Monday 24 January 2011

The Significance of Genuflections and the Tabernacle

GOR made an interesting comment after the post on the significance of genuflections and other gestures about how we now mostly acknowledge the presence of the Lord in the tabernacle with a bow rather than a genuflection during Mass. Going with this is the idea that somehow Christ is "more" present in the Blessed Sacrament on the altar than He is in the tabernacle, - a dynamic and a static presence, I think I've heard it called. I cannot see how this can be theologically possible. Those who follow this quirky theology, are then driven to place the tabernacle somewhere less important - away at the side or in another chapel.

Priest trapped between Our Lord behind him in the tabernacle
and in front of him
on the altar

While the instructions do indeed suggest that it is possible to reserve the Blessed Sacrament away from the main altar in a church, I think this really envisages places where a great many people pass through (like Cathedrals and historic churches) and cathedrals (where the bishop's presence represents Christ to us). I've no objection to this - but the documents do say a side chapel - in other words, something like the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in Westminster Cathedral - NOT a pillar or stand away at the side of the main sanctuary. (By the way, these are so often not even practical, as there is usually not enough space on the shelf/table in front of them to use when the Blessed Sacrament is being placed in or taken out of the tabernacle.) Incidentally, there is a tradition of Blessed Sacrament towers at the side of sanctuaries but these are not the plant-pot stands we so often see today.

In other words, it should look like this..

And not like this...
The other drive to side-lining the Lord's presence is that when the priest goes to the other side of the altar and offers Mass "facing the people", he then has his back to the tabernacle - a position I find very uncomfortable and odd. The answer, of course, is not to place the priest front and centre thereby side-lining the Lord but to turn and face him, so that the priest is then at the front of God's people leading them towards Heaven. This means that when he genuflects at Mass towards the transformed elements on the altar, he is not at the same time ignoring the existing consecrated species in the tabernacle.


Anonymous said...

Our parish uses a freestanding altar like that (but a little farther away from the high altar/tabernacle) for weekday Masses. The celebrant and server genuflect facing the tabernacle on the way in from the sacristy before Mass and on the way out after Mass. During Mass, genuflexions are made to the Blessed Sacrament on the (freestanding) altar at the appropriate moments.

David O'Neill said...

Looking forward to an equally forthright sermon at Thornley next month!
Regarding genuflections, it is understandable that many laity do not properly acknowledge the Real Presence in the tabernacle when religious sisters (& some priests) give a simple - & perfunctory - nod in the general direction of the tabernacle. I attend a convent Mass (OF) every week. Father says a Mass with which I can agree insofar as he follows the rubrics, uses the correct prayers (no making up on the spot or paraphrasing) & yet the sisters - young & old - do not genuflect.

GOR said...

Exactly, Father! I hadn’t heard the terms ‘dynamic’ and ‘static’ in this context, but it would explain the attitude of some in the post-Vat II years. In a mistaken effort to put more emphasis on the Mass – and the Mass as the ‘community meal’ rather than Sacrifice - there was a move to de-emphasize the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass.

The impression was given by some reformers that Reservation was merely an accretion that grew up over the years and should be either done away with completely or downplayed. Hence the aversion to Benediction and Adoration. This was just a ‘popular piety’ that grew up over time. We were supposed to ‘get back to our roots’ – presumably meaning that in Apostolic times this would have been unheard of, and probably was, though even the Fathers spoke about reserving the Eucharist for the sick.

But this attitude ignored hundreds of years of faith in, devotion to, and respect for the Eucharist and the development of the doctrine of the Real Presence. Granted ‘popular piety’ can go to extremes at times, but once Our Lord has become present in the Sacred Species, He remains present there as long as the Species are incorrupt.

We need to always acknowledge this any time we are in a Catholic church. And we always did that in the past through genuflections in church, making the Sign of the Cross or men tipping their hats when passing a Catholic church. The Sanctuary Lamp also drew our attention to this – this is God’s house and He is really present here. There was always the comfort in knowing that when I went into a Catholic church I would find Our Lord present there in the Blessed Sacrament and would be moved to proper reverence. That has been lost, or never had, by many people today. We need to recover it.

Fr Gary Dickson said...

GOR is right about the need to restore genuflections. I once instructed my servers always to do so when passing the tabernacle, but realised that in doing so I was adapting the liturgy to my own desires and therefore left myself without the necessary integrity with which to complain about other priests ‘doing their own thing’. I think then that Rome needs to restore the genuflections, not individual priests –unless one can see such an innovation to the Novus Ordo as an example of mutual enrichment of the O.F. by the Extraordinary Form.

As for sanctuary design, our parish Church has retained the central tabernacle, but on a podium behind the free-standing altar. Of course my preference remains that of having a High Altar alone, especially since neither Vatican II or any post-conciliar document asked for these to be removed, only that when new Churches were built a free-standing altar could be used to enable the Mass to be celebrated facing the people as an option (not, in fact, as the norm). Where the altar is free standing and the Blessed Sacrament reserved behind it, I always leave the genuflection until I am in front of the tabernacle and behind the altar, even though I celebrate Mass facing the altar and tabernacle habitually and have done for the last four years.

I have a further difficulty with the free-standing design: when the Blessed Sacrament is reserved on the sanctuary and priests genuflect at the foot of the altar then go up and kiss the altar, it appears that they have genuflected to the altar. Now this can be used by liberals as a reason for moving the tabernacle off the sanctuary, but to do so they have to violate the principle that the Sacrifice and the Fruit of the Sacrifice make up a whole –a principle I see as being another reason for retaining reservation of the Sanctissimum on a single High Altar.

Indeed, we were told in seminary that a liturgical sign should be self-explanatory; a sign that even those not of the Faith could easily understand, but this genuflecting before and kissing a bare altar does not at all make it clear that we are genuflecting to the Lord in the tabernacle.

Sixupman said...

The Holy Name has obliterated the problem, gone back wholly to ad orientem, weekdays at a side altar [marvbellous to have them put back into use] Sundays at the high altar, where tabernacle has always been. All kneek for Communion.

It is probably ok to have Blessed Sacrament reserved for a cathedral [or church] which attracts a multitude of visitors.

A church in North Newcastle has the tabernacle sites at a side altar, in front of which are stacked spare chairs.

I was horrified, some years ago, to encounter a church, in West Cumberland, where the re-ordering had created a circular arrangement in the body of the church, table in middle. Resulting in the congregation siting with their back to the high altar and tabernacle.

I was naive at that time, but am always disconcerted upon findning a celebrant sitting in a chair with his back to the tabernacle.

GOR said...

Fr. Dickson, I understand the rubrical issues with the NO and genuflections. But I was thinking also in terms of reverence for the Real Presence outside of Mass and the example or bad example shown by ministers at the altar. It pains me to see priests, sacristans and servers pass repeatedly before the Tabernacle preparing the altar, with no show of reverence – not even a bow at times. It is as if He wasn’t there. It grates also when I see a priest putting the remaining hosts in the Tabernacle after Communion and not genuflecting before closing the Tabernacle door. People pick up on that and act accordingly – which is what I meant by ‘sending a message’.

In days gone by we were taught to always genuflect when crossing before the Tabernacle – whether in the sanctuary or walking across the back of the church. And if the Blessed Sacrament is exposed – a double genuflection was required. Older people know that and some still do it, but many younger people were never taught that. But if you see those in the sanctuary doing it, you are moved to follow their example.

Still on genuflections, but on a more humorous note, back in the days when an Abbess was indeed a mulier fortis there was an Abbess of a French convent who required that everyone coming into her presence genuflected to her. This even included the local clergy! In time the local Curés got fed up with this and complained to the bishop. The bishop (no doubt with tongue firmly in cheek) replied that it was not necessary for them to genuflect, merely to “bow - as one would towards a relic...”

peter simons said...

Christ be behind me, Christ be before me!!