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Guidelines for Church Architecture

Built of Living Stones

The new guidelines reflect the bishops' extensive discussion last November.

     Tabernacle placement

     Bishop Raymond Burke (La Crosse):

…My immediate objection to the proposed text (lines 615 to 628 on page 169), is that it does not respect the directive of the revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which specifies that the tabernacle be located in the sanctuary or in a special chapel. The proposed text extends the possible location to include the body of the Church. Locating the tabernacle outside of the sanctuary, unless of course there is a special chapel, in my judgment, conveys the wrong message about the reserved Sacrament. I'm not much comforted in my concern by the amended text, which suggests placing the reserved Blessed Sacrament in a place where there was formerly a side altar, or in some other devotional space.

On a deeper level, I am confused by the suggestion in the proposed text that the placement of the tabernacle in the sanctuary in close visual relationship with the Altar of Sacrifice distracts from the Eucharistic celebration and its components. I refer especially to the recommendation that "distance, lighting, or some other architectural device" be used to separate the tabernacle and reservation area during Mass.

I am unable to find in our liturgical tradition, apart from the practice in some places over the past thirty years, this insistence on distancing visually the reserved Sacrament from its origin in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Such insistence does not seem to have been the mind of the Second Vatican Council, for the post-conciliar liturgical norms on the placement of the tabernacle made every effort to keep the tabernacle on the altar of Sacrifice or very near to it.

In most churches which do not have a Eucharistic chapel, it is important to locate the place of the reserved Sacrament in proximity to the Altar of Sacrifice in order to keep clear the essential relationship of Christ's abiding presence with us in the Blessed Sacrament after He becomes present for us through the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

The reserved Sacrament is also a constant witness to the profound reality of the Eucharistic Sacrifice through which Christ faithfully renews the outpouring of His life for us on Calvary.

Whatever the intent of the text in question, we must honestly recognize that it will be used to confirm and further the unfortunate, in my judgment, recent practice of removing the place of the reserved Blessed Sacrament outside the sanctuary.

At a time when we witness a loss of faith in the Holy Eucharist and a corollary loss of love of the Blessed Sacrament, it is especially important, I believe, to express clearly our faith by the place given to the tabernacle.

Therefore, I ask that the text state clearly that if there is not a special Eucharistic chapel the tabernacle be placed in the sanctuary in a place and manner which manifests the relationship of the reserved Sacrament to the Eucharistic Sacrifice represented by the altar. Thank you.

VOL. VI, No. 9 - December 2000 - January 2001

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