The altar of St. Joseph, on which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, in the south transcept of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
I’ll never forget the time, many years ago in a far-off place, when an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion who visited the sick told me about the “stash” of the Blessed Sacrament that she kept in a pyx in her car – in case she needed it. What a disaster. One wonders if such a person really believes in the Real Presence; how could a car in any way be a fitting place to reserve the Holy Eucharist?
Another vignette from the distant past: I remember, when I was getting into the practice of the faith at about age 20, I used to go to the EWTN book shop in Irondale, Ala. (before it was enlarged and turned into the Religious Catalogue Shoppe that is there now). They sold reliquaries there – and there was a sign next to them that said something to the effect of, “FOR RELICS ONLY”. One day I asked the sales clerk why that sign was up; after all, wasn’t it obvious that one would only put relics in them? But she told me: no, some people have taken a host home from church and had private “adoration of the Blessed Sacrament” in their home, using a reliquary to hold the host. Again – what a disaster.
With those two unpleasant stories having been told, our question is: Where exactly may one reserve the Blessed Sacrament?
The Code of Canon Law gives a rather thorough answer, though we can also elucidate on it further:
Canon 934 §1. The Most Holy Eucharist: 1/ must be reserved in the cathedral church or its equivalent, in every parish church, and in a church or oratory connected to the house of a religious institute or society of apostolic life; 2/ can be reserved in the chapel of the bishop and, with the permission of the local ordinary, in other churches, oratories, and chapels.
§2. In sacred places where the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved, there must always be someone responsible for it and, insofar as possible, a priest is to celebrate Mass there at least twice a month.
Canon 935 No one is permitted to keep the Eucharist on one’s person or to carry it around, unless pastoral necessity urges it and the prescripts of the diocesan bishop are observed.
Canon 938 §1. The Most Holy Eucharist is to be reserved habitually in only one tabernacle of a church or oratory.
§2. The tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved is to be situated in some part of the church or oratory which is distinguished, conspicuous, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer.
§3. The tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved habitually is to be immovable, made of solid and opaque material, and locked in such a way that the danger of profanation is avoided as much as possible.
§4. For a grave cause, it is permitted to reserve the Most Holy Eucharist in some other fitting and more secure place, especially at night.
§5. The person responsible for the church or oratory is to take care that the key of the tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved is safeguarded most diligently.
There’s a lot there. Bottom line: the ordinary place for reserving the Blessed Sacrament is an approved church or chapel. This covers things like parish churches, rectory chapels (when the Bishop has given permission for the priest to reserve the Eucharist there), Catholic school chapels, hospital chapels, convent/monastery chapels. Moreover, it should be kept in a “fixed” or “immovable” tabernacle.
We may not keep a “stash” in our car; we may not otherwise reserve the Eucharist in our homes or anywhere else.
Canon 935 also explains that we may not simply carry the Eucharist around with us apart from 1) pastoral necessity and 2) following the Bishop’s directives. Experience suggests that many bishops don’t issue directives in this regard; they rely on their priests to know their sacramental theology and have common sense, to teach correctly, and to train Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion well. And it is clear that pastoral necessity most of the time involves visiting the sick.
Now the current Code of Canon Law was issued in 1983; since then, there have been other documents that have spoken to this matter. I will reference one: the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, issued by order of Pope John Paul II by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments in 2004.
It does not so much add to what the Code says, but elaborates upon it. Take this number, for example:
129. The celebration of the Eucharist in the Sacrifice of the Mass is truly the origin and end of the worship given to the Eucharist outside the Mass. Furthermore the sacred species are reserved after Mass principally so that the faithful who cannot be present at Mass, above all the sick and those advanced in age, may be united by sacramental Communion to Christ and his Sacrifice which is offered in the Mass. In addition, this reservation also permits the practice of adoring this great Sacrament and offering it the worship due to God. Accordingly, forms of adoration that are not only private but also public and communitarian in nature, as established or approved by the Church herself, must be greatly promoted.
See how it emphasizes the reverence and worship due to our Lord!
Then there are these three important paragraphs:
131. Apart from the prescriptions of canon 934 § 1, it is forbidden to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in a place that is not subject in a secure way to the authority of the diocesan Bishop, or where there is a danger of profanation. Where such is the case, the diocesan Bishop should immediately revoke any permission for reservation of the Eucharist that may already have been granted.
132. No one may carry the Most Holy Eucharist to his or her home, or to any other place contrary to the norm of law. It should also be borne in mind that removing or retaining the consecrated species for a sacrilegious purpose or casting them away are graviora delicta, the absolution of which is reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
133. A Priest or Deacon, or an extraordinary minister who takes the Most Holy Eucharist when an ordained minister is absent or impeded in order to administer it as Communion for a sick person, should go insofar as possible directly from the place where the Sacrament is reserved to the sick person’s home, leaving aside any profane business so that any danger of profanation may be avoided and the greatest reverence for the Body of Christ may be ensured. Furthermore the Rite for the administration of Communion to the sick, as prescribed in the Roman Ritual, is always to be used.
The first paragraph emphasizes the security of where the Holy Eucharist is reserved: ordinarily tabernacles are bolted down or otherwise made immovable, as canon 938 § 3, above, indicates. I’m afraid that in many places that detail has not been sufficiently attended to.
The second paragraph reiterates that one may not reserve the Blessed Sacrament in a non-approved place, much less in one’s home. (Excluded, obviously, are those cases where a priest has permission from his Bishop to have a chapel in his rectory.)
Then the third paragraph is also very important: when we’re carrying the Blessed Sacrament for a legitimate reason — such as going to the sick — we must go directly there. I have encountered many situations where well-meaning people were planning to hold the Eucharist for some time, doing other errands or non-sacred activities; even planning to hold it overnight before administering it to a sick person. Priests must teach Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion correctly on this and check in from time-to-time to ensure that they are doing what is right!
That last point, about using the proper ritual, is often rarely observed, in my experience. There are certain prayers that one is supposed to say when bringing Holy Communion to a sick a person. In any case, that goes a bit beyond the purpose of this post.
Redemptionis Sacramentum also has a lot of other points to make about Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, reminding us especially that they are, in fact, supposed to be extraordinary (in the sense of not being too common), well-trained, and that where they are needed, there should be particular prayers made for vocations.
I have posted a couple of times about a particular issue that arises in this connection: the handling of pyxes. They are a sacred vessel. Back in the day, they would have been made of a noble material (such as sterling silver plated with gold) — whereas nowadays they are even made of plastic! Back in the day, they would have been blessed, whereas today I doubt many are. Many priests no longer attend to them properly, never mind the lay people they have delegated to do so. This is a major lacuna in our Eucharistic reverence, and I know, thankfully, of many priests who are working to recover a proper sense of things. Here are two previous posts on that topic:
These have been some of the more frequently-visited posts on the blog. It suggests to me that it is a matter that resonates with many. Thanks be to God.
May the Lord increase our faith in his Real Presence and keep us from neglecting any detail in our worshipful handling of the Most Holy Eucharist!