Thursday, August 14, 2008

I think I've landed on what personally bothers me the most about having the tabernacle someplace other than directly in front of (or behind?) the high altar.

I'm not 100% opposed to putting it somewhere else; in small prayer groups, it's nice to be able to get closer to the Sacrament in repose, especially if wandering back and forth in the sanctuary would be disruptive or distracting to others. There might be a canonical solution that can meet this need, as it were, without architecturally denigrating the Eucharist, but I don't know enough about the subject to feel motivated to speculate right now. Or maybe I just don't feel motivated to speculate, but really, I don't know what rules there are that regulate these matters.

Anyway, I just got home from, among other things, attending the vigil mass of the Assumption at one of the churches in town. They have their tabernacle in a niche near the front, visible from most places in the pews, where in older churches of that size you might have found a side altar. I got there early, so I had many opportunities to see people coming and going between the sanctuary, the sacristy, and the music area on the far side of the tabernacle.

What I noticed is that, while people did bow toward the main altar, no one seemed to notice the tabernacle at all.

I'm not saying they should be making some superstitiously repetitive gesture every time they turn or move a little towards it, but more than once I saw people cross the sanctuary, venerate the altar, go to the side podium to rearrange the sheet music or whatever, and then turn around, venerate the altar again, and leave.

Hey! Jesus was right behind you! The altar's just a blessed piece of wood with a relic stone in it!

Maybe this is just habitual neglect peculiar to this church; I don't see side tabernacles get ignored everywhere I find one. Still, it's natural to focus one's attention on things that are placed prominently. When I was young, I used to wonder which I was supposed to venerate if I happened to find myself between the altar and the tabernacle, but then someone explained it to me. These people weren't children, of course, but with Jesus physically moved out of the way, it's easier for Him to be mentally moved out of the way, too, and for little more than the opportunity to put a floral arrangement behind the crucifix mounted above where the high altar would have been.

Maybe the time is ripe for a corollary to Lex orandi, lex credendi: lex aedifici, lex credendi.