The place of the tabernacle

On Maundy Thursday, the day that the Church remembers the Last Supper and so the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood, Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Diocese of Peoria in the United States sent out a letter to all the clergy and faithful in his diocese. He writes about the location of the tabernacle in churches and chapels, and since tabernacles hold the Blessed Sacrament, their location will reflect the place of the Eucharist in our liturgy and faith.

I decided to share the letter in my blog, because the topic is not endemic to Peoria, or even the United States. Here in the Netherlands too, tabernacles are sometimes found in side altars or off to the side in the main sanctuary.

Emphases mine, to underline some points that are vital, in my opinion.


April 1, 2010
+Holy Thursday

Dear Priests, Deacons, Religious and Faithful of the Diocese of Peoria,

The Mass, of course, is our most important act of worship — the very source and summit of all we do as a Church. A profound reverence for the Reserved Sacrament is also intrinsically related to the Eucharistic liturgy.

The Reserved Sacrament must therefore be treated with the greatest possible respect, because at all times the Blessed Sacrament within that tabernacle, as in the Eucharistic Liturgy, is to be given that worship called latria, which is the adoration given to Almighty God. This intentional honor is incomparably greater than the reverence we give to sacramentals, sacred images, the Baptistry, the Holy Oils, or the Paschal Candle. The Sacrament is reserved not only so that the Eucharist can be brought to the dying and to those unable to attend Mass, but also as the heart and locus of a parish’s prayer and devotion.

There is a kind of bundle of rituals in our Catholic tradition with which we surround the Tabernacle. As we enter or leave the church, we bless ourselves with holy water, we genuflect towards the Tabernacle, we prepare for Mass or give thanks after Mass, consciously in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament. At prayers and devotions, during the Liturgy of the Hours, in any private prayer which takes place in a Catholic Church, we truly pray before the Risen Christ substantially and really present in the Sacrament reserved in the Tabernacle.

These core Catholic convictions and their architectural ramifications have recently been reaffirmed by many Bishops in the United States. As bishop of this Diocese, I am also convinced that where we place the Tabernacle — and how we ritually reverence the Reserved Sacrament — is as important for the continuing Eucharistic catechesis as is all our preaching and teaching. With Jesus truly present in the Blessed Sacrament at the physical center of our places of worship, how can He not also more firmly become the center of our spiritual lives as well?

After consultation with my Presbyteral Council, I am therefore asking that those few parish churches and chapels where the tabernacle is not in the direct center at the back of the sanctuary, that these spaces be redesigned in such a way that the Reserved Sacrament would be placed at the center. In some cases, this change can be easily achieved, but given financial and design restraints, plans for redesign may be submitted to the Office of Divine Worship at any time during the next five years. Monastic communities whose chapels are open to the faithful as semi-public oratories may also request a dispensation from this general regulation according to the norms of their particular liturgical tradition. There may also be some very tiny chapels where a change could be impossible. These requests should be submitted in writing to my office.

I would also like to remind everyone in our Diocese that at Mass, in accord with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the Tabernacle should only be reverenced at the beginning and end of the liturgy or when the Sacrament is being taken from or returned to the Tabernacle. At all other moments and movements in the liturgy it is the Altar of Sacrifice that is to be reverenced. [Er… Yes, this is perfectly in line with the rubrics of the Novus Ordo, but it is so counter-intuitive once one is aware that Christ is truly present in the tabernacle. Outside of Mass I genuflect when passing the tabernacle, so not doing that when I’m performing my duties during Mass just seems… wrong.]

It is my conviction that Eucharistic Liturgy and Eucharistic devotion are never in competition but rather inform and strengthen our shared worship and reverence. May all in our Diocese grow in greater love and appreciation of the gift of the Eucharist.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C.


In Rome: The right-hand man

This is the second installment of a series of who’s who in the Vatican, a series that will very likely appear quite irregularly. In it, I take a look at the men – and women – in Rome, who work to guide and shepherd the Church all over the world.

When the pope is working, which is during most of his daytime hours, one man is there to make sure the Holy Father has all he needs to shepherd the Church through her day-to-day affairs, from correspondence to speeches, lectures and his reading glasses. He is Msgr. Georg Gänswein, the personal secretary of the pope.

He was born in 1956 in the village of Riedern am Wald, in the far south of Germany, not too far from the Swiss border. In 1984 he was ordained a priest and he became a Doctor in Canon Law in 1993. Three years later, Cardinal Ratzinger invited Msgr. Gänswein to become an official of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Then things developed fast. In 2000 he became a Chaplain of His Holiness and in 2003 he replaced Bishop Josef Clemens as Cardinal Ratzinger’s secretary. A year after the cardinal became Pope Benedict XVI, Msgr. Gänswein was appointed as his personal secretary.

Georg Gänswein is rather popular in Rome, where he has earned the nicknames ‘Padre Georg’ and even ‘Bel Giorgio’ for his looks. Media reports of the pope’s first visits  abroad usually never failed to notice the new man where the elderly Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz used to sit. The changes in apparel that became visible during the initial years of Benedict’s papacy have often been considered to be the influence of Msgr. Gänswein: Prada shoes (or rather what were assumed to be Prada), but also chasubles, mitres and other liturgical clothing. In how far Msgr. Gänswein is truly responsible for this renewed focus on traditional appearance (as opposed to, say, Msgr. Guido Marini) is up for debate, of course. The papal secretary is very much an assistant to the pope, not a man to pursue his own agenda. It is not his place to advocate change in whatever area. Pope Benedict XVI can do that very well himself.

During normal working days, the pope and his secretary usually have breakfast together and take an after-lunch stroll to the Vatican gardens. Msgr. Gänswein makes sure the pope gets to see the correspondence and other paperwork he needs to see or sign, and also schedules upcoming appointments and audiences.

Georg Gänswein is a man to be noticed, certainly because he is part of the small household staff of the pope. He is said to be a very intelligent and analytical thinker (something of a given when one works closely with this pope), but also a tennis player, skier and football player, and he even has his pilot’s license. Msgr. Gänswein is instrumental in the day-to-day affairs of the Catholic Church, certainly when it comes to the affairs of the visible head of that Church, Pope Benedict XVI.