Where the Tabernacle Should Be
And More on Sacred Music
by Father Edward McNamara | Source: Catholic.net
Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.
Q: How should we understand No. 1183 of the Catechism? It says: "The tabernacle is to be situated in churches in a most worthy place with the greatest honor. The dignity, placing and security of the Eucharistic tabernacle should foster adoration before the Lord really present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar." It seems that not everyone agrees on that point. Many new churches have the tabernacle on the side. -- S.G., Antigonish, Nova Scotia
A: This theme is also covered in Nos. 314-317 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal in a section entitled: "The Place for the Reservation of the Most Holy Eucharist":
"In accordance with the structure of each church and legitimate local customs, the Most Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a tabernacle in a part of the church that is truly noble, prominent, readily visible, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer.
"The one tabernacle should be immovable, be made of solid and inviolable material that is not transparent, and be locked in such a way that the danger of profanation is prevented to the greatest extent possible. Moreover, it is appropriate that, before it is put into liturgical use, it be blessed according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual.
"[315:] It is more in keeping with the meaning of the sign that the tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved not be on an altar on which Mass is celebrated.
"Consequently, it is preferable that the tabernacle be located, according to the judgment of the Diocesan Bishop:
"a. Either in the sanctuary, apart from the altar of celebration, in a form and place more appropriate, not excluding on an old altar no longer used for celebration (cf. above, no. 303);
"b. Or even in some chapel suitable for the faithful´s private adoration and prayer and which is organically connected to the church and readily visible to the Christian faithful."
If the Blessed Sacrament is kept in a eucharistic chapel, the tabernacle, or at least the location of the chapel itself, should be visible from the main body of the church. Neither the tabernacle nor the chapel should be hidden away in a corner; even less should it be separated from the main body altogether.
From a pastoral viewpoint, it appears preferable to maintain the presence of the tabernacle within the sanctuary except where the church is frequented by tourists or has a great number of other celebrations such as weddings and funerals.
Although liturgical norms indicate that no particular attention be rendered to the tabernacle during the celebration of a Mass, except at the beginning and end, the clearly visible presence of the tabernacle can contribute to an overall climate of prayer, especially in fostering a respectful before the celebration begins and after it ends.
The local bishop is the competent authority for deciding which option to adopt in each case, as he is best able to weigh the various factors such as the architecture of each building, functionality, and above all the good of souls.
* * *
Follow-up: 1967´s "Musicam Sacram"
Father Peter Schineller, an American Jesuit who has ministered for 18 years in Africa and who has authored a "Handbook on Church Music -- for Choirs, Priest and Catholic Faithful," wrote the following commentary on our response regarding "Musicam Sacram" (Jan. 13):
"1. We are primarily not to sing at or during the Mass, but SING THE MASS -- that is, sing the important parts of the Mass in response to the priest. This means that the priority in singing should be the four Acclamations (Alleluia; Holy, Holy, Holy; Acclamation of Faith; and the Great Amen). If there is any singing, these are the first and most important before [the] entrance hymn or Communion hymns (cf. Nos. 7,16,29).
"2. A main focus of the choir is to lead and stir up the voices of all in the congregation. It is not to replace the congregation, not to perform. The choir should be evaluated, not by how well the choir sings, but by how well, how actively, the entire congregation sings (cf. No. 19).
"3. For both of these wishes of the document to be implemented, the burden lies on the priest to lead and to instruct his choir and parishioners. If the priest does not chant the important parts, the people will not sing them (cf. Nos. 13,14,26)."
I substantially agree with everything that Father Schineller says and that he is quite correct in his interpretation of Church documents.
Regarding his affirmation that we are not to sing at Mass but sing the Mass -- paraphrasing a famous statement of Pope Pius XI regarding not praying at Mass but praying the Mass -- I would add that not just the acclamations but also the greetings and responses ("The Lord be with you," etc.), the presidential prayers, the responsorial psalm and the people´s invocation of the Prayer of the Faithful, the Our Father, the Lamb of God and the final blessing should also ideally be sung.
While no Sunday Mass should be without some singing, there is plenty of room for a gradual approach to distinguish and emphasize the more solemn feasts from lesser celebrations and even distinguish among the various Sunday Masses so as to cater to diverse spiritual sensibilities.
The experience of several pastors who arrived at parishes where there was little tradition of congregational singing seems to prove that the best way of fomenting this form of active participation is through the singing of the common prayers that are repeated every week.
Once people get used, for example, to singing the Alleluia, the Holy Holy Holy and the Our Father, they gradually lose their fear of singing and join in with gusto. After this they readily participate in more complex pieces such as the Gloria and the Creed as well as other hymns.
The vast majority of the faithful find that this form of singing helps them to live the Mass in a fuller way, which is logical as this form of celebration is, pardon the pun, more in tune with the mind of the Church.
Often this aspect is neglected while there are endless discussions about selecting the most appropriate entrance, offertory or Communion hymn, which, as Father Schineller correctly points out, are the least important elements from the liturgical point of view.
While our correspondent is correct in saying that the choir should be evaluated by how actively the congregation sings, this does not exclude the possibility that sometimes the choir may sing alone.
The purpose of the choir is to help the people pray, and while this is principally achieved through leading the congregation in singing, it may also be done through the beauty of a musical expression that favors silent meditation.
"Musicam Sacram" expressly calls for the conservation of the Church´s Gregorian and polyphonic patrimony (Nos. 50-53), and some recent liturgical compositions blossom fully only when executed by a choir. The best way to conserve the patrimony of liturgical music is to use it in the setting for which it was composed and not just the occasional concert.
Thus the choir can solemnize some special feasts by using a classical or Gregorian Mass setting. Or it could sing a more complex piece during a more meditative moment, such as the preparation of the gifts. Some excellent compositions alternate refrain and strophe between choir and people, allowing both to participate.
The choir´s participation should never lead to the total exclusion of congregational participation. Provision should be made for the people to have a copy and translation of the texts being sung so as to heighten the spiritual efficacy of the musical interpretation.
Finally, Father Schineller correctly places much of the onus on the priest to carry out the Church´s desire regarding the proper order of liturgical singing. The traditional simple chants used for singing priestly prayers and greetings are well within the range of most priests although the magnificent tone for the preface can sometimes be a challenge.
The priest is the first who has to lose his fear of singing, including his fear of appearing ridiculous. Once begun he will find that singing the prayers and greetings not only adds a touch of solemnity but also frees him from the temptation of having to act or stress the prayers in order to put feeling or meaning into them.
Thus singing, rather than emphasizing the individual personality of the priest, serves to accentuate his priestly function.
These prayers were probably composed in order to be sung and find their best expression in the traditional simple prayer chants or in similar tones adapted to the vernacular.
Once the priest leads he will find that the people will follow him. And the spiritual benefits of singing the Mass will undoubtedly follow for, as St. Augustine said, "He who sings prays twice."