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Of late, there has been a controversy in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church of Kerala, Southern India which follows the oriental rite. It comes after a decision by a recent Synod that the celebrant of the Holy Mass (Qurbana) should face the Altar (which has the Tabernacle) as had been done in the good old days. The clerics and the faithful who are accustomed to facing one another over the Altar Table for more than half a century, are less than happy with the decision. One wonders why churches invariably have their Tabernacle embedded on the wall at one end of the church. We may have adopted the practice from the Israelite. But with so much of advancement in security measures like CCTV, the Tabernacle could also be positioned in the middle of the church, so that the celebrant of the Holy Mass can face both the Tabernacle and the faithful at the same time.

My question therefore is: Are there Catholic Churches in any part of the world which have the the Tabernacle fixed in the middle of the church ?

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  • FWIW, my (non-Catholic) church (and quite a few others of my denomination) has the altar freestanding at the head of the church... I believe when we built the church, it was noted that this was done for exactly the reason you state; so the priest/pastor/leader can face both the altar and the congregation. The altar is still at the head of the church, just not set against a wall, so one can stand/walk behind it. My maternal grandmother's church, however, is polygonal, with the alter in the middle.
    – Matthew
    Dec 9, 2021 at 18:31

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Are there Catholic Churches in any part of the world which have the Tabernacle fixed in the middle of the church?

The short answer is yes.

But, the only church that I know where this exists is in a monastery of Poor Clares who live under a form of cloister called a papal cloister. That means the priest may not enter their cloister except under very strict circumstances. There is a grille running the length of the actual church in the middle. The altar is against this grille facing the nuns. The tabernacle is slightly above an in front of the altar. I am sure others exist also.

This makes it possible for the nuns and priests to have access to the tabernacle for it has a door in both the front and back.

This monastery is less than 10 kilometres from my domain and I am on call to serve mass on important functions such as the Easter Triduum or funerals.

I possibly will add a picture one day here, but I need permission.

However this is not the general norm; and is is done so in keeping with the spirit of seclusion that the nuns have vowed to live.

In the sixteenth century, the Blessed Sacrament became customarily reserved in a tabernacle that was placed on the altar or part of the reredos. However, only in 1863, did the Sacred Congregation of Rites prohibit the use of suspended doves and sacrament houses.

Here is where some confusion emerges. To promote prayer and devotion, the Instruction stated, “It is therefore recommended that, as far as possible, the tabernacle be placed in a chapel distinct from the middle or central part of the church, above all in those churches where marriages and funerals take place frequently, and in places which are much visited for their artistic or historical treasures” (#53). For example, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, which has a constant flow of tourists, the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in Our Lady’s Chapel located behind the main altar; this beautiful chapel provides a quiet place for the faithful to pray without the distraction of the comings and goings of people. A similar situation exists at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

However, this recommendation does not necessitate the interiors of “old” churches be destroyed to move the tabernacle: The Instruction stated, “In adapting churches, care will be taken not to destroy treasures of sacred art” (#24). Moreover, any renovation should be done with “prudence.” I hate to think of how many beautiful churches have been whitewashed and their beautiful artwork thrown out or sent to the antique dealers because of someone who wanted to do liturgical renewal. I also wonder how many hearts have been broken because of imprudent renovations. Sadly, I have visited some churches– new ones and renovated ones– where it looks like the position of the tabernacle was more of an afterthought than an attempt to provide a prominent, conspicuous place.

Moreover, the Instruction’s recommendation does not prohibit having the tabernacle in the center of the Church, stating, “The Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a solid, inviolable tabernacle in the middle of the main altar or on a side altar, but in a truly prominent place” (#54). The tabernacle can be located in the “center of the church,” perhaps on an elevated area behind the altar so as not to diminish the attention to the Eucharistic sacrifice. Actually, the visual alignment of the tabernacle and altar emphasizes best both the reverence for the Holy Eucharist and the significance of the sacrifice of the Mass.

The liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council prompted a “rethinking” of the location of the tabernacle in the Church. Two important points must always be kept in mind: First, reverence for the Holy Eucharist must be preserved and promoted. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy reminded us that the Holy Eucharist is “a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us” (#46). We must not forget that being in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament is being in the divine presence of our Lord and Savior.

Second, the significance of the offering of the Mass itself where the Holy Eucharist is confected must be preserved and promoted. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church asserted, “Taking part in the eucharistic sacrifice, the source and summit of the Christian life, they offer the divine victim to God and themselves along with it” (#11).

Accordingly, the Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery (1967) issued regulations (later incorporated into the Code of Canon Law) concerning tabernacles (cf. #52-57 and Canons 934-944): The Holy Eucharist may be reserved only on one altar or one place in any Church, and a vigil lamp must burn at all times to indicate and honor the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. This tabernacle must be immovable, made of solid and opaque material, and locked to prevent theft or desecration of the Blessed Sacrament. The tabernacle “should be placed in a part of the Church that is prominent, conspicuous, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer” (Canon 938).

Here is where some confusion emerges. To promote prayer and devotion, the Instruction stated, “It is therefore recommended that, as far as possible, the tabernacle be placed in a chapel distinct from the middle or central part of the church, above all in those churches where marriages and funerals take place frequently, and in places which are much visited for their artistic or historical treasures” (#53). For example, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, which has a constant flow of tourists, the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in Our Lady’s Chapel located behind the main altar; this beautiful chapel provides a quiet place for the faithful to pray without the distraction of the comings and goings of people. A similar situation exists at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

However, this recommendation does not necessitate the interiors of “old” churches be destroyed to move the tabernacle: The Instruction stated, “In adapting churches, care will be taken not to destroy treasures of sacred art”(#24). Moreover, any renovation should be done with “prudence.” I hate to think of how many beautiful churches have been whitewashed and their beautiful artwork thrown out or sent to the antique dealers because of someone who wanted to do liturgical renewal. I also wonder how many hearts have been broken because of imprudent renovations. Sadly, I have visited some churches– new ones and renovated ones, where it looks like the position of the tabernacle was more of an afterthought than an attempt to provide a prominent, conspicuous place.

Moreover, the Instruction’s recommendation does not prohibit having the tabernacle in the center of the Church, stating, “The Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a solid, inviolable tabernacle in the middle of the main altar or on a side altar, but in a truly prominent place” (#54). The tabernacle can be located in the “center of the church,” perhaps on an elevated area behind the altar so as not to diminish the attention to the Eucharistic sacrifice. Actually, the visual alignment of the tabernacle and altar emphasizes best both the reverence for the Holy Eucharist and the significance of the sacrifice of the Mass. - Where should the tabernacle be placed in a Church?

To be honest with you though, I commend the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church of Kerala for taking the steps they did in regards to the placement of the direction of the priest facing the altar (east) at mass as in the good old days, when Catholics where truly practicing their faith! Besides the symbolism is extremely powerful.

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  • Thanks, Ken Graham. In Pre-Vatican.II days, the faithful carried Rosary to the church so that they could say the Rosary in private while ``seeing " the Mass which was mostly said in Syriac . It was the Second Vatican Council which opened up the gates for making the Liturgy faithful-oriented, including allowing the Mass to be said in vernacular languages. Dec 7, 2021 at 4:38

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