Thursday, September 1
Tabernacles and Eucharistic Doves
At Amiens Cathedral, the custom [of a Eucharistic dove] has survived all legislation and the eighteenth-century Baroque reredos was designed as a background for a hanging pyx. The first reference to the use of a suspended vessel is in the life of St. Basil, written by the pseudo-Amphilocauts (probably in the ninth century) where it is stated the saint ordfered a golden dove to be fashioned and, having place in it a portion of the body of Christ, hung it above the altar. [...] Yet there are still a few places in Europe where the older methods have survived -- e.g., at Amiens, as we have seen, and at the Benedictine Abbey of Solesmes, which retains a suspended pyx [..] and in Germany and Belgium a few "sacrament houses" -- tall towers usually built against the north wall of the sanctuary -- survive. In 1863, the prefect of the Sacred Congregation [of Rites] wrote to the Belgian bishops forbidding the further use of aumbries or towers for reservation, and ordering tabernacles. This order was not enforced in every diocese where practices which had prevailed for centuries were cherished.Incidentally, Anson links the centrally-placed tabernacle on the altar to the modern (and laudable) practice of frequent Communion.
It seems some of these older methods have been revived in places; while I somewhat dislike the principles under which it was undertaken, the spired Sacrament House and exquisite neo-neo-Gothic wooden screen at the Cathedral of the Madeleine are quite splendid and are an example of a modern renovation done well. I am leery of screening the tabernacle, but certainly the fact it remains in the center of the apse is a positive development. This instance of a screened apse with tabernacle behind the altar is also a feature of the renovated Christ the King Cathedral in Superior, Wisconsin, the work of (cough) liturgical consultant Dick Vosko. It is, however, not nearly as bad as his other work, and from the photos almost becomes palatable in spots. (The question, of course, is what it looked like beforehand). Anyway, I would sooner have the tabernacle semi-visible behind a beautiful grille at the center of the apse than have God banished to a rear closet somewhere.
And also, in a footnote, a humorous little aside from Anson:
There are some sacristans, especially nuns [!], who seem to think that the surface of a sanctuary floor should resemble that of a ball-room or skating rink.