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Liturgy & Liturgical Law Forum: Placement of tabernacle; communion rails

by Catherine Frakas 04 Apr 2001

Placement of tabernacle; communion rails QUESTION from Carolyn Mabie July 4, 2001
Is the recommendation that the tabernacle be placed in a position away from the altar going to be changed soon and that we are going to see a return of communion rails as the norm as well? (A friend of mine insists that we are going to have to go back to these as norms soon.)
ANSWER by Mr. Jacob Slavek on July 7, 2001
Dear Mrs. Mabie,
If you are asking about the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal: It does not mention communion rails, and describes the placement of the tabernacle as I will explain below.
Okay, in 1978 the United States Bishops' committee issued a document Environment and Art in Liturgical Worship (EACW) which stated that the tabernacle be placed in a separate reservation chapel. This document is often quoted by those pushing progressive liturgical renewal as being authoritative and liturgical law. However, IT IS NOT. It was NEVER approved by the NCCB OR the Holy See. As it stands now, it can only be used as suggested guidelines for bishops in their own diocese.
Now, AFTER EACW was issued, the Holy See released Inaestimabile Domum, which IS authoritative over the universal church. In it, we read,

The tabernacle in which the Eucharist is kept can be located on an altar, or away from it, in a spot which is prominent, truly noble, and duly decorated, or in a chapel suitable for private prayer and for adoration by the faithful. (n.24) Permission is granted for either location. In the new GIRM we read:

The tabernacle should be placed, according to the judgment of the diocesan Bishop: a) either in the sanctuary, apart from the altar of celebration, in the most suitable form and place, not excluding on an old altar which is no longer used for celebration;
b) or even in another chapel suitable for adoration and the private prayer of the faithful, and which is integrally connected with the church and is conspicuous to the faithful.
So, DIOCESAN bishops, NOT the committee on the liturgy, may determine AUTHORITATIVELY where the tabernacle may be located. Of course, bishops may choose to follow the recommendation of EACW and make it law.
I think it would be wise for bishops not to make it a general rule that ALL parishes must put the tabernacle in a separate chapel, but rather permitting in only in cases where it is necessary for a better prayer environment for the faithful.
But honestly, I can't think of a place like that which exists in the United States.
Now on to communion rails. Vatican II never got rid of them. Yet, no church law requires them. When permission was granted for the faithful to receive standing, many pastors seized the opportunity to rip the rails out of the church without thinking or looking back.
I have even heard stories that the rails were only used to keep bears out of the sanctuary, and since this is no longer a problem, they are not needed! Whatever. I am blessed to attend a parish which has the tabernacle on the high altar with regular adoration, and communion rails which are used daily.
Mr. Slavek
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