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Tabernacle Back Where It Belongs

Renovations at the Cathedral of St. Mary in Fargo North Dakota include moving the tabernacle back from the side altar to the center of the sanctuary and adding a communion rail.

“In my mind, we’re putting the blessed sacrament back where it should have been in the first place,” said John Herlick, vice chairman of the St. Mary’s parish council.

Many churches moved their tabernacles to a side location or a separate chapel after the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. Now some are moving it back.

Carpenters, painters and electricians are currently hard at work on the renovation project of the altar area. The changes include a new pulpit and railings in front, an extension of the marble floor by the altar, moving the tabernacle to the center of the rear wall behind the altar and moving the bishop’s chair to the left side of the altar.

Of the tabernacle movement, Rev. Chad Wilhelm, rector of St. Mary’s said: “It’s the center of our faith,” said the . “I’ve had nothing but people very, very overjoyed about (moving it to the center).”

Total costs will be about $200,000, Wilhelm said. It’s paid for out of a renovation fund started from the estate of Cardinal Aloisius Muench, who was bishop of the diocese from 1935 to 1946.

The construction completes an extensive refurbishing done in 1996. It also is a prelude to further renovations on the south side of the 108-year-old cathedral in the next five years.

Wilhelm said this project will create a more accessible entrance, with an improved elevator and bathrooms on the main floor. The project may also include adding a chapel for perpetual adoration of the Eucharist.

“It brings pride to the people when things are kept up and clean and cared for,” Wilhelm said. “It’s God’s temple, but it’s their church home.”

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15 comments:

David L Alexander said...

"Back where it belongs." Not necessarily.

Traditionally, the Blessed Sacrament was kept in a separate chapel in cathedrals, basilicas, and shrines where great numbers of pilgrims were expected. This would have been common in Europe. Indeed, the Ceremonial for the traditional Mass calls for a tabernacle to be empty on an altar where a bishop celebrates the Mass. In any case, the custom is not as common in North America, since many cathedrals started out as regular parish churches before their elevation. In addition, some American bishops in the 19th century -- St John Neumann in Philadelphia comes to mind -- wanted to reinforce Eucharistic devotion amongst the faithful in a hostile Protestant environment.

Anonymous said...

Dont get cute the Bishops of the last 40 years didnt put it in a side chapel for that reason they wanted to downplay GOD and put community first.

David L Alexander said...

I wasn't being cute. I was stating an historical fact. They were "putting it in side chapels" up until forty years ago, for the reason I stated. Such criterion would have applied in all cases then, and it would apply now. I don't pretend to know the intentions of each and every bishop who has done it lately.

frival said...

Historically many European cathedrals did not (and continue to not) have pews. It does not follow, however, that this is necessarily superior to the subsequent addition of pews to more modern churches. The pews were not just added for convenience but also have a theological and liturgical purpose which has only unfolded over time.

The rationale behind the Ceremonial calling for an empty tabernacle on an altar where a Bishop celebrates Mass is entirely orthogonal to the question of its proper location. I would venture that it likely ties to the ancient tradition of the Bishop celebrating the first Mass of the Sunday and pieces of the Eucharist confected at that Mass then being taken to the churches in that Diocese as a symbol of unity. There's probably more to it, but this is a combox not a place for a deeper investigation.

David L Alexander said...

"The pews were not just added for convenience but also have a theological and liturgical purpose which has only unfolded over time."

Before that time they were more common among our Protestant neighbors. At least in America. Interesting comparison, though; tabernacles and pews.

"[T]his is a combox not a place for a deeper investigation."

Oh??? I found your own explanation an illuminating reminder of my earlier reading. I could be served by more.

Even here.

frival said...

You're quite right, David. I just have a habit of writing far more than is useful so I'm trying to curb that tendency. I shall endeavor to look into this issue some more as it's very near to my heart. And besides, it may be an excuse to buy more books!

David L Alexander said...

Frival:

Try not to "curb that tendency" too much. Whoever you are, you're a good sport.

Anonymous said...

D L Alexander is exagerating. Those Cathedrals and Basilicas that have the sacrament in a side chapel are usually very large. Much much bigger than the cathedral in North Dakota. I would point out that all medieval parish churches in England had the Sacrament located at the point where all the lines of perspective converge in a church that is above the altar. Even if they used a hanging pyx. The problem with moving the Sacrament to a side altar or even in the sacristy (it has been done) is that the focal point is gone. That Americans bishops and liturgist were so puffed up as to even make the changed in the 1970s is symptomatic of the novelty they frequently embrace before looking to see how ugly it is.

Anonymous said...

D L Alexander is exagerating. Those Cathedrals and Basilicas that have the sacrament in a side chapel are usually very large. Much much bigger than the cathedral in North Dakota. I would point out that all medieval parish churches in England had the Sacrament located at the point where all the lines of perspective converge in a church that is above the altar. Even if they used a hanging pyx. The problem with moving the Sacrament to a side altar or even in the sacristy (it has been done) is that the focal point is gone. That Americans bishops and liturgist were so puffed up as to even make the changed in the 1970s is symptomatic of the novelty they frequently embrace before looking to see how ugly it is.

Anonymous said...

I forgot..there is another problem. No one turns there back on anyone important. Combine the tabernacle with facing East and the Priest's facing in that direction while standing before the altar is powerful means of "turning to the Lord".

David L Alexander said...

"D L Alexander is exagerating. Those Cathedrals and Basilicas that have the sacrament in a side chapel are usually very large."

In order to exaggerate, I would have to have made reference to scale. I did not. I made reference to the type of church it is. Size is irrelevant.

"I would point out that all medieval parish churches in England had the Sacrament located at the point where all the lines of perspective converge..."

I would point out that I was not referring to parish churches.

"The problem with moving the Sacrament to a side altar or even in the sacristy (it has been done) is that the focal point is gone."

True, but this did not apply to cathedrals and basilicas, for the reasons I mentioned.

David L Alexander said...

"I forgot..there is another problem. No one turns there back on anyone important."

...which in a cathedral is the bishop on his cathedra.

Patrick Archbold said...

Yeah! Size is irrelevant! I like that argument! ;-)

chad.wilhelm said...

The blessed Sacrament back in the prominent place in our Cathedral has brought back a deeper reverence in our people. And no one can argue with that fact. Fr. Wilhelm

David L Alexander said...

An observation can be, but is not necessarily, a fact. History, by its very definition, must be.

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