In his first pastoral letter, Ars celebrandi et adorandi, Bishop Paprocki of Springfield Illinois discusses the “art of celebrating the Eucharistic Liturgy Properly and Adoring the Lord in the Eucharist Devoutly.” Parts of Bishop Paprocki’s pastoral letter are quite beauty and pastoral.
For Bishop Paprocki, it is the celebration of the Church’s liturgies, and not lists of directives and rules, that draws people into the fold. This is why we must ensure that our liturgies are celebrated in a dignified and beautiful way. Bishop Paprocki writes:
Father Robert Barron, Rector of Mundelein Seminary in the Archdiocese of Chicago, often speaks about the role of beauty in attracting people to the Church, using an analogy from baseball to make his point. He notes that you will not get people interested in baseball by explaining the “infield fly rule” to them before doing anything else. What attracts people to baseball initially is the beauty of the game, the skill of pitching, hitting and catching the baseball and running the bases. The infield fly rule and all the other intricate and sometimes arcane rules of any sport only have interest and relevance for people who already know and love the game…The same is true with attracting people to the Church. We do not start by listing rules. The beauty of our church edifices, magnificent works of religious art and the graceful celebration of the liturgy, accompanied by harmonious music, inspiring homilies and the active participation of the faithful, are the foundational elements that attract people to the liturgy. Attention to the liturgical norms only comes after one has an appreciation for the art of the celebration.
After noting the importance of the art of celebration, Bishop Paprocki then goes on to impart several “observations and directives regarding the reservation and adoration of the Holy Eucharist.” It is here that Bishop Paprocki begins to talk about the placement of the tabernacle:
the faithful in some places do not frequently come to pray before the tabernacle to be in the presence of the Lord. Several reasons for this certainly exist, but one among them is the reality that the tabernacle is not always easily found in many of our churches today.
He notes that many tabernacles have been placed at side altars or in Eucharistic chapels that are not prominent or visible.
Bishop Paprocki also notes an “emptiness” in churches that were designed with tabernacles in the center of the sanctuary:
The great majority of our parish churches and chapels were designed to house the tabernacle in the center of the sanctuary; removing the tabernacle from these sanctuaries has left a visible emptiness within the sacred space, almost as though the building itself longed for the return of the tabernacle. With the removal of the tabernacle from the center of the sanctuary, the architectural integrity of many churches and chapels has been severely compromised.
Citing Pope Benedict XVI’s Post-Synodal Exhortation on the Eucharist in 2007, which calls for Diocesan Bishops to determine the placement of tabernacles in their dioceses, Bishop Paprocki writes:
I direct that in the churches and chapels of our diocese, tabernacles that were formerly in the center of the sanctuary, but have been moved, are to be returned as soon as possible to the center of the sanctuary in accord with the original architectural design. Tabernacles that are not in the center of the sanctuary or are otherwise not in a visible, prominent and noble space are to be moved to the center of the sanctuary; tabernacles that are not in the center of the sanctuary but are in a visible, prominent and noble space may remain.
I understand Bishop Paprocki’s thinking. Churches designed with a tabernacle at the center of the sanctuary can often look empty when their tabernacles are moved elsewhere. However, sound liturgical principles call for the altar, and not the tabernacle, to be the central symbol in any church. The restoration of the tabernacle to the center of the sanctuary often overshadows the altar. Any “emptiness” left behind by the removal of a tabernacle from the center of the sanctuary to another space should not be “filled” by placing the tabernacle back in its previous location.
I commend Bishop Paprocki’s attempts to remove any “emptiness” that might be perceived to exist in the sanctuary of some churches. I also agree that devotion to the Blessed Sacrament should be fostered and that our tabernacles should be placed in a noble and prominent place. However, the restoration of the tabernacle to the center of the sanctuary should be avoided.