MAY 2003
volume 14, no. 29

The Germs of G.I.R.M.

Part Seventy-one: The Taboo of the Tabernacles

    " In the Mass of tradition, with a few rare exceptions here and there, the tabernacle was in the middle of the altar of sacrifice. And that is where it belongs. Period. End of argument. Again, how much time has been spent pleading for that which should be in the first place? As Archbishop Sheen noted in the 1970s, "It would take Our Lady of Saint Joseph more than three days to find Our Lord in some of our churches." Sadly, this is truer now than it was thirty years ago."

Paragraph 308 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "There is also to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, positioned either on the altar or near it, and which is clearly visible to the people gathered together. It is fitting that a cross of this kind, recalling the saving passion of the Lord, remain near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations."

Comment and Analysis: This is about as close as GIRM gets to getting it right. However, there is deficiency even here.

   First of all, there is a crucifix above every tabernacle in churches which still offer the Mass of our fathers. In addition, there is also a processional cross, placed on or near the altar, to keep us focused on what is taking place in an unbloody manner on that altar. As Father Lasance points out:

    "Above the tabernacle is the cross. Its presence alone in this place speaks simply and eloquently: 'It is here that Jesus Christ renews the sacrifice of Calvary. The cross raised by deicidal hands remains always laden: love forever fastens to it the divine Victim. His arms extended call the sinner to return and to pardon: His lips never cease to utter the great prayer of mercy, "Father, forgive them"; grace flows from His heart in torrents.' Christian souls, all these things the crucifix, by its wounds, says to you each day."

   Thus, yes, the crucifix recalls the "saving passion of the Lord." However, that saving passsion was made necessary by our sins. The Mass is supposed to convey our need to make reparation for our own sins, to unite ourselves with Our Lord on the wood of the Holy Cross, to bear our daily crosses with patience and with joy, trusting all to the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady. Yet none of this is at all to be found in GIRM.

   Moreover, there is a practical consideration here. We know that many churches today do not have any cruficix whatsoever. Barren crosses abound. Images of the "Resurrected Jesus" (sometimes referred to as "The Flying Jesus") are affixed to barren crosses. Crucifixes are, sadly, very hard to come by in many Catholic churches. Will our bishops actually enforce GIRM's mandate for crucifixes on or near altars? Well, if they are unwilling to enforce basic rules of decorum in the Mass they will not do anything about crucifixes.

   Compare the simplified schema presented by GIRM with the description of what should be in the altar and the sanctuary in the Mass of Tradition (as found in the Father Lasance Missal):

    "(1) Crucifix; (2) Reredos; (3) Tabernacle covered by a veil which is either wirte or of the color of the vestments worn that day, but at Requiem Masses the veil is purple; (4-9) Large Candlesticks for High Mass and Benediction. At a High Mass at least six candles are lighted; (10-11) Small Candlesticks for Low Mass. There are usually two but sometimes four. However, only two candles are lighted for a Low Mass said by a priest, but when a bishop says a low Mas four candles must be lighted; (12-14) Altar Cards. The Large in the center contains prayers read at the Offertory and Canon. The small one on the Epistle side has the prayers which the priest reads when washing his hands. The other small one on the Gospel side has the Gospel of St. John, usually read at the end of Mass; (15) Altar Table Coverings. One wax and three linen cloths cover the altar table. The four or top one of linen hangs down over the side of the altar to the floor; (16) Antependium or Frontal. A cloth which sometimes hangs down in front of the altar. Like the tabernacle veil, it takes the color of the Vestments; (17) Credence Table; (18) Water and Wine Cruets; (18) Finger Basin; (19) Towel; (20) Communion Paten; (21) Sedilia or Priests' Bench. (22) Bell; (23) Communion Rail."

   Now, that's how to decorate an altar and furnish a sanctuary, let me tell you.

Paragraph 309 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "The dignity of the word of God requires the church to have a place that is suitable for the proclamation of the word and is a natural focal point for the faithful during the liturgy of the word. As a rule the ambo should be stationary, not simply a movable stand. In keeping with the design of each church, it must be placed so that the ordained ministers and readers may be easily seen and heard by the faithful. The readings, responsorial psalm and the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) are proclaimed only from the ambo; it may be used also for the homily and general intercessions (prayer of the faithful). The dignity of the ambo requires that only a minister of the word should approach it. It is fitting that a new ambo be blessed before it is designated for liturgical use. This should be done according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual."

Comment and Analysis: Naturally, the priest's role of reading the Epistle and the Gradual (or the Tract) the Lesser (or Greater) Alleluia must be supplanted by another. A lay person or instituted "reader" must proclaim the Word of God as the priest listens from his presidential chair. And as the new Mass stresses the "unity" of the participants as they exercise their diverse ministries in order to realize its goal of active participation of all in attendance, the ambo must replace the pulpit. As mentioned in an earlier segment of this analysis, the pulpit was elevated above the people to remind us that we are below God. His word comes down to us from Him - and His truths are handed down to us over the course of time from Our Lord to the Apostles through Holy Mother Church. The priest is hierarchically above the laity. He has been given authority by virtue of his priestly ordination to proclaim the Word of God and explain its meaning to us. His presence in the pulpit is a reminder to us that we must submit to the authority of the Church as it is properly exercised. The stress on egalitarianism found in the new Mass, though, has resulted a Protestant ambo, replacing the pulpit and thus replacing the sense of hierarchy that should be conveyed in a church structure and in the celebration of Holy Mass.

Paragraph 310 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "The priest celebrant's chair ought to stand as a symbol of his function of presiding over the assembly and of directing prayer. Thus, the best place for the chair is at the head of the sanctuary and turned toward the people, unless the design of the building or other circumstances are an obstacle, for example, if too great a distance would interfere with communication between the priest and the gathered assembly, or if the tabernacle is positioned medially behind the altar. However, anything resembling a throne is to be avoided. It is appropriate that the chair be blessed before it is designated for liturgical use. This should be done according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual. In the same way, chairs may be placed in the sanctuary for priest concelebrants and all other priests who are present for the celebration in choir dress, but are not concelebrating. The seat for the deacon should be near that of the celebrant. However, the seats for the other ministers should be arranged so that they are clearly distinguished from the seats for clergy and, so that the ministers are easily able to fulfill the office assigned to them."

Comment and Analysis: A new liturgy demands new furniture. A priest celebrating a Low Mass in the traditional rite never sits during Holy Mass. A priest celebrating High Mass does sit when he finishes the reciting of the Gloria and the Credo as the schola continues to sing them. A priest in the traditional rite also sits as a deacon (or one serving as a deacon during Holy Mass) sings the lessons during the Easter Vigil Mass. That having been noted, GIRM calls for a novelty that is Protestant of its origin. We should not be looking at the priest and he should not be looking at us. Our focus must be on the unbloody re-presentation of Our Lord's Sacrifice to the Father in Spirit and in Truth. The priest is not a "presider," he is the sacerdos, the alter Christus. A presidential chair conveys equality of station with the "other ministers" and the faithful. It also conveys passivity, that the priest is not integral to the Mass except to recite the "words of the institution." This is all quite insidious, especially when one considers the invasion of the laity into the holy of holies that is the sanctuary.

Paragraph 311 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "The places for the faithful should be arranged with care so that they are able to take their rightful part in the celebration visually and mentally. As a rule, there should be benches or chairs for their use. But the custom of reserving seats for private persons must be abolished. Especially in newly built churches, however, benches or chairs should be set up in such a way that the people can easily take the postures required during various parts of the celebration and have unimpeded access to receive communion. The faithful must be enabled not only to see the priest, the deacon and the readers but also, with the aid of modern sound equipment, to hear them without difficulty."

Comment and Analysis: Once again, there is much ambiguity in this part of GIRM, enough ambiguity to permit liturgical wreckovators to build churches in the round and to remove kneelers (which might be considered as impeding the people's access to receive communion). GIRM seems to believe that a person has not attended Mass and fulfilled his Sunday obligation if he does not "see" the priest and "the other ministers" eyeball to eyeball. John Calvin and John Wesley and John Knox and Ulrich Zwingli would be very proud of the authors of GIRM.

Paragraph 312 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "In relation to the design of each church, the schola cantorum should be so placed that its character as a part of the assembly of the faithful that has a special function stands out clearly. The location should also assist the exercise of the duties of the schola cantorum and allow each member of the choir complete, that is, sacramental participation in the Mass."

Comment and Analysis: Again, this is subject to so much interpretation as to be absolutely meaningless. What this paragraphs seems to say is that it is GIRM's preference for members of the choir or schola cantorum to be visible to the people, positioned reasonably near the altar so that they do not have to descend from a choir loft to receive Holy Communion, and to "feel" involved in the Mass by their physical proximity to the "action." Although it does not forbid the choir loft, the impression is certainly given here that it is one of those relics from the past that is best replaced by some innovative arrangement. And it is the case that most of the newer churches place the musicians and the singers in full view of the faithful. This is no accident, and it is certainly not forbidden by GIRM. Indeed, such an arragement appears to be the true intent of this paragraph.

Paragraph 313 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "The organ and other lawfully approved musical instruments are to be placed suitably in such a way that they can sustain the singing of the choir and congregation and be heard by all with ease when they are played alone. It is appropriate that the organ be blessed before its designation for liturgical use. This should be done according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual. During Advent the organ and other musical instruments may be used with moderation, corresponding to the character of the season, but should not anticipate the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord. During Lent the use of the organ and musical instruments is permitted for accompanying sustained singing. Nevertheless, exceptions are made for Laetare Sunday (the fourth Sunday of Lent), for solemnities and feast days."

Comment and Analysis: What's wrong about placing the organ in the choir loft or some other place not visible to the congregation? Can't an organ produce music loud enough to be heard throughout a church without it being visible to the faithful gathered for Mass? And what are the "other lawfully approved musical instruments" not specified by GIRM? Guitars? Electric guitars for "rock" or "folk" Masses? Tambourines? Native American drums? Electronic keyboards and synthesizers? Pianos? What this seemingly innocuous paragraph does is to give carte blanche for the national episcopal conferences to authorize thoroughly profane and therefore inappropriate instruments into churches as a means of realizing the multicultural goals of inculturation of the liturgy.

Paragraph 314 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    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 which is noble, worthy, conspicuous, well decorated and suitable for prayer. As a rule, there should be only one tabernacle, immovable, made of solid and unbreakable material and not transparent, and locked so that the danger of desecration is avoided as much as possible. Moreover, it is suitable that the tabernacle be blessed, before it is considered for liturgical use, according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual."

Comment and Analysis: Here we go, folks. Neoconservatives have been shedding blood over this issue for over thirty years. GIRM merely repeats here what is found in Pope Paul VI's encyclical letter on the Mystery of the Eucharist (1968). No one has figured out exactly what this means, though, which is quite an indication of the harm done by ambiguity of language (which is chosen as a means of cloaking an abandonment of tradition). It has been the tradition of the Catholic Church, with a very few exceptions, that the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the middle of the high altar in a church. Additionally, it has been the tradition of the Church that it is appropriate in some instances for there to be more than one tabernacle with the Most Blessed Sacrament reserved in it. Indeed, this is the case in the Basilica of Saint Peter and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington (which has tabernacles in a chapel in the Upper Church as well as in the back of the Crypt Church).

   The key part of Paragraph 314 is this: that the tabernacle be located in a "part of the church which is noble, worthy, conspicuous, well decorated and suitable for prayer." Many liturgists will claim that the situation of the tabernacle in the middle of the sanctuary is not a suitable place for prayer. After all, the nave of the Church is for the community meal, for fellowship, for small talk before, during and after the "liturgy." Out of respect for the Blessed Sacrament, these liturgists argue, tabernacles should be located in a room entirely separated from the nave of a church, thereby facilitating private prayer. What they really want, as we know, is to remove Our Lord from view so that no one can claim that talking and backslapping are out of place in the nave of the Church, as well as to signify that Our Lord's reserved Presence is not the focal point of our prayer while in church. The focal point of prayer is the community gathered around the table. The next paragraph, which is again merely a verbatim restatement of Vatican documents, merely adds to the confusion and ambiguity.

Paragraph 315 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "It is more in keeping with its meaning as a sign, that the tabernacle in which the Most Blessed Sacrament is reserved not be on the altar on which Mass is celebrated. Morever, 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 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."

Comment and Analysis: It's all up to the local bishop. If your bishop is Will Bill Higi in Lafayete, Indiana, off to the side the tabernacle will go. If your bishop is Raymond Burke in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, or Fabian Bruskewitz in Lincoln, Nebraska, or Thomas Doran in Rockford, Illinois, then the tabernacle can stay in the middle if it is there already. If your bishop is Roger Cardinal Mahony, well, need I say any more? The fact that this battle for the placement of the tabernacle in the middle of a church has to be fought at all is another damning feature of the new Mass and GIRM. In the Mass of tradition, with a few rare exceptions here and there, the tabernacle was in the middle of the altar of sacrifice. And that is where it belongs. Period. End of argument. Again, how much time has been spent pleading for that which should be in the first place? As Archbishop Sheen noted in the 1970s, "It would take Our Lady of Saint Joseph more than three days to find Our Lord in some of our churches." Sadly, this is truer now than it was thirty years ago.

Paragraph 316 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "According to received custom, a designated lamp should burn continuously near the tabernacle, fed either by oil or wax, through which the presence of Christ is both indicated and honored."

Comment and Analysis: What is the reason for this "received custom?" Father Lasance provides the answer not given in this paragraph:

    "In honor of Jesus Christ, a lamp burns perpetually before the altar. The Christian soul longs to be consumed by gratitude and love. In heaven alone will this happiness be given to us, but here below, as an expression of our devout desires, we place a lamp in the sanctuary to take our place. In this little light St. Augustine shows us an image of the three Christian virtues. Its clearness is faith, which enlightens our mind; its warmth is love, which fills our heart; its flame, which, trembling and agitated, mounts upward till it finds rest in its center, is hope, with its aspirations toward heaven, and its troubles outside of God. May our heart watch in the sanctuary under the eye of God! During the labors of the day nothing is easier than to fly there in thought, to offer to Jesus Christ our pain, our weariness, our actions. At night let us place ourselves at the feet of Jesus, and say: While I sleep I wish to love Thee and bless Thee always; her would I take my rest. If many Christians were faithful to this pious practice it would not be merely a faint and solitary lamp which would illumine the holy place, but thousands of hearts would shed there their sparkling rays of light."

   A liturgy which leaves out so much winds up being explained with words that leave out so much beauty and love.

Paragraph 317 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "None of the other things prescribed according to the norm of law concerning the reservation of the Most Blessed Sacrament should be forgotten."

Comment and Analysis: This paragraph actually cites a 1938 document issued by the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments, Nullo umquam tempore. Part of that document deals with the frequency of changing the Host in the lunette, which is used for solemn Exposition. While GIRM says that "none of the other things. . .should be forgotten," the simple truth is that the new Mass makes it easy to forget the norm of law concerning the reservation of the Most Blessed Sacrament. And the indiscriminate access given to lay people to open tabernacles and take out consecrated Hosts to distribute to the faithful who are at home or in hospitals has itself undermined the priesthood and the reverence due the Blessed Sacrament.

Paragraph 318 of G.I.R.M. reads as follows:

    "In the earthly liturgy, the Church participates in a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy, which is celebrated in the holy city, Jerusalem, towards which she tends as a pilgrim and where Christ sits at the right hand of God. By so venerating the memory of the saints, the Church hopes for some small part and company with them. And so, in keeping with the Church's very ancient tradition, images of the Lord, the Virgin Mary, and the saints may be displayed in sacred buildings for the veneration of the faithful, and may be so arranged that they guide the faithful to the mysteries of the faith which are celebrated there. For this reason, care should be taken that their number not be increased indiscriminately, and that they are situated in such a way that they do distract the faithful's attention from the celebration. There is to be only one image of any given saint as a rule. In general, the devotion of the entire community as well as the beauty and dignity of the images are to be the criteria for their adornment and arrangement in a church."

Comment and Analysis: If anything has been accomplished by the past thirty years of unprecedented liturgical revolution in the Catholic Church, it has been the abandonment of statues and other images of the Blessed Mother and the other saints. Not only have high altars been smashed and tabernacles sold for their gold value, beautiful statues, which were enhancements, not distractions, to worship, have been thrown out in the trash. Pope Pius XII saw this coming, warning in Mediator Dei about those who would throw out our statues in the name of "simplicity." It is assumed all too gratuitously by GIRM that the presence in a church of a great variety of statues is "indiscriminate" and therefore an impediment to worship. Bishops and priests hostile to tradition and to the personal piety of the faithful have run with this provision of GIRM.

   Finally, for all the discussion of the Mass as a foretaste of heavenly glories (which it is), the Church does not have to wait until then for the company of the Blessed Mother and all of the other saints in the Church Triumphant (as well as the souls of the Church Suffering in Purgatory). They are all gathered around the altar every time the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered at the hands of ordained priest. Their representation by means of statues and stained glass windows and works of art enhance the glories of the Mass, not detract from the community's "worship experience."

Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.

For past installments of G.I.R.M. Warfare in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Dr. Droleskey, see Archives

MAY 2003
volume 14, no. 28
The Germs of G.I.R.M.

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