The General Instruction on the Roman Missal

The General Instruction on the Roman Missal was published, together with the New Order of Mass, by the Sacred Congregation of Rites on 6 April 1969. This Instruction was to replace the preliminary material in the existing Missal of St. Pius V, i.e., rubrics, defects to be avoided, etc. The General Instruction, like the other documents we have been examining, had been approved by Pope Paul VI in forma communi, but subsequent events made it clear that the Pope either had not seen the instruction or had done no more than glance through it, before approving its publication. It seems that he had ordered Father Bugnini to submit it to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for examination, but that Father Bugnini had disobeyed him. 11 The Instruction contained 341 articles, some of which were so flagrantly opposed to Tradition that they provoked immediate scandal among the faithful, and were condemned in a document endorsed by Cardinal Ottaviani, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. 12 This criticism was so well-founded that the Pope had no option but to order an immediate and thorough revision of the Instruction. The document listing the corrections and amendments needed over thirty pages to include them all. 13 The deficiencies of the Instruction lie outside the scope of this pamphlet, but the fact that it had to be corrected so quickly and so radically provides a salutary lesson for those who claim that it is disloyal to criticize any document approved by the Pope. Such people, particularly bishops who are aware of the fact that approval informa communi does not even guarantee that the Pope has read the document, invoke the emotive concept of papal authority as a dishonest ploy to divert the attention of the faithful from the unCatholic nature of much post-conciliar legislation.

We shall consider the General Instruction here only insofar as it refers to the position of the tabernacle. It does so in n. 276. The official ICEL translation of the original article contained two sentences:

1. It is highly recommended that the Holy Eucharist be reserved in a chapel suitable for private prayer.
2. If this is impossible because of the structure of the church or local custom, it should be kept on an altar or other place in the church that is prominent and properly decorated.

The words "and adoration" were added to the first sentence in the revised version published in 1970. A reference is provided for both these sentences. The reference is provided for both these sentences. The reference for the first sentences is, of course, n. 53 of Eucharisticum mysterium, which has just been cited, recommending that the tabernacle should be placed in a separate chapel. The man responsible for Eucharisticum mysterium and the General Instruction was, of course, Father Bugnini. He introduced this recommendation that the tabernacle should be in a chapel separate from the high altar without a reference in the first document, because there was no precedent for such an outrageous suggestion. In the second document he had the temerity to quote himself as his own authority. As I explained earlier, an instruction contrary to existing legislation in a document which the Pope had approved only in forma communi can be regarded as ultra vires and disregarded. However, there is no need to take this step as once again there is no command. Article 276 of the General Instruction does not command that the Blessed Sacrament must be reserved in a private chapel, it only recommends that is should be. It was thus unnecessary for Msgr. Kearney even to cite Canon Law, Mysterium Fidei, or Inter oecumenici to justify retaining the tabernacle on the high altar as the General Instruction did not command that it should be

Sentence two contains two references in the footnotes. Sadly, very few priests would even have taken the trouble to glance at these footnotes, let alone verify them. The references mention two documents: Eucharisticum mysterium, n. 54 and Inter oecumenici, n. 95. Inter oecumenici, n. 95 has already been quoted in full, and it has also been explained that it is reproduced exactly in Eucharisticum mysterium, n. 54, so in point of fact we are referred twice to the same statement. When we compare sentence two with the text to which the footnote refers us, the temerity of Father Bugnini can only be described as breathtaking. It might be more appropriate to describe the manner in which he has manipulated the text as the most arrogant form of insolence. He has, in fact, made sentence two of Article 276 say the opposite of Inter oecumenici, n. 95, which he cites as his authority! This article states, as the reader can plainly see, that the tabernacle must be in the center of the high altar unless local custom dictates otherwise. Father Bugnini reverses this to state that it should only be placed on an altar if the structure of the church or local custom makes it impossible to locate it in a separate chapel. What is most depressing is the fact that not only did he think that he could get away with this, he actually did!

However, in reaching our final conclusion on legislation concerning the situation of the tabernacle, let us disregard the dubious background of Father Bugnini, let us disregard the fact that he was assisted by Protestant advisers, let us forget the fact that the documents we have cited are not Pontifical Laws involving the fullness of papal authority. Let us take the General Instruction at its face value, let us presume that it is a binding papal document. In this case would it oblige Msgr. Kearney to remove his tabernacle from the high altar? By no means. As we have seen, sentence one of n. 276 does no more than recommend placing the tabernacle in a separate chapel; and as regards sentence two, Msgr. Kearney could claim without any possible fear of contradiction that the local custom in his parish was to keep the tabernacle in a place of honor upon the high altar as demanded by Canon Law, and in conformity with the clearly expressed wishes of Pope Pius XII in his address to the Liturgical Congress in 1956, and of Pope Paul VI in his Encyclical Mysterium Fidei in 1965.

It should also be noted that n. 95 of Inter oecumenici instructed that if the tabernacle is not situated in the center of the high altar, it must be situated in "a very special place, having the nobility about it, and it must be suitably decorated". If Bishop Sullivan and Fitzsimmons of Kansas City claim that the squalid brick pedestal upon which the tabernacle has been placed in the Church of Christ the King fits this description, then their talent for manipulating texts is equivalent to that of Archbishop Bugnini!

An Objection Answered

Before leaving the subject of the tabernacle I would like to answer in argument which is sometimes used to justify demoting it from its position of honor on the high altar. When the faithful complain about the perpetration of such an outrage in their own parish, they will often be referred to a well-known church such as Westminster Cathedral in London, where the Blessed Sacrament has always been reserved in a separate chapel. As we have seen, such a situation was allowed for in Canon Law, and was normally due to the fact that the sanctuary was used regularly for the choral office. But there is no valid comparison between a situation where there has always been a Blessed Sacrament Chapel to the demotion of the Blessed Sacrament from what Pope Paul described as "the Most distinguished position" in Mysterium Fidei. The Concise Oxford Dictionary, defines "demote" as "reduce to a lower rank or class". There is thus every justification for using the verb "demote" to describe the removal of the tabernacle from the high altar to a separate chapel, let alone to a squalid brick pedestal. What we can say about the priest, cited earlier, who claimed that this act of barbarism in the Church of Christ the King represented placing the tabernacle in "a clearer place of honor", I cannot imagine. It is probably more charitable not to say anything.

Conclusion Concerning the Tabernacle

We are now in a position to pass a balanced judgment on the startling claim by Msgr. Kearney. His reason for refusing to remove his tabernacle from the high altar in the Church of Christ the King was as follows:

"It should have happened in every other parish," he declared. "The people were brainwashed and lied to when they were told we have to make these changes and that the Pope wanted the tabernacle removed." The mystery is not why Christ the King didn't do it, but why the others did!

"The priests were also misled into believing that the changes were inevitable and necessary, but when we started investigating we found that these things were not mandatory." (my emphasis)

A spokesman for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph attempted to refute Msgr. Kearney by pointing out that he was in a minority of one among the priests of the diocese. This may well have been true, but although in a minority of one, Msgr. Kearney was correct, and his detractors wrong. He thus finds himself in the excellent company of St. Athanasius and St. John Fisher. We can state with absolute certainty that, even in the confused atmosphere of the Conciliar Church, there is no mandatory legislation emanating from Rome at any level commanding a parish priest to remove the tabernacle from the high altar of his church. How ironic it is that priests who refuse to remove their tabernacles from the high altar are themselves removed from their parishes. Thus speaks the Conciliar Church!

11. See Pope Paul's New Mass, P. 506.
12. See Pope Paul's New Mass, Chapter XXIII.
13. See Pope Paul's New Mass, Chapter XIII.

Emphasis in bold, that of the Web Master.

BACK----------Contact Us-----------FORWARD

HOME            |            HOLY EUCHARIST