Sacred Congregation of Rites
Decretum S.C. Rituum Urbis et Orbis Sanctissimam Eucharistiam
Translated by Ryan Grant; published with permission.
Holy Mother Church has been zealous to preserve the most Holy Eucharist with the greatest attentive décor and with vigilant care. Nevertheless, in point of fact this solicitude has come down in different ways throughout the ages. Hence, in keeping with the widespread Eucharistic piety of the faithful in our days, the place where the Lord's Body is kept has effected the centre of a flourishing Christian life.
Now, so that abuses be guarded against, and in order that all things should be done according to order, there are not a few documents, decrees or laws emanating from the competent Authority, in which the place, form, and use of the Eucharist, which is to be reserved, were determined. All of which the Code of Canon Law collects and expresses thus: Can. 1268, § 2: "Let the most holy Eucharist be safeguarded in the most excellent and noble place of the Church, and hence regularly in the High Altar." Canon 1269, §1: "The most holy Eucharist ought to be preserved in an immovable tabernacle in the middle position of the altar."
Lately, however, our most Holy Lord Pius XII, in a sermon to those who were present at the International Congress for pastoral liturgy, [which was] held at Assisi on 22 September 1956, he set forth a certain lucid teaching of great authority concerning the doctrine and practice of the Church on the real presence of Christ the Lord in the tabernacle, and refuted certain modern errors, and to safeguard the exercise of Piety towards the Eucharistic Sacrament in the tabernacle, as he exceedingly commended the esteemed tradition of the Church.
After taking these things into account, this Holy Congregation of Rites, by the power of the faculties rendered to it by our most Holy Lord by Divine Providence, Pope Pius XII, decrees thus:
1. The norms stated by the Code of Canon law on the reservation of the Eucharist are to be dutifully and religiously kept; nor should local Ordinaries disregard [their duty] to carefully watch over this matter.
2. The Tabernacle should be joined firmly with the altar, in order that it should be immovable. Normally it should be reserved in the high altar, unless something might appear more agreeable or decent for the veneration and worship of such a sacrament, such as that which commonly takes place in cathedral churches, whether collegial or conventional, in which the choral functions are accustomed to be continued; or whenever in older sanctuaries, lest on account of the peculiar devotion of the faithful toward an object of veneration, the supreme adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament should be obscured.
3. In the altar where the Most Holy Sacrament is kept, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is to be celebrated.
4. In churches, where there is only one altar, this cannot be built in such a way that the priest should celebrate facing the people; but over the altar itself, in the middle, the tabernacle ought to be put for the most Holy Eucharist to be preserved, constructed according to the norm of liturgical laws, altogether worthy by form and measure for such a sacrament.
5. The Tabernacle should be solidly closed from whichever side, and to such a degree that it is secure in all its parts, that the danger from every sort of profanation might be prevented.
6. The Tabernacle, at the time in which the Sacred Species is reserved in it, ought to be covered with a canopy and, according to the ancient tradition of the Church, a light should always burn before it.
7. The Tabernacle, in so far as it is a form, should agree with the edifice of the altar and of the Church; by those obligations in use to this point there should hardly be much disagreement; it is not to be reduced to the species of a simple box, but should represent in a certain measure the true dwelling of God with man; it should not be adorned with symbols or strange figures, or which might move the admiration of the faithful, or could be erroneously interpreted, or which might not have any relation to the Most Holy Sacrament.
8. Eucharistic tabernacles are strictly forbidden to be placed outside the altar itself, e.g. in the wall, or at the side, or behind the altar, or in a chapel1 or on pedestals separated from the altar.
A contrary custom, whether in so far as to the mode of reserving the Eucharist, or in so far as the form of the tabernacle, it cannot be presumed, except that it be done from centuries old or immemorial custom (cf. Can. 62, §2), as e.g. in the case of certain tabernacles built to the manner of a tower or of a chapel. Nevertheless these forms cannot be reproduced.
Contrariis quibuslibet minime obstantibus.
At Rome, 1 June 1957.
C. Card. Cicognani, Praefectus
† A. Carinci, Archiep. Seleuc. a Secretis
1. The word here is aedicula, which can mean in addition to a chapel a closet. While the SRC at the time of this document could scarcely conceive of a tabernacle in the broom cupboard, the experience since the council should make us aware of this additional meaning. -Translator's note.