for many hundreds of years Holy Mass was celebrated daily by thousands upon thousands of priests at side altars of churches.  Moreover, even as priests celebrated privately at their side altars, it could be that the Blessed Sacrament was in the tabernacle at the main altar and that Mass was also, simultaneously, at the main altar.  That is often the state of affairs when I have said Mass in the afternoon at SS. Trinità dei Pellegrini.

No, this is not a problem.

If the tabernacle is not in the center, you can have the Traditional Latin Mass with no problem at all.   Anyone going close to where the tabernacle is, however, should reverence the Eucharistic Lord, but it sounds as if that’s not a problem in what you described.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. zeremoniar says:

    In fact—although it is not quite what the reader asked—even for Solemn Mass celebrated by a priest (not only a Bishop) the Blessed Sacrament is not to be present on the same altar! The Cæremoniale Episcoporum (I, xii, 8) is very clear about this and this is also what Martinucci directs.
    However, disregarding this rule is very common and I don’t know of any place observing it.

  2. TonyO says:

    At Communion time, one of the priests goes with servers to the side chapel altar and retrieves the Eucharist for distribution.

    Can I ask a question about that? Certainly at the Novus Ordo Masses at which I assist, it is very nearly universal that the priest, when he is laying out the hosts he is intending to consecrate, (other than Easter Sunday), he puts up perhaps one ciborium full of hosts, maybe two. But when it is then time to distribute Communion to the faithful, the priest (or deacon, or other minister) goes to the tabernacle and gets at least 1 or 2 more, sometimes 4 or 5 more ciboria. This seems to take place at every Mass. Unless my math is off, this means that somewhere along the way, a priest consecrates WAY more hosts than needed at that Mass – but NEVER the ones at which I assist. Because I assist at various Masses on a Sunday, not the same one, I do not think that they usually do it at one regular Mass. Which leads me to wonder – do they do it at a Mass said privately? What gives with this? Why is it not common that at the ordinary Sunday Mass that you attend, the priest normally puts out exactly the number of ciboria expected to be used at that Mass, and consecrates the hosts in those? (Or perhaps one fewer, to use up extras consecrated at the last Mass?) How is it that there is always several full ciboria already consecrated and ready to use, just waiting in the tabernacle?

    Generally the traditional Masses I assist at don’t have this issue quite to the same degree, at least in part because there is usually only one or two clerics distributing Communion. But even there, it is not only common but the majority – by a wide margin – of Masses where the priest goes to the tabernacle to get at least one ciborium (sometimes two) – and the basic math problem remains: when are all these extra hosts being consecrated, and why not at the Mass where they are going to be used?

  3. Joe in Canada says:

    at the chapel where the Extraordinary Form is celebrated here, the Tabernacle is to the side of the sanctuary. I have noticed that the Acolytes still genuflect in front of the Altar. I have asked if there are rubrics about this but no one knows. Should they genuflect to the Altar when the Blessed Sacrament is not there?

    [When the rubrics call for it, yes, of course.]

  4. zeremoniar says:

    Fr. Z has already commented on your question but I would add that in general the celebrant bows before the altar where the Blessed Sacrament is not reserved but the altar server does genuflect (I suppose unless he is a canon but I would have to look this up).

  5. Argument Clinician says:

    Responses to a couple of questions posed above.

    To TonyO: I’m a new diocesan priest who was in an ordinary suburban parish this summer, so I will presume that my experience of “number of hosts at Communion” is similar to what you are describing. At our parish, I would check the tabernacle and try to estimate the number of hosts needed for the upcoming Mass (and always guess a bit over, rather than having too few). Then, at Communion, I would retrieve the ciboria already in the tabernacle; after Communion, I would consolidate the hosts into the ciboria to replace in the tabernacle. This process usually resulted in a gradual increase in the number of hosts: each Sunday Mass ended with a few more than we had started with. Thus, by the end of Sunday, there were far more hosts than we had started with, even though at no Mass did I consecrate a greatly outsized number of hosts. Then, over the course of the weekday Masses (when the congregation is easier to estimate), we would “draw down” from the hosts consecrated on Sunday.

    To Joe in Canada: The servers are instructed to genuflect to the altar cross (which should be present even on altars that have no tabernacle).

    Finally, I wonder if the original question was about the situation of a church in which the tabernacle is in the sanctuary but not on the altar (being, rather, off to the side somewhere). It seems that it is still “morally present” (i.e. not removed to a side chapel), but it’s not exactly clear what the rubrics would prescribe for this situation. It just isn’t (as far as I can tell) a situation remotely envisioned at the time those rubrics were composed. Perhaps, if the tabernacle is not actually on the altar of sacrifice (or immediately behind it, in the case of a church that has a freestanding center altar with the tabernacle on a table against the front wall), it chould be ignored as if it were in a separate chapel.

  6. zeremoniar says:

    Argument Clinican, to your last question: there were some churches (I think in Belgium and maybe also Germany) that retained the mediæval use of Sacrament houses until the 19th century, when the SRC enforced the dicontinuation of this old practice if I remember it correctly. So the problem existed before. (I guess you would just say Mass like on an altar where the Blessed Sacrament is not resered)

Comments are closed.