Blessed Sacrament Under Glass

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Blessed Sacrament Under Glass

ROME, 25 AUG. 2009 (ZENIT)

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q1: I was visiting a retreat center recently in which there is a small Blessed Sacrament chapel in one of the rooms in the guesthouse. In the chapel the Eucharist is present but not housed in a tabernacle (at least in the traditional sense). Instead, a ciborium is kept under what appears to be a small upside-down glass vase. I found this troubling and mentioned it, but several months later when I returned it was the same situation. It seems careless that anyone can visit the chapel at any hour, and (if they wanted to) walk up and take the Eucharist at any time. Is there a clear instruction on the proper keeping of the Eucharist , and what constitutes a tabernacle? — J.C., Toronto

Q2: What is the proper order for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at the end of the Mass? Should the Mass be finished first and then expose the Blessed Sacrament? Where could we find some ideas for the order of procession of the Blessed Sacrament again after Mass? — A.R., Fullerton, California

A: Since both questions are related to the Eucharist I will briefly address them.

First of all, the norms regarding the structure of the tabernacle are found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 314:

"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 that is truly noble, prominent, readily visible, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer.

"The one tabernacle should be immovable, be made of solid and inviolable material that is not transparent, and be locked in such a way that the danger of profanation is prevented to the greatest extent possible. Moreover, it is appropriate that, before it is put into liturgical use, it be blessed according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual."

The tabernacle described by our reader certainly failed to adhere to this norm on several counts. It was apparently neither opaque nor immovable. I suggest that our reader inform the bishop of the diocese where the retreat house is found, as his permission is required to have a chapel and it falls under his direct supervision.

A sterling resource for the themes of exposition, adoration, and Eucharistic processions can be found in Monsignor (now bishop) Peter J. Elliott's "Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite," published by Ignatius Press. This book effectively synthesizes several official sources such as the Roman Ritual for Eucharistic Worship Outside of Mass and the Ceremonial of Bishops. There are also many other recent publications that give ideas for suitable hymns and texts that may be used during adoration and processions. An excellent resource online is found at

Based on Monsignor Elliott's work we can say the following regarding the question about exposition at the end of Mass:

While Mass may never be celebrated before the Blessed Sacrament exposed ("in the same area of the church or oratory" where the host is exposed), exposition and adoration may commence immediately after a Mass. This action should be seen to flow from the Eucharistic liturgy; therefore, a host consecrated at that Mass should be exposed immediately after Communion.

The Prayer after Communion is said at the chair. The final blessing and dismissal are omitted. After reciting the Prayer after Communion the celebrant, deacon(s) and ministers line up in front of the altar, genuflect and then kneel while a suitable hymn of adoration is sung. The Blessed Sacrament is incensed as usual for exposition. After the incensation and a brief moment of silent prayer, all genuflect and return to the sacristy. The final hymn of the Mass is omitted.

Devotions may immediately follow the incensation (before the celebrants return to the sacristy), but Benediction is not to be given immediately after Mass.

The recommendation that the host for exposition be consecrated at the Mass refers above all to occasional periods of adoration. This would not be practical in places having daily or perpetual adoration. In this case it is probably better for the priest to finish Mass as normal, return to the sacristy, remove the chasuble and then return to expose the Blessed Sacrament.

* * *

Follow-up: Blessed Sacrament Under Glass [9-8-2009]

Related to our Aug. 25 reply on the "Eucharist under glass" were a couple of other questions on file. A Wisconsin reader asked: "How does the Church address 'Eucharistic adoration on demand'? Our parish has an adoration chapel. Viewing and adoring the Eucharist can be done by anyone by opening two small windows in the tabernacle doors; the tabernacle doors remain locked and only the host is in view. This practice seems to trivialize the majesty of God. Is this practice liturgically correct?"

A Chicago correspondent added: "A generous soul donated a glass 'tabernacle' to an adoration chapel. The (very expensive) gift was accepted and now stands on the altar in the adoration chapel. It is left unattended for long periods of time, with monstrance and consecrated host inside, behind the glass. In the first place, am I correct in assuming that glass is an improper material for a tabernacle? If so, can the problem be corrected by using a curtain or veil to cover the 'tabernacle' when the chapel is empty?"

To the first question we can reply that exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is linked with an intense form of adoration. This entails a proper exposition, a certain fixed period of time in which the Eucharist is never left alone, and concluded by reserving the sacrament in a formal manner, preferably after Benediction has been given.

The situation described is clearly not adoration as desired by the Church. In fact, this practice contains a real danger of undermining adoration of the Lord present in the closed tabernacle. It appears to give the message that the only real adoration is of the Blessed Sacrament exposed, which is simply false.

This does not mean that this form of tabernacle with a window cannot be used for exposition. This possibility exists in some cases but only if the conditions mentioned above (not leaving the Blessed Sacrament alone, etc.) are fulfilled.

The second situation is slightly different. If this "glass tabernacle" can be considered as a protection for the monstrance during periods of public adoration, then it could be admitted.

However, it would be contrary to the norms if a transparent tabernacle is left unattended. Covering it with a veil when there is no public adoration would be a solution only if it were unbreakable glass that would make violation of the tabernacle very difficult.

I suggest, therefore, that it should be used only as a kind of protective throne to the monstrance during solemn adoration and that a proper solid tabernacle be obtained for the habitual reserve.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
© Innovative Media, Inc.

ZENIT International News Agency
Via della Stazione di Ottavia, 95
00165 Rome, Italy

To subscribe
or email: with SUBSCRIBE in the "subject" field