Question: I have seen the tabernacle sometimes in the center of the sanctuary, other times off on a side altar and occasionally in a chapel. Where is the best placement of the tabernacle and does the Diocese of Allentown have specific guidelines?
Answer: Thank you for your question regarding the proper placement of the tabernacle. The tabernacle finds its placement in several locations within the Diocese of Allentown and the Universal Church: from side altars, to center altars, and to separate chapels of reservation.
The question “Where is the appropriate placement of the Blessed Sacrament?” becomes an interesting and important question in the lives of the faithful of the Diocese.
The Code of Canon Law explains that “The tabernacle in which the Blessed Eucharist is reserved should be placed in a distinguished location in a church or oratory, a place which is conspicuous, suitably adorned and conducive to prayer.”
Furthermore, the Sacred Congregation for Rites clarified in 1964 just after the Second Vatican Council that the “Blessed Sacrament is to be reserved in a secure tabernacle in the center of the high altar or another altar if this is really outstanding and distinguished.”
Generally speaking, in the Diocese of Allentown, the Office for Divine Worship encourages the placement of the Blessed Sacrament in the center of the church as a powerful witness that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.”
The three key criteria of: 1) conspicuous – standing out so as to be noticed, 2) suitably adorned – made of noble metal, and 3) conducive to prayer – reserved in a quiet location, usually is met with the placement on the center altar other than the altar of sacrifice.
At this time, the Diocese is not requiring or mandating churches to move their tabernacles to the center altar from a side altar; however, if the tabernacle is currently in the center, it would be best to keep the tabernacle in that location and not move it to a side altar.
If a church in the Diocese of Allentown is undergoing a renovation and the tabernacle is currently on a side altar, the church would be encouraged to relocate the tabernacle to the center altar at that time.
At times, there has been a call in the Church to place the Blessed Sacrament in a separate chapel. Generally, this is most appropriate in large basilicas and cathedrals where numerous pilgrims visit and the placement of the Blessed Sacrament in a separate chapel allows for a place conducive to prayer while the church itself may have visitors walking around on tours looking at the historic architecture of the building.
In the Diocese of Allentown, this is not usually the case. Therefore, a separate chapel for the Blessed Sacrament is not necessary.