September 13, 2011
Eucharistic protocols
By Father Rocky Hoffman *

By Father Rocky Hoffman *

In a local Catholic church that I occasionally attend with a dear friend of mine, the tabernacle is not located in the sanctuary, or even in the main church. The tabernacle is located in the chapel. Although the chapel is under the same roof as the main church, the two are separated by the parish hall. 

Before and after Holy Communion (during Mass), the Eucharist and the sacred vessels are brought through the parish hall (which includes a bookstore, a nursery, storage closets and restrooms) between chapel and the main church. It seems somehow improper that the Eucharist should be carried through the parish hall during Mass, especially when there may be people there who are not participating in that Mass (visitors to the bookstore, caregivers heading to and from the nursery, etc.).

(1) Shouldn’t the tabernacle (or a second tabernacle) be located in the main church?  There is sufficient space to do this, but no one in this parish seems bothered by the absence of a tabernacle in the main sanctuary.

(2) Must I genuflect or bow toward the altar when I enter the main church before Mass? There is no Eucharist present in that room at that time, and no crucifix displayed. (The crucifix is brought in during the processional). I make the sign of the cross after dipping my fingers in the holy water font, but I get the eye from other parishioners when I sit without genuflecting or bowing. Seven years of Catholic schooling taught me that genuflecting and bowing are done in reverence for the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

(3) If the Eucharist is absent, why bow or genuflect?

(4) Also, in this same church, I have twice been to a weekday (chapel) Mass where the priest did not give a homily. Instead, he simply asked all present to spend a moment of silence reflecting on the gospel reading. I had never experienced such a homily before.  Is this proper? While these Masses were not Sunday Masses, I did feel I missed out on some wisdom or insight I might have received had a traditional homily on that day’s readings been delivered.

Because of these and other “progressive” practices this church, I opt to travel a few more miles to remain a parishioner of the church I grew up in, though the “progressive” church is closer to me.

(5) Though I’m only 40 years old, am I out of step? I hunger for the more traditional practices offered at the church of my youth, which feed my connection to my faith and to God, and to the faithful who have gone before me. I would never tell my friend this – because she so loves her parish – but I feel oddly out of place in the church closer to me, something I haven’t experienced at the many other Catholic churches I have been blessed to attend around the world.

Wow!  You hit the jackpot and managed to squeeze in five questions and raised at least as many more important issues.

It’s a very honest, and somewhat sad, description of a common reality today in many parishes.  What you describe is a general diminishment of regard for the Most Blessed Sacrament.  But the good news is the Holy Spirit renews the Church in spite of us.  Let me take your questions in order, and then add some comments.

(1) Shouldn’t the tabernacle (or a second tabernacle) be located in the main church? 

I would say yes, barring exceptional reasons to the contrary.  The tabernacle should be visible upon entering the Church; it should also be of noble material, beautiful, and properly secured. (cf. General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Redemptionis Sacramentum, Sacramentum Caritatis).  In most parish churches, most of the time, the most noble and visible location would be the center of the sanctuary.  In fact, the Bishop of Peoria, in consultation and agreement with his presbyteral council, has asked that the tabernacle be placed back in the center of the sanctuary within the next five years.  Of course, there are some churches, where the Blessed Sacrament is more fittingly reserved in a side chapel.  This is the case with the monumental and magnificent St. Peter’s basilica in Rome, as well as our National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
There are also a number of modern parish Churches where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a side chapel, but it’s usually adjacent to the main body of the Church, not separated by a parish hall as you describe in your church.  As a rule of thumb, if you can not spot the tabernacle within 10 seconds of entering the church, the architect has failed.

(2) Must I genuflect or bow toward the altar when I enter the main church before Mass?

If the tabernacle is not present, you should bow to the altar and the crucifix in the sanctuary as a sign of reverence.  A genuflection is only appropriate in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle.
(3)  If the Eucharist is absent, why bow or genuflect?
Even if the Blessed Sacrament is not present, a church is still a sacred space, and the altar and crucifix are sacred elements which deserve a sign of respect.  So, continue to bless yourself with Holy Water when you enter the Church, then bow your head towards the altar and the crucifix before being seated in the pew.
(4) Is it proper for the priest to skip the homily on weekdays?

Yes.  The priest is only obliged to preach a homily on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation.  On other days, he is free to skip the homily, and some people appreciate that.  Nevertheless, the Church encourages celebrants to give a brief homily especially on the weekdays of Advent and Lent.

Personally, I might appreciate it if the priest were to skip the homily if he did not prepare one for the day.
(5) Though I’m only 40 years old, am I out of step? I hunger for the more traditional practices offered at the church of my youth, which feed my connection to my faith and to God, and to the faithful who have gone before me.
I don’t think you are out of step at all.  You have a delightful simple and strong faith and you really believe that the Holy Eucharist is the most extraordinary gift that Jesus gave us: his very self.  Since the entire purpose of our lives is to love God, it makes sense that we care for the Most Blessed Sacrament with exquisite attention.
In the particular circumstances of your Church, if I were pastor and could not remedy the architectural limitations that you have described, I would ask that the Most Blessed Sacrament be transferred back and forth to the remote tabernacle in the company of two servers, one ringing the bell to alert people of Our Lord’s approach, and another to open and close the doors.  As well, the ciborium could be carried within the ceremonial humeral veil.  Those little details would make a big difference and would not cost a penny.

Rev. Francis J. Hoffman, JCD (Fr. Rocky) is Executive Director of Relevant Radio.  Ordained as a priest for Opus Dei in 1992 by Blessed John Paul II, he holds a doctorate in Canon Law from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, an MBA from the University of Notre Dame, and a BA in History from Northwestern University.  His Question and Answer column appears in several Catholic newspapers and magazines across the country.

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