Location of the Tabernacle in the Churches

Can someone please explain why in so many modern Churches the Tabernacle with the Most Blessed Sacrament is put in a separate chapel or in a niche off to the side? In the more traditional looking Churches that I have attended the Tabernacle is usually in the center behind the altar. I find it strange when I go into these modern Churches and I don’t know where the Blessed Sacrament is… I know there must be some theological explanation for movinig the location of the Most Blessed Sacrament?

I have not come across this. Ours is in the center, where I believe it belongs. Could these be churches that have permanent adoration? But then again, the Eucharist would be exposed. There are so many wrongs and I think this is one of them. Have you ever asked a priest about this matter?

There is a philosophy out there that says the altar should be the centerpiece of the Church because the priest is “actively” changing the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Therefore, all your attention should be drawn to this highlight of the Mass. The tabernacle is “passive” because it already contains the Eucharist. The tabernacle should be in a prominent position but it doesn’t have to be aligned with the altar as in old churches.

Of course, I don’t agree with this but I thought I would try to answer your question.

I think part of the motivation was to correct the misconceptions that I have personally seen several people on these forums strenuously insist on: namely, that the tabernacle must be behind the altar and the priest must face it because the Mass is supposed to be oriented toward the worship of Christ in the tabernacle (the priest is “speaking to the Lord who is present right there,” etc.); that the priest must not turn around to face the people because he would commit the grave insult of showing his back to the tabernacle; and similar disordered notions with absolutely no basis in traditional theology or praxis.

Just like the Precious Blood used to be withheld to correct people’s mistake that it was necessary to receive under both kinds, it is not altogether unreasonable (in the sense you occasionally hear that “They moved the tabernacle because they hate Jesus and the Real Presence!”) to correct the error of thinking that the tabernacle is in any way important to the Mass. The Mass lacks absolutely nothing when it is celebrated in the absence of a tabernacle (e.g., in a side chapel, crypt chapel, school chapel, hospital chapel, the high altar of St. Peter’s, or any other place where the Sacrament is not habitually reserved), though to hear the way some people talk about it you’d think the tabernacle was the linchpin element. (The very idea of a centrally-located, pigeonhole-type tabernacle is actually a comparatively late, most baroque, innovation.)

There is also the fact that in larger churches – cathedrals, places of pilgrimage, and the like – it has always been standard to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in a separate chapel so that adoration can take place without the distractions of the main nave, and other needful things can take place in the nave without offense to the Blessed Sacrament. This idea definitely got carried a bit too far in modern church constructions.

The U.S. Bishops give this guidance:


See para 74-76.

Hope this helps.

I understand why people feel strongly about this, but the General Instruction of the Roman Missal allows (and you could argue that it encourages) the tabernacle to be placed in a side chapel that is organically connected to the church. You don’t have to feel that this is a good rule, but it is the rule.

When we see churches that are laid out in ways we don’t particularly like, but in a way consistent with the principles set forth by the competent authorities, I believe we should be charitable toward those who designed the church and assume they were trying to do things correctly.

EDIT: Well, after I posted this, I see someone already provided a link to the applicable rules. Thanks! :thumbsup:

In Orlando, I believe it is St. Mary Queen of the Universe, the Tabernacle is behind the alter. The cool thing is that their Blessed Sacrament Room is right behind there as well. The way they have it set up is awesome. I love going to that Church when we are visiting Orlando.

I noticed this today. I attended mass at a church that I rarely attend and I noticed that the tabernacle was located far to the right of the altar (my right, its left.) This was different for me and I don’t like it as much. I tend to find the older style churches more aesthetically pleasing than the modern churches.

In my territorial Church the tabernacle is at the back of the Church, exactly on the opposite side of the people facing altar, so the priest faces it, but almost everybody turns his/her back to the tabernacle.

I asked one of the deacons what is the reason, he said that this promotes people’s flow, people do not genuflect toward the tabernacle, they get in and out faster.

An apparent consequence of this is that people have vivid conversations in the church between and sometimes during the masses, kids are having their snacks, trowing their toys, people are constantly coming and going, wawing to each other etc

An average Mass lasts 70-75 minutes, the consecration is at the 50-55th minute and the communion is finished about 5 minutes before end: Jesus is present in his physical reality for about 1/5th of the time.

In contrast in the churches where the tabernacle is in well visible enhanced place, the church always feels like the house of God: silence, reverence, prayer.

This has not been my observation. In our pastoral unit there are three churches. In one the tabernacle is in a side chapel, the other two have the tabernacle exposed to the nave.

The church with the hidden tabernacle is actually the one that is the quietest and most reverent just before Mass. One of the ones with the exposed tabernacle is pretty quiet before Mass. The other one, is total bedlam.

Which shows to me that the correlation between reverence, and position of the tabernacle, is exactly zero.

Moreover I attend Mass, usually, in a Benedictine abbey where the tabernacle is in a side chapel, and it is by far the most reverent place I have ever prayed in, except maybe for another Benedictine monastery in France where the tabernacle was, temporarily, exposed in the chapter room serving as the temporary church (while the main church, where the tabernacle is in a side chapel, is undergoing renovations).

Jesus is really present during all the Mass (and every other liturgy): e.g. in the person of the priest, in the gathered assembly, in the Word, and (specifically at Mass) in the Body and Blood.

See the Catechism para 1373 (which cites Vatican II).

One of the oldest Catholic churches (over 100 years old) in our diocese has the tabernacle in a side chapel instead of front and center.

The placement of the tabernacle has nothing to do with modernity.

MarkThompson, thank you for your wisdom-filled post. Indeed, the Mass is complete without a visible tabernacle. That’s so good to remember.

In our church, the tabernacle is off to the side. Our chapel isn’t set up in the traditional way (the building used to be an assembly of God church) I was kind of disappointed to tell you the truth, there is no elaborate ornamentation on the tabernacle (I was expecting it to be like the older tabernacles that look like solid gold) It has a design on it and I cannot figure out what it is it either is a face or a mountain.

You cannot draw any consequence from three units commonly effected by other factors (In this case the same pastor).

My experience is based on 8 different parishes what I attended exactly for the reason to observe the correlation within the architecture and the reverence . I accept that my sample (one rural, one inner city, 6 suburban; 7 from the same diocese) is not representative sample, but better than three under the same pastor, but apparently entirely different set of congregation.

It seems me logical that

  • if people see the tabernacle as in the center of the Church, and the priest is conscientious about the Catholic teaching of the presence of our Lord in the Eucharist, that demands more reverence, than

  • if the priest never mentions the real presence of Jesus, or

  • if he breaks the order of the mass several times announcing his belief in the real presence in a Church where almost everybody turns his back to the tabernacle. (this is my territorial parish)

1373 “Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us,” is present in many ways to his Church:195 in his word, in his Church’s prayer, "where two or three are gathered in my name,"196 in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned,197 in the sacraments of which he is the author, in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister. But "he is present . . . most especially in the Eucharistic species."198


Onece again: the gathered in my name almost certainly referes to the ‘in the name of the Cesar’ = under his insignia, referes to His perfect insignia = real presence in the Eucharist.

Also the only similar presence to the Eucharist is His presence in His mystical body

788 When his visible presence was taken from them, Jesus did not leave his disciples orphans. He promised to remain with them until the end of time; he sent them his Spirit.218 As a result communion with Jesus has become, in a way, more intense: "By communicating his Spirit, Christ mystically constitutes as his body those brothers of his who are called together from every nation."219

This is a great disrespect towards God! It has a psychological effect; it is more and more about people not God. The less of God, the less pictures of Hell, the less pictures and statues of the saint, the … it has a psychological effect on us! We tend to think less of the realities and teachings of the Church!


In Bavaria, with which I am familiar, the tabernacle is almost always in a side chapel or the crypt. Specifically, this is to avoid disrespect by tourists and to provide a quiet place for those that seek it out. There is NO disrespect intended just the opposite.

I was very surprised to attend Mass in some very large cathedrals where the Mass itself was usually in the crypt, leaving the main Church open to the tourists! (no fees charged of course). Seemed odd, but on second thought it is a way to avoid flashes going off and wandering folks during services. Bavaria is a VERY devout place compared to most of Europe and their Churches and services are very pious. If you find the tabernacle lamp, it is always in a quiet place of contemplation.


At my church, we have the Tabernacle in a chapel that’s just to the side of the sanctuary and is clearly visible since the walls are made of glass. In a way, I wish the Tabernacle was placed behind the Altar so that way it wouldn’t feel as if my attention was “divided.” At the same time, I have no problem with it. Christ is present either way.

Great thread! I attend two churches - one with the tabernacle in front, behind the altar. Very reverent atmosphere, much respect given. In the other, the tabernacle is off to the side of the altar but still in front. This church is more liberal anyhow, but I have seen over and over people milling around, chatting, laughing, etc. with no regard to the tabernacle only several feet away. :frowning: Seems like it it weren’t right there where the band/choir sits, etc. it would be better. Another church in our town that I attend occasionally has it way off to the side of the church, but very lovingly set up for adoration and respected. What a difference!

Isn’t there a document issued by the U.S. Bishops (sorry, don’t have time at this particular moment to check that link at the very beginning of this thread) or from Rome requiring the tabernacle to be in a suitably prominent place, beautifully decorated etc.?

We had a similar issue when our church was renovated. The original plan was to have the tabernacle in a bell tower off the narthex, which would have been behind the congregation at Mass. There was a rather large controversy about it. Ultimately, the tabernacle was placed to the right of the altar with a spotlight angled onto it, which I think is a marvelous idea.

I’ve recently been at two churches that have the tabernacle seemingly “off in a broom closet” (actually one is a renovated “cry room” (behind the congregation in a glassed-off room). I attended Mass in that Church on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and in my humble opinion, the lack of reverence was jarring. As a previous poster said, people were yakking, joking around with no sense of the dignity of the Mass.

In the other church, recently renovated, the tabernacle placed in a glassed in room that was formerly a courtyard in the middle of the social hall, way off from the main worship space. After Communion, the altar servers processed with the ciborium back to the tabernacle, doing a hesitation step (i.e., the stereotypical bridal walk: step-pause-step-pause). I know I’m more traditionally minded than most but it struck me at the time that “they wouldn’t have to go through that nonsense if they put the tabernacle where people could see it”.

Personally, I visit a church to worship my Lord. I can better compose myself before Mass when I can pay my respects to the tabernacle when I arrive a few minutes early. I just don’t see why the Tabernacle of Our Lord has to be moved from the main room of His house.

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