and the Second Vatican Council
This condemnation of Pope Pius XII was aimed at an influential faction within the hitherto papally approved liturgical movement. Pope Pius did not hesitate to denounce in the strongest possible terms certain theories and practices promoted by this faction: "false, dangerous, pernicious, a wicked movement, a false doctrine that distorts the Catholic notion of faith itself." One of the pernicious theses it promoted was that the impact of the Sacrifice of the Mass was lessened if Our Lord were already present in a tabernacle upon the altar. But in an address to a liturgical congress in Assisi in 1956, this great Pope warned that their true motivation was to lessen esteem "for the presence and action of Christ in the tabernacle." He insisted, correctly, that "To separate tabernacle from altar is to separate two things which by their origin and nature should remain united." If this was true in 1956, it is still true today. It is to be regretted that one of the post-conciliar documents has actually suggested that "it is more in keeping with the nature of the celebration" not to have the Blessed Sacrament reserved on the altar from the beginning of Mass. [Eucharisticum Mysterium, Instruction of the Sacred Congregation of Rites on the Eucharistic Mystery, May 25, 1967, par. 55.]
There is not one word requiring the demoting of the tabernacle in any document of the Second Vatican Council. The tabernacle is referred to in a passage of Article 128 which says that ecclesiastical laws governing liturgical externals should be revised as soon as possible, in accord with the revised liturgy. Such laws were to be amended, abolished, retained, or introduced if lacking. These laws included those relating to "the nobility, placing, and security of the Eucharistic tabernacle."
As noted earlier, this passage provides a typical example of what Cardinal Heenan warned against, that is, the manner in which the liturgical experts inserted phrases into the Liturgy Constitution which they could interpret after the Council in a manner that neither Pope John nor the Council Fathers suspected could possibly happen. Every Catholic must be concerned with "the nobility, placing, and security" of the tabernacle. The bishops could not possibly have suspected the demotion of our Eucharistic Saviour to a little box perched on a pillar in an out-of-the-way corner of the church, or literally in an obscure hole in the wall. How correct Msgr. Gamber was in insisting that the reform that has emerged "would not have been endorsed by the majority of the Council Fathers."
The first reference to the tabernacle in a document subsequent to the Liturgy Constitution occurs in the 1964 First Instruction on the Liturgy [Inter Oecumenici]. As this document was published less than a year after the Liturgy Constitution and while the Council was still in session, it must certainly represent the thinking of the Council Fathers. Article 95 of the document reads:
It is thus beyond dispute that neither the teaching of the Liturgy Constitution nor the first two authoritative documents that deal with the sanctuary-----both published while the Council was still in session-----envisage the tabernacle being anywhere but in the center of the high altar or of another very distinguished altar, as the norm, except where it is already situated elsewhere by legitimate local custom.
It could be claimed with some justification that there are directives and recommendations in subsequent documents of the Holy See which authorize the moving of the tabernacle, but no requirement of Vatican II can be invoked to support them. The first of these documents is the Instruction Eucharisticum Mysterium, which appeared in 1967, two years after the closing of the Council. Cardinal Heenan has been quoted to the effect that the Council Fathers did not suspect that the experts who drafted the Liturgy Constitution were planning to introduce changes far more radical than those the Council Fathers had intended. Article 53 of this document provides another typical example of the technique adopted by these experts after the Council. The article is in two parts, which will be examined separately. The first reads:
But as well as being misleading, this Instruction is also self-contradictory. The very next article, No. 54, reads:
This, of course, is the rule laid down in the First Instruction.
What sort of legislation are we faced with when one paragraph recommends that as a rule the tabernacle should be placed in a chapel distinct from the center of the church and the very next stipulates that, as a rule, it must be situated on the high altar or another very distinguished altar?
Article 276 of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, citing Eucharisticum Mysterium as its source, repeats the recommendation of this document that the Blessed Sacrament be reserved in a chapel suited to private adoration and prayer. But the same article states specifically that the structure of the church or legitimate local custom ["juxta legitimas locorum consuetudines "] can provide reasons for not doing this.There are cathedrals, such as Westminster Cathedral in London [where the Office is sung in choir each day], where the Blessed Sacrament has always been reserved in a separate chapel. But in a cathedral or church where the tabernacle has always been placed upon the high altar-----a practice praised and commended by Pope Pius XII and Pope Paul VI-----to move it from this central place of honor can only be seen as a demotion of the Blessed Sacrament.