|ROME, 25 AUG. 2009 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q1: I was visiting a retreat center recently in which there is a small
Blessed Sacrament chapel in one of the rooms in the guesthouse. In the
chapel the Eucharist is present but not housed in a tabernacle (at least
in the traditional sense). Instead, a ciborium is kept under what
appears to be a small upside-down glass vase. I found this troubling and
mentioned it, but several months later when I returned it was the same
situation. It seems careless that anyone can visit the chapel at any
hour, and (if they wanted to) walk up and take the Eucharist at any
time. Is there a clear instruction on the proper keeping of the
Eucharist , and what constitutes a tabernacle?
Q2: What is the proper order for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament
at the end of the Mass? Should the Mass be finished first and then
expose the Blessed Sacrament? Where could we find some ideas for the
order of procession of the Blessed Sacrament again after Mass?
A.R., Fullerton, California
A: Since both questions are related to the Eucharist I will briefly
First of all, the norms regarding the structure of the tabernacle are
found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 314:
"In accordance with the structure of each church and legitimate local
customs, the Most Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a tabernacle
in a part of the church that is truly noble, prominent, readily visible,
beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer.
"The one tabernacle should be immovable, be made of solid and inviolable
material that is not transparent, and be locked in such a way that the
danger of profanation is prevented to the greatest extent possible.
Moreover, it is appropriate that, before it is put into liturgical use,
it be blessed according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual."
The tabernacle described by our reader certainly failed to adhere to
this norm on several counts. It was apparently neither opaque nor
immovable. I suggest that our reader inform the bishop of the diocese
where the retreat house is found, as his permission is required to have
a chapel and it falls under his direct supervision.
A sterling resource for the themes of exposition, adoration, and
Eucharistic processions can be found in Monsignor (now bishop) Peter J.
Elliott's "Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite," published by Ignatius
Press. This book effectively synthesizes several official sources such
as the Roman Ritual for Eucharistic Worship Outside of Mass and the
Ceremonial of Bishops. There are also many other recent publications
that give ideas for suitable hymns and texts that may be used during
adoration and processions. An excellent resource online is found at
Based on Monsignor Elliott's work we can say the following regarding the
question about exposition at the end of Mass:
While Mass may never be celebrated before the Blessed Sacrament exposed
("in the same area of the church or oratory" where the host is exposed),
exposition and adoration may commence immediately after a Mass. This
action should be seen to flow from the Eucharistic liturgy; therefore, a
host consecrated at that Mass should be exposed immediately after
The Prayer after Communion is said at the chair. The final blessing and
dismissal are omitted. After reciting the Prayer after Communion the
celebrant, deacon(s) and ministers line up in front of the altar,
genuflect and then kneel while a suitable hymn of adoration is sung. The
Blessed Sacrament is incensed as usual for exposition. After the
incensation and a brief moment of silent prayer, all genuflect and
return to the sacristy. The final hymn of the Mass is omitted.
Devotions may immediately follow the incensation (before the celebrants
return to the sacristy), but Benediction is not to be given immediately
The recommendation that the host for exposition be consecrated at the
Mass refers above all to occasional periods of adoration. This would not
be practical in places having daily or perpetual adoration. In this case
it is probably better for the priest to finish Mass as normal, return to
the sacristy, remove the chasuble and then return to expose the Blessed
* * *
Follow-up: Blessed Sacrament
Under Glass [9-8-2009]
Related to our Aug. 25 reply on the "Eucharist under glass" were a
couple of other questions on file. A Wisconsin reader asked: "How does
the Church address 'Eucharistic adoration on demand'? Our parish has an
adoration chapel. Viewing and adoring the Eucharist can be done by
anyone by opening two small windows in the tabernacle doors; the
tabernacle doors remain locked and only the host is in view. This
practice seems to trivialize the majesty of God. Is this practice
A Chicago correspondent added: "A generous soul donated a glass
'tabernacle' to an adoration chapel. The (very expensive) gift was
accepted and now stands on the altar in the adoration chapel. It is left
unattended for long periods of time, with monstrance and consecrated
host inside, behind the glass. In the first place, am I correct in
assuming that glass is an improper material for a tabernacle? If so, can
the problem be corrected by using a curtain or veil to cover the
'tabernacle' when the chapel is empty?"
To the first question we can reply that exposition of the Blessed
Sacrament is linked with an intense form of adoration. This entails a
proper exposition, a certain fixed period of time in which the Eucharist
is never left alone, and concluded by reserving the sacrament in a
formal manner, preferably after Benediction has been given.
The situation described is clearly not adoration as desired by the
Church. In fact, this practice contains a real danger of undermining
adoration of the Lord present in the closed tabernacle. It appears to
give the message that the only real adoration is of the Blessed
Sacrament exposed, which is simply false.
This does not mean that this form of tabernacle with a window cannot
be used for exposition. This possibility exists in some cases but only
if the conditions mentioned above (not leaving the Blessed Sacrament
alone, etc.) are fulfilled.
The second situation is slightly different. If this "glass tabernacle"
can be considered as a protection for the monstrance during periods of
public adoration, then it could be admitted.
However, it would be contrary to the norms if a transparent tabernacle
is left unattended. Covering it with a veil when there is no public
adoration would be a solution only if it were unbreakable glass that
would make violation of the tabernacle very difficult.
I suggest, therefore, that it should be used only as a kind of
protective throne to the monstrance during solemn adoration and that a
proper solid tabernacle be obtained for the habitual reserve.