Bishop Jenky of Peoria on Tabernacle Placement

“After consultation with my Presbyteral Council, I am … 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.”

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

Full letter is here.


  1. Similar guidelines, better written and better-presented, were promulgated by Bishop John D’Arcy for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in 2009: the .pdf document is available here.

    Bishop Jenky’s statement at the end of his note, “[i]t is my conviction that Eucharistic Liturgy and Eucharistic devotion are never in competition but rather inform and strengthen our shared worship and reverence” is patently untrue. Wherever orthodoxy and orthopraxis have been measured by fidelity to Eucharistic devotion rather than “full, conscious and active participation” in the sacred liturgy, the two have been in competition.

    The theology that is invoked in this move to re-locate tabernacles that have been placed in worthy chapels is undoubtedly well-intentioned, but confused at best (and unorthodox at worst.) The requirement that such re-location take place is pastorally irresponsible and indefensible. These bishops are finding their own personal pieties affirmed by the personal piety of other bishops, and imposing them on their local churches — in spite of a wider latitude guaranteed by the universal church. Oh, yes, I know that it’s in their episcopal prerogative to do so, but prerogative alone cannot justify the derogation of liturgy to a pious act coram sanctissimo while creating unnecessary financial burdens on any parish community.

    1. Everywhere I have attended mass where the tabernacle was somewhere other than the middle of the sanctuary, there was a competion or at least a disconnect between the sacramental body of Christ in the tabernacle and the body of Christ composed of worshiping believers.

      I would also say that worthy chapels are really hard to come by. They are either hard to find or in a side or corner where people ignore it as they pass by.

      1. Usually, the disconnect has made itself known to me through actually talking with people who voice what I relate. I often hear that the host is a merely a symbol of us, the community, as the body of Christ rather than as the means by which we are joined with Christ and with one another. What is architecturally peripheral becomes spiritually peripheral.

  2. All theological implications aside, I will just say that there are numerous architectural setting where having the tabernacle in the center is inappropriate.

    Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen several fine (yes, usually contemporary) churches that have abandoned a very worthy, though non-central tabernacle location. In every case I’ve seen, it has simply destroyed the architectural and liturgical flow of the building.

    In an early 20th Century Gothic Revival church with intact reredos, the center of the apse is probably the best place for the tabernacle. In a church where a non-central Eucharistic space was specifically designed, the center is not the best place.

    Great architectural sensitivity needs to be observed in an issue such as this!

    1. I wish people had consideration of the architecture during the many renovations that occurred in the 70s and 80s.

  3. I suspect the issue for these bishops isn’t architecture at all or how the furniture looks, but strengthening devotion to the Risen Lord present in the tabernacle. I know all the reasons why the tabernacle should be absent during the celebration of the Mass, but the Church if it is opened is opened for prayer, not Mass for 99% of the day. Seems to me if we actually believe that the Risen Lord is there, by that I mean God–then the tabernacle should be symbolically in the church’s highest center. It’s about recovering reverence and respect for the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament not about architecture–that’s secondary.

    1. Yes, it does seem that the bishops who insist on such an arrangement have little regard for architecture. That’s the problem! Obviously, architectural arrangement is not their primary aim, but certainly architecture and liturgical flow of a Church fall victim to such a directive, and in a big way.

      Truthfully, I don’t think that tabernacle location is any indicator whatsoever of the level of belief in the Real Presence, neither collectively as a parish nor on the part of an individual pastor, parish council, etc.

      Indeed, if a church “is opened for prayer, not Mass for 99% of the day” and if said church is daily frequented by the faithful, then it would seem that perhaps a more intimate tabernacle setting would be appropriate.

      1. I think Jesus said something similar about the Sabbath, that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Could that also be true of Church architecture, that it is made for man’s worship of God (woman’s too), not the worship made for the architecture. We recently restored our tabernacle from a very nice side chapel in our neo-Romanesque revival Church back to the original reredos dead center, and yes, I see children and adults now genuflecting before the tabernacle, which was never the case at the side chapel and they see us priests and other ministers modeling the reverence due our Lord’s presence there at the beginning and end of Mass, something not seen here in 40 years. I have not had one complaint from anyone about the move but only appreciation. What took so long is the question! It has not hurt our active participation and reception of our Lord in the action of the Sacramental celebration of the Mass, quite to the contrary, it has helped and people have noticed.

    2. I believe the issue is not how can we serve the architecture qua architecture, but about working with a given edifice and not working against it. Example: in a parish church near my home, built in the 1970s, the tabernacle was located in the sanctuary yet not on the central axis. I think anyone would agree that it was in a prominent place: in the sanctuary, in a beautiful niche, with a large mosaic surrounding the niche and lighting which highlighted its brass doors. It has now been moved to the central axis behind the altar in a much less visually prominent place – no adornment, in the shadows, etc. By blindly following the central-axis directive, this church has actually lowered the visual prominence of the tabernacle. That previous visual prominence now goes to the holy oils which replaced the tabernacle. (con’t)

      1. (con’t) As “theology in stone” architecture makes a loud and unceasing statement about liturgical theology and ecclesiology. It that statement is unbearable (and it sometimes is) then tear down the church or knock out walls and remodel. Just don’t buy a $200 wooden table for the tabernacle and call it a day.

  4. Bishop Jenky’s statement at the end of his note, “[i]t is my conviction that Eucharistic Liturgy and Eucharistic devotion are never in competition but rather inform and strengthen our shared worship and reverence” is patently untrue


    Patently untrue, or patently in conflict with one particular view or opinion? I attend a church with the tabernacle at the center….I go to Mass, and I go to Adoration and have yet to confuse or prioritize one over the other based on the location of the tabernacle. I think a very, very few would go into a Church so arranged and say “O my gosh… this is an Adoratiobn Chapel, not a Church for Mass!”.

    That some “worship spaces” are not designed so as to make this possible is the fault of the CHURCH design, not of the tabernacle placement. If the Church design for some reason left out the pews, would we say that it is innapropriate to have people at Mass?

    1. Jeffrey,

      Let’s look at the sentence that follows what you quoted: “Wherever orthodoxy and orthopraxis have been measured by fidelity to Eucharistic devotion rather than “full, conscious and active participation” in the sacred liturgy, the two have been in competition.”

      That “wherever”, in fact, is a lot of places. I refuse to point fingers and name names, but there’s an attitudinal edge in quite a few circles of Catholics — sometimes whole parishes — that suggests that the measure of one’s faithfulness, one’s orthodoxy, is largely related to how much time one spends in Eucharistic adoration, with little regard to one’s participation in the Eucharistic liturgy. In such cases, the liturgy and Eucharistic devotion are most certainly in competition.

      In a recent article, Fr. R. Kevin Seasoltz, OSB, observes, “A room or chapel specifically designed and separate from the major space is important so that no confusion can take place between the celebration of the eucharist and reservation. Active and static aspects of the same reality cannot claim the same human attention at the same time.” (“Eucharistic Devotions and Reservation: Some Reflections,” Worship 81 [2007], 426-448; here at 446.) I agree with Fr. Seasoltz’s observation. This is in no way meant to deny the importance of Eucharistic adoration, which always must be understood in relation to the liturgy; rather, it is to suggest that both the liturgy and Eucharistic adoration are best served with separate spaces — thereby promoting the creatively fruitful tension that naturally exists between them not only logically but also spatially.

      1. In our diocese we have churches with a variety of places for reservation and we’ve had quite a history of it since Vatican II. Prior to Vatican II the center of the altar was the norm even in our Cathedral. After Vatican II, side altars were chosen. New churches had small, closet type rooms at the back of the church, others had the tabernacle haphazardly placed. I know for a fact that in those places where the tabernacle is not visible at all from the main building, at least a generation of Catholic children and now adults have no clue about Eucharistic adoration, genuflecting before the tabernacle or the significance of it. They wouldn’t know what a tabernacle is; out of sight, out of mind. I do think though that those who are into Eucharistic adoration, will find the chapel, pray there and are the ones who go to Mass every week if not daily also. I know for my part if I had not seen a tabernacle in my church growing up, I would be clueless today about it if I were not a priest, absolutely clueless. Many Catholics are clueless today and this is in stunning contrast to the previous era and not a happy development whatsoever by any standard.

  5. I am not entirely sold on the competition/confusion argument. It seems more confected than real in practice, and the conflicts I have witnessed have come more from my own “side”, as it were (I will never forget the sight and sound of a Jesuit screaming “We don’t do this any more!” when he stormed by a 40-hour devotion (the purpose for which was prayer to end and heal local urban violence) that was ending before the Sunday Mass). And while I don’t particularly care about the tabernacle being axially central,* I have witnessed too many tabernacles placed in situations that are neither prominent nor noble but rather more as an grudging afterthought. I do strongly feel that there is some dishonesty in the frequent insistence in the past that the removal of the tabernacle to a separate chapel was required to fulfill the conciliar reforms.

    * But I have to admit that, where axial placement is desired, I rather like the unity conveyed by the placement a tabernacle dove suspended from a ciborio over the altar.

  6. I admit, I think the tabernacle should be in a separate chapel of reservation that can be seen from anywhere in the church. I too like the practice of adoration. In the end though I think the bigger question is about catechesis on Eucharist, adoration, the tabernacle, etc. No matter where it is placed, we need to catechize about it and why we reserve the Blessed Sacrament.

  7. Having the Our Lord tabernacle in the center is itself a catechesis – as is having him somewhere else.

  8. The modern guidelines on separate chapels date to 1967:

    Eucharisticum Mysterium gives decent guidance, flexible for the many situations a community might find itself.

    I’ve never encountered many people argue about “competition,” except to criticize that it came from somewhere. I will say that there’s a certain modern indulgence for one-stop shopping, and I wonder if that theme is part of the “Front-and-Center” movement. Why should anyone go in search of God when God is right there in front of us? That’s also a catechesis, but not one I’m passing on to my daughter or my students.

  9. More catechesis is a great idea, but what will the message be? Bishop Jenky has a sentence that mentions the purpose of reservation:

    “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.”

    So let us put “that the Eucharist may be brought to the dying and those unable to attend Mass” at the heart and focus of our parishes. Christ, in heaven, is present at our liturgy; let His Presence remind us that there are others who do not appear to be present, but who are joined to us. We, who are present, are less important than those who are sick and dying.

    Is that close to a proper catechesis on the Tabernacle? I do not hear that too often. Or is there something else that should be taught?

    1. Emphasizing Christ’s static presence in the consecrated elements is laudable, so long as we don’t disconnect that presence from the sacrifice of the Mass. The Eucharist is not just a thing, it is first an action. If adoration becomes dissociated from the sacrifice of the Mass, the Mass can be seen as a pious ceremony whose purpose is to confect the Eucharist so we have material for adoration. Be careful not to put the cart before the horse.

      1. “the Mass can be seen as a pious ceremony whose purpose is to confect the Eucharist so we have material for adoration”

        Or as a pious ceremony whose purpose is to confect the Eucharist so we have something to eat!

      2. I agree wholeheartedly, which is why I am searching for a proper catechesis on the Tabernacle. The static presence of the Body and Blood is accompanied by the always dynamic presence of the Divinity. Is this manifested in as God’s continuing care for the sick and the dying, the original purpose of reservation?
        Until I get a different answer, I am inclined toward an off-center placement of the Tabernacle, to emphasize the importance of the off-center in our parishes — the homebound, the dying who cannot make it to our Eucharist. Sort of like saying the Divine mystery of our thanksgiving is supremely important, but Christ is present among us primarily as the ‘poor’, in this case the sick and dying.
        I am just a layperson, with no expertise on this topic, so I was hoping to get an idea of what people meant by more and better catechesis on the Tabernacle. Your comments help…

  10. Some churches do have reverent places for the Tabernacle that is perhaps off to one side a bit but still in the sanctuary, or at least while not being dead center is at least prominent. I have also been to churches where I have echoed the words of Saint Mary Magdalene at the Tomb, “They have taken my Lord and I do not know where they have put Him!”

    1. The most prominent example of a non-axial tabernacle in Catholicism would be that in the Lateran archbasilica:

      That is the south transept; the edge of the high altar is along the left border of the photo, and this is taken from between the high altar and the apse (in which the pope’s real cathedra is placed at the head).

      1. A similar argument might be made for St Peter’s Basilica, the chapel of which can be seen here.

        I have heard it said that because these are pilgrimage churches they are a necessary exception — the chapel being intended to preserve the dignity of the sacrament, and to provide a place for people to pray apart from the gawking throngs. Without judging their souls, it would seem that the folks in the Lateran photo are as touristy as any.

        There are good reasons for placing the tabernacle in the sanctuary, though an axial position creates more problems than it solves — at least insofar as the conduct of the liturgy is concerned. (Heaven knows I don’t like celebrating with my back to it!) There are equally good reasons, especially in newly designed buildings, for placing it in a separate chapel.

        I fear that this is part of an attempt at forcing the issue of East-facing or “oriented” celebration. If such is their intent, bishops should know that there are better ways to achieve it. In some places that will be desired; in others, it will be resisted (and, I’m afraid, quite bitterly).

        Personally, I favor oriented celebration — but even then I like to maintain the flexibility and dignity of a (preferably square) freestanding altar with nothing on it other than the oblata and the book. . . but that’s the topic of another post and thread.

  11. I have too often heard priests and deacons in their ‘homilies’ ask congregations if they know what the most important place in the church is, and giving the answer “the tabernacle”.

    I’m frequently tempted to stand up and shout “That’s not correct. The most important place in this church is the altar, the primary symbol of Christ in our midst, especially at Mass.”

    In other words, over-emphasizing the tabernacle adds to the tension between static devotion and the action of the liturgy. They should be complementary, not competing for attention.

    I’m fond of reminding people that we would not even be having these conversations if we were in an Orthodox church, where there is no tabernacle — which is to say, no tabernacle visible in the body of the church. There, the objects of devotion and veneration are the icons. (Of course there is a tabernacle — a special cupboard in the sacristy — but it retains its original functional purpose only.)

    1. And we would also be celebrating ad orientem behind a screen with a good possibility of using an old language that some don’t understand.

    2. “(Of course there is a tabernacle — a special cupboard in the sacristy — but it retains its original functional purpose only.)”

      Cite? As far as I can tell this is not the case:

      “As the Holy Table [altar] represents the sepulcher of the Lord, upon it, at the rear, is placed the Ark (or Tabernacle), so-called because of its general shape, within which are placed the Holy Gifts (Reserved Sacrament) used for the Communion of the sick.”

      “Mr. Richard Holl has gifted us with this new Tabernacle which nests permanently on the holy altar.”

      “In the Orthodox Church, the reserve sacrament is kept in the tabernacle on the altar at all times.”

      1. The placement of the artophorion or tabernacle varies among the Orthodox Churches. In those that have fallen under considerable western influence (by which I do not mean the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church), the tabernacle is placed on the altar. Those that have maintained themselves more distinctly from the West — the Churches of Northern and Eastern Africa; the Syrian Churches, etc. — the sacrament is reserved elsewhere.

        Regardless of where the sacrament is reserved, devotion to the Reserved Sacrament has no prominence in Eastern Christian spirituality.

      2. Fr. Cody you are correct about devotion to the Blessed Sacrament as experienced in the west not being prominent in the East even with those in union with Rome. Their devotional spirituality really focuses on the various icons necessary for their worship. Use of icons as in the East is not found in the West. I think both the east and the west are a bit befuddled by the lack of devotion each has in one or the other. But that is not to say that there isn’t profound respect for the reserved sacrament in the East, especially when brought to the sick or home bound. And certainly in the west we revered icons but not in the same manner as the East.

      3. Quite right, Fr. Allan, quite right.

        The categories of understanding are different between East and West, and here I think we Westerners have something to learn about the liturgical event as the locus of “manifestation” for the Divine Presence in the Sacrament.

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