Who Is Permitted to Access the Tabernacle?

Dear Catholic Exchange, 

Could you please provide me a legitimate authoritative resource that tells who is allowed to go in to tabernacle? In my diocese, any lay Eucharistic minister seems to be able to access the tabernacle, and I would like to know what the truth is. 

Thank you, 

Mary Lind

Dear Mary,

If you're talking about during Mass, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) envisions that a sufficient number of hosts are prepared so that all the faithful communicate from hosts consecrated at the Mass in which they are participating (no. 85). This norm is restated even more forcefully in the Bishop's Committee on the Liturgy's document, Norms for the Distribution of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds. No. 30 states, "As a general rule, Holy Communion is given from hosts consecrated at the same Mass and not from those reserved in the tabernacle."

Thus, it should be rare that anyone approach the tabernacle to remove vessels from the tabernacle. Further, insofar as the use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion is not the norm, the function of removing vessels from the tabernacle is not normally that of an extraordinary minister. Even further, taking the GIRM strictly, before distributing Communion extraordinary ministers receive Communion themselves and then receive from the priest celebrant the vessel from which they are to distribute Communion. After Communion, if there are remaining Hosts, the priest celebrant "either consumes them at the altar or carries them to the place designated for the reservation of the Eucharist" (nos. 162, 163).

Nonetheless, should the number of people be more than estimated and it becomes necessary to go the tabernacle, the GIRM or other Vatican documents have not explicitly addressed the question as to who may fulfill this function. Neither has the U.S. bishop's conference, so each diocesan bishop may have a policy.

On one hand, in the diocese of Steubenville, where the Catholics United for the Faith offices are located, other than a priest or deacon, only instituted acolytes (the "first line" of extraordinary ministers) may remove vessels from the tabernacle. This policy was instituted in keeping with the spirit of Redeptionis Sacramentum which warns of the danger of an inappropriate broadening of duties entrusted to extraordinary ministers (cf. no. 156).

On the other hand, the Office of Divine Worship for the Archdiocese of Chicago, under Francis Cardinal George, issued a bulletin insert called "Key Points in the Revised General Instruction." The norm that enough hosts should be consecrated is strongly affirmed. It goes on to say, "Furthermore, there is nothing in the norms to prohibit someone other than a priest (for example, a deacon or the extraordinary minister of communion) from taking what is left over of the consecrated hosts to the tabernacle after communion."

Outside of Mass, a lay person deputed for the task may take Communion to the sick and shut-in. While it is to be preferred that Hosts be the same as those consecrated at the parish Mass and received by the community, there are occasions when Hosts must be obtained from the tabernacle. As with Mass, the bottom line is that the Church allows for the use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion according to need. As long as the spirit of the law is maintained their use becomes a matter of prudence.

I hope that these considerations are helpful.

Sincerely in Christ,

Eric Stoutz
Director of Catholic Responses
Catholics United for the Faith
827 North Fourth Street
Steubenville, OH 43952
800-MY-FAITH (800-693-2484)

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  • Guest

    I live in Quebec (Canada), and at our parish Mass the EMs bring ciboria from the tabernacle to the altar before Communion, then they receive from the priest, and carry their own ciborium to the space where the altar rail used to be, ready for the congregation to come forward.  As far as I can see from the choir loft, the priest consecrates only the large Host, with the other Hosts reserved in the tabernacle.  I had no idea that this was outside the norm.  Of course, it's no surprise — our parish is quite liberal, and very few things that happen surprise me any more.

  • Guest

    In our parish the priest now both retrieves the reserved hosts from the tabernacle and returns them to the tabernacle after communion.  This is  a change with our new bishop, but it certainly is a welcome one since it makes a distinction between the clergy and the lay ministers that seemed needed.  Now if we can just get the lay ministers to stay out of the sanctuary until after the Ecce Agnus Dei…

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