Journal 31 July 2002

This translation is from the Australasian Catholic Record of 1938, pages 290 - 300.

Part of this Instruction was is referred to in the 1970 and 1975 Roman Missals, n. 277. The 2002 Roman Missal adds a reference to the whole of it following:

"317. None of the other things prescribed according to the norm of law concerning the reservation of the Most Blessed Sacrament should be forgotten." (2000 Study Translation of Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani).


Nullo Unquam Tempore



on the careful custody of the Most Holy Eucharist.

1. Never did the Apostolic See omit to set before local Ordinaries the safeguards and cautions whereby the Most Holy Eucharist reserved in our churches, according to common law, or by indult, might be diligently guarded and kept safe from all profanation. The disciplinary precepts of canonical legislation, which in the course of time the Holy See took care to give, are now embodied in canon 1269 of the Code of Canon Law, as follows:--

(1) The Most Holy Eucharist must be kept in an immovable tabernacle, placed in the middle of the altar.

(2) The tabernacle should be artistically constructed, solidly closed on all sides, becomingly adorned in accordance with the liturgical laws, used to contain no other object whatever, and should be so diligently guarded as to exclude all danger of sacrilegious profanation of any kind.

(3) For some grave cause approved by the local Ordinary, it is not forbidden to have the Most Holy Eucharist kept at night outside the altar, on a corporal however, in a safer but becoming place, with due regard to the prescription of Canon 1271.

(4) The key of the tabernacle, in which the Most Holy Sacrament is kept, should be guarded with the utmost diligence, its custody resting as a grave burden of conscience on the priest who has charge of the church or oratory.

2. Since this sacred Congregation has the commission to watch over the discipline of the seven Sacraments (Can. 249), and has already issued an Instruction under the date of May 26, 1929, [Footnote 1: Acta Ap. Sedis, vol. xxi, p. 631] "on some things to be avoided and observed in the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass and in the distribution and reservation of the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist," it now considers it opportune to remind everybody who is concerned with the grave matter of keeping the Holy Eucharist, of the relative canonical prescriptions, adding brief explanations, and laying down other safeguards and means better adapted to the times in which we live, in view of the safest possible keeping of the Holy Eucharist, and its entire preservation from injury of any kind.

3. The faithful observance of certain canonical precepts of the Code of Canon Law is very conducive to the attainment of an end so noble and so desirable. First of all, be it remarked that two things are required sub gravi, in order that the Holy Eucharist may be reserved in a church: Firstly, that there be someone to take care of it; secondly, that a priest must regularly celebrate Mass once a week in the sacred place. (Can. 1265 §1). Now, even though the Apostolic See sometimes grants, on account of scarcity of priests, an indult for fortnightly Mass only, in view of renewing the sacred species, provided always that there be no danger of their corruption, it never on any account dispenses from the first law, but rather always insists that there be a person who shall attend day and night to the safe keeping of the Blessed Sacrament. [Footnote 2: Cfr. S.R.C. resp. diei 17 Februarii ad Episcopum Altonen. (decretum n. 3527).]

Besides, there are three things to be kept in mind from the above Canon 1269.

(a) The Most Holy Eucharist must be kept in an immovable tabernacle (§1), which is thoroughly closed (§2); (b) the tabernacle must be guarded so diligently that all danger of profanation is excluded (§2); (c) the key of the tabernacle is to be most carefully kept by the priest (§4). On each of these points a few remarks must be made.

4. (a) The tabernacle must be immovable and thoroughly closed. From this precept, in itself grave, the Bishop cannot dispense, nor can century-old or immemorial custom derogate, except in the case mentioned in paragraph 3. This is the first measure for the safe-keeping of the Blessed Sacrament. Absolute and complete closure necessarily demands that the tabernacle be made of solid and strong material. According to the liturgical laws, the material may be wood or marble or metal, [Footnote 3: Caeremoniale parochorum iuxta novissimas A.S. sanctiones concinnatum, art. vii. De tabernaculo, etc., n. 9 ad. 4.] but the last-mentioned material is the strongest of all. The main point is that the tabernacle be constructed of solid material, having its parts closely compacted together, and furnished with a lock strongly fixed to the door, and so designed as to ensure a completely safe locking. The hinges of the door must also be strong and well set. In some places the Bishops have prescribed that the tabernacle be entirely of metal, a measure which ensures particularly safe custody of the Blessed Sacrament and, as his Eminence Cardinal P. Gasparri teaches, [Footnote 4: De SSma Eucharistia, II, 263, n. 994.] must be absolutely observed, wherever it has been introduced. An excellent form of tabernacle is that which is a real strong iron safe, commonly known as cassaforte or coffre-fort, so that it cannot be pierced or broken by those instruments which are ordinarily used by thieves. It should be fixed by strong iron fastenings to the altar, adhering either to its lowest gradine or to the wall behind. These iron cases should be constructed either in the form of a ciborium, to be afterwards covered with marble and decorated with other ornaments, so that they exhibit the appearance of a work artistically finished, according to the terms of the second paragraph of the above-mentioned canon. Such tabernacles are called safes (Italian, di sicurezza). In order to remove all doubt regarding the observance of the liturgical laws in constructing these tabernacles, let attention be paid to the response of the S.C.R., given on April 1, 1908, in answer to a petition sent by a priest in the name of the Ordinaries of the ecclesiastical Province of Milwaukee in North America. The priest had offered for approval a new tabernacle, most solidly constructed, and so designed as to be in no way at variance with the rubrics of the Roman Ritual or the Decrees of the Sacred Congregation of Rites. The Sacred Congregation answered: "Let the response given by S.C.R. on a similar case, under date March 18, 1898, be communicated to the petitioner; namely, 'that the purpose of the inventor is laudable, and that the matter involved and the effectiveness of the device are subject to the judgments of the local Ordinaries themselves.'"

A like ruling was given in a response to the diocese of Superior regarding a new tabernacle for the B. Sacrament. In order to proceed more safely in approving a certain tabernacle, the Bishop reverently asked the S.C.R.: "Whether any objection might be urged in the name of the liturgical regulations against the particular form of semi-circular door, which was set on ball-bearings, and turned without hinges; under this head was there any reason to prevent the Bishop from recommending the invention to his priests, or should the tabernacle be furnished with a door or doors set on hinges and turning on hinges?" The Sacred Congregation of Rites, having asked the vote of a Liturgical Commission, answered the proposed query on May 8, 1908, thus: "Per se there is no objection in the case, and for the rest of the matter is within the competence of the Bishop."

Really the use of these very solid tabernacles is a very efficacious means for the safe keeping of the Most Holy Sacrament. This Sacred Congregation does not, however, impose the burden of acquiring such tabernacles on churches which have the ordinary ones, provided these are admittedly adequate for the secure custody of the Holy Eucharist; but it recommends them for churches which are henceforth to be built. It furthermore earnestly exhorts their Lordships the Bishops, in accordance with their zeal for the Blessed Sacrament, to watch and see that the ordinary tabernacles in use throughout their dioceses have the necessary solidity to preclude every danger of sacrilegious profanation. Tabernacles which do not guarantee the absence of that danger are to be removed with the utmost severity.

5. (b) The tabernacle is to be so carefully guarded that the danger of any sort of sacrilegious profanation be excluded. It is not sufficient that a custodian reside in the place, nor is it enough that the tabernacle be so strong that it can neither be pierced by a boring instrument, nor broken open by a chisel, and is so well provided with locks that it may not be opened even with skeleton keys: a third safeguard is required by law: careful custody. Now this watchfulness, which is to be continually maintained, embraces many cautions, both ordinary and extraordinary, according to the circumstances of places and times.

As regards the custodian, although it is desirable that he be a cleric, and moreover a priest, it is not prohibited that he be a layman, as long as a cleric is responsible for the key by which the place of reservation is closed. He must remain near this place day and night, so that he may quickly make his appearance, as often as need arises; in other words, he must be constantly on the watch. He must never leave the church during the time that it is open to the faithful, and has few or none visiting it. This is all the more necessary in city churches, where thieves, unknown as such to the faithful, prowl around in the guise of strangers or beggars, and are ready to seize the moment when vigilance is slackened, in order to perpetrate with deft quickness and, as it were, in the twinkling of an eye, their sacrilegious thefts. Such as these visit sacred places, and take accurate observation, by way of doors, windows, lattices, entrances, especially less principal ones, in order to attempt the execution of their wicked purpose by night. If this is of rather rare occurrence in villages, where the presence of a strange and unknown person going round the church, and entering it is more easily noticed, and arouses suspicion in both priest and faithful, that circumstance does not free the parish priest or rector from the obligation of guarding the Blessed Eucharist, the method and mode of custody being left to his prudence, according to local conditions. He ought, for instance, to visit the church sometimes during the day, get trustworthy persons living in the neighbourhood to watch, assign the private Eucharistic visits of his parishioners to different hours of the day.

A careful watch should be kept over workmen and others who, on account of service, or other causes, frequent the church or sacristy, or the priest's or custodian's house in the vicinity of church or sacristy.

Nor is the watchful custody of the Blessed Sacrament, as prescribed by law, to cease at night when the church is closed. Special cautions are to be used for the night time. The ordinary cautions required by prudence, and constantly to be used for the custody of the Holy Eucharist, for the prevention of theft in regard to sacred vessels, pictures, alms, and church furniture are as follows:-- (1) all the portals of the church, within the limits of necessity and possibility, should have strong door-leaves fastened with strong locks and bolts, these being of such kind that they can be opened only from the inside, the windows being guarded by bars or iron grilles; (2) when the church is being closed in the evening, there should be a careful look round, lest any evil-intentioned person may be left within; (3) the duty of shutting the church should be entrusted to persons above suspicion, especially to persons not addicted to strong drink. To these precautions we may add another very commendable one, which is daily coming into wider use, and which is often very helpful in baffling the attempts of thieves. This is the placing of electric bells in suitable places -- bells which will ring if the doors are opened, or when these or the tabernacle or altar or table are touched, thus suddenly arousing the attention of the priest or custodian. There are also special electrical devices which suddenly light up the church, and immediately warn the custodian of the presence of thieves. Such devices, in order to be efficacious, must be cleverly and ingeniously hidden, so as to escape all suspicion on the part of thieves. They should also be inspected each day, so as to be kept in proper order.

A special extraordinary provision is mentioned in the third paragraph of the canon cited above. For some grave cause to be approved by the Ordinary, it is not forbidden to keep the Blessed Sacrament at night outside of the altar, on a corporal however, in a safer but becoming place, with due regard to the requirements of canon 1271. This place is ordinarily the sacristy, provided that it is a safer and becoming place, or a very solid box, well closed (cassaforte), if that is to be preferred, inserted in some part of the church wall. If neither church nor sacristy provide the desired security, the Eucharist may be kept in some other safe place, even of a private character. In such cases, the parish priest should see to it that the Blessed Sacrament is kept with reverence and honour, and that the faith of the faithful in the real presence is not lessened. In this reservation of the Most Holy Eucharist the Sacred Species are not merely to be covered with a corporal, but must always be put in a vase or pyx. [Footnote 5: Cfr. cit. decr. Alton., not. 2.] Moreover, when they are being brought from the tabernacle of the church, or vice-versa, the priest must wear surplice and stole, and be accompanied by a cleric, carrying a light, at least regularly.

The Rectors of churches must likewise take good care that pyxes or sacred vessels of great value are, as far as possible, not left in the tabernacles. That would only provoke and entice the greed of thieves. When such vessels are used on the occasion of certain solemnities, it is desirable that they be purified at the last Mass, and put in a safe place (not the sacristy). The particles which may be left over should be placed in an ordinary pyx. Let Rectors also abstain from decorating altars and sacred images (either sculptured or painted) with costly votive gifts, such as rings of gold and silver, chainlets, neck-laces, ear-rings, gems and such like. Images should not habitually bear such decorations when exposed for public veneration. If it is proper to do so on the occasion of some festival, the Rector should, at the conclusion of the festival, take these valuables away from the church and clearly make known the reason to the faithful.

6. (c) The key of the tabernacle must be most diligently kept by a priest. All the cautions mentioned up to the present will be in vain, if the chief caution, namely, the safe-keeping of the key of the tabernacle be neglected. The fourth paragraph of the above canon expressly mentions in respect to this point that a grave burden rests on the conscience of the priest to whom the key of the tabernacle is entrusted. In order to satisfy this obligation of most diligent custody in regard to the key, the Rector is solemnly warned that the key of the tabernacle must never be left on the table of the altar, nor in the door of the tabernacle, not even at the time when the divine offices are carried out in the morning at the altar of the Blessed Sacrament, or communion is distributed, especially if this altar is not in open view. When these offices are over, the key must be kept by the Rector at home, or always carried about by him, care being taken against losing it; or let it be kept in the sacristy in a safe and secret place, under lock and key, the second key being kept by the Rector as above. [Footnote 6: Cfr. Encycl. litt. iussu Benedicti XIV edit. a S.C.EE. et RR, die 9 Feb. 1751.]

Let priests who are guardians of the B. Sacrament seriously consider that the obligation of keeping most diligently the key of the Sacred Ciborium is a grave obligation, as its scope and the very words of the law clearly show. The priest on whom the right and duty of keeping the key ordinarily and naturally rests is the Rector of the church or oratory; should he go away, he can, and ought, during his absence, entrust the keeping of the Blessed Sacrament to another priest. If he leaves the key in the sacristy under another key; he can give this latter to the sacristan during such time as he is absent, and the key of the tabernacle may be needed. Universal practice is manifestly in favour of this. If there is question of a cathedral or collegiate church, which is also a parish church, the keeping of the Holy Eucharist belongs to the chapter, and another tabernacle key must be kept by the Parish Priest (can. 415, §3, n. 1). The exclusive right of keeping the key of the tabernacle belongs to the Parish Priest, even if a confraternity be erected in the parochial church. In non-parochial churches, where the B.S. is kept by indult of the Holy See, it is to be guarded by chaplains or rectors, never by laymen, even though they be patrons. Without an Apostolic Indult lay people per se cannot keep the key of the tabernacle.

7. Special remarks must be made regarding the keeping of the key of the tabernacle in the churches of nuns or sisters, and in pious or religious houses of women. In view of the Statute of Canon 1267, whereby every privilege to the contrary being recalled, the Blessed Eucharist cannot be kept in a religious or pious house, except in the church or principal oratory, nor in the case of nuns, within the choir or enclosure of the monastery, local Ordinaries should bear well in mind, and insist on it, that the key of the Sacred Tabernacle is not to be kept within the enclosure. [Footnote 7: Cfr. Resolution of S.C.R., May 2, 1878, ad VI (decree 3448); H.E. Cardinal PETROUS GASPARRI, op. cit., 266, n. 998 {I have put the bold text here, as in the Latin, but not the translation, J.R. Lilburne}] Henceforth it is to be kept in the sacristy, so as to be obtainable at once, when need arises, and, when the church functions are over, and especially at night, it is to be placed in some safe, solid and secret receptacle under two keys, one of which is to be kept by the Mother Superior of the Community, personally or through a substitute, the other being entrusted to some nun, for instance, the sacristan, so that the offices of both are required in order to unlock the above-said place. Let their Lordships, the Bishops, give due attention to this ordinance, and rigidly insist on its execution, without any acceptation of persons, so that abuses and irreverences be avoided, which redound on the Blessed Eucharist.

8. Regarding the oratories of seminaries and ecclesiastical colleges, educational establishments for young people of both sexes, hospitals and hospices, which enjoy the power of keeping the Blessed Sacrament, the key of the tabernacle shall be given for keeping to their Rector or Moderator, if he be a priest, otherwise to the spiritual director or chaplain, who has been specially appointed to celebrate Mass, and carry out the sacred functions in the place. He must carefully see that the key does not come into the hands of other persons.

9. As regards private Oratories, which by Apostolic Indult enjoy the privilege of keeping the Blessed Eucharist, the key of the tabernacle is usually kept in the sacristy, under the care of the family, rather than of the chaplain [Footnote 8: H.E. Cardinal Gasparri, op. cit. II, 267, n. 999.]; but if the Bishop consider it preferable that the key should not be in the keeping of the indultary, let him give it to the priest who celebrates, especially if he says Mass there continually; or let him give it to the Parish Priest to be given each time, as convenient, to the priest who is to celebrate. Lay indultaries who have charge of the key are to be reminded, and clerics, of whatsoever dignity, must religiously consider how serious is their obligation to see that the key does not come into the hands of anyone, even of the family or family attendants.

10. The Sacred Congregation is not unaware that the aforesaid cautions will not fully secure their object, unless their Lordships the Bishops and local Ordinaries, while enjoining their observance on Parish Priests, Rectors of Churches, Moderators of Institutes of all sorts, and superioresses of nuns, also keep the following four most important points in view.

(a) Especially during diocesan visitations, but also even outside of such visitations, as often as a case demands it, they should either personally or through suitable and prudent ecclesiastics, diligently inquire and secure ocular knowledge of the provision made for the safe-keeping of the B.S., not only in each parish, but also in each church or oratory which enjoys this right. As often as they find out that something is wanting in the safeguards rightly required, they must order them to be made good at once, a short time limit being given, under penalty of a pecuniary fine, or even suspension in the case of priests, or removal, according to the gravity of their negligence, to be incurred by those who have the duty of supplying all means of security. They must not relieve those persons of such a burden, under the plea that no profanation or unbecoming thing has happened heretofore. What has not been done up to the present may in the course of time by the malice of men be done, unless the necessary precautions are taken.

(b) As often as sacrilegious robberies involving the violation of the Blessed Eucharist occur in his diocese (which God forbid), the local Bishop personally, as is best, or by an official of his Curia, specially delegated for the purpose, should always file a summary process against the Parish Priest or other Priest, secular or regular, even exempt, who was entrusted with the charge of the Blessed Sacrament. The acts of the process are to be sent to this Sacred Congregation, together with the vote of the Bishop. This should include an accurate description of the theft, according to its circumstances of time and place, and then a statement, based on acts of the process assigning the burden of guilt, through positive fault or negligence, to the responsible person. The Bishop should also propose the canonical penalties to be inflicted on the guilty, and then await the mandates of this Sacred Dicasterium.

(c) Ordinaries should deeply consider the severity of the penalties which Canon 2382 lays down against a Parish Priest who has gravely neglected the safe-keeping of the Blessed Sacrament, even though his fault fall short of the actual violation of the B.S. These penalties go so far as deprivation of his parish. Seeing the end of the law, the Ordinaries should take care that other Rectors of churches, congrua conguis referendo, are punished with analogous penalties, if they have seriously neglected their duty in this matter. As far as may be required, the necessary and opportune faculties are given by this Sacred Congregation. To escape such penalties, the cause likely to be alleged by the Parish Priest, or others entrusted with the care of the Blessed Sacrament, namely, that such accidents as open tabernacles and the keeping of keys in unsafe places were due to the carelessness of some other priest, does not suffice. The Pastors and Rectors themselves bear the onus of diligently caring for the sacred vessels and Blessed Eucharist. It is their personal office to faithfully and diligently watch and see that, when the sacred offices were over, the tabernacle was not exposed to violation of sacrilegious robbery. Against the aforesaid priest and any other one guilty of similar negligence the same penalties are to be used, because by his negligence he was the occasion of this grievous crime. In order that local Ordinaries may be able to inflict these penalties, and proceed against delinquent religious of both sexes, even exempt, according to the apostolic prescriptions in this matter, we hereby, by virtue of the present Instruction, give them the necessary faculties cumulatively with the Major Religious Superiors. On these also the Sacred Congregation imposes a similar obligation, but reserves to the Bishop alone the faculty of filing the process, as described above.

(d) The Ordinaries should diligently inquire whether the churches and oratories to which reservation of the B. Sacrament does not belong by common law (Cfr. can. 1265, §1, n. 1, 2) enjoy this faculty by Apostolic Indult granted by Brief in perpetuity or by Rescript for a time. As often as they find that this privilege has no lawful support, let them take care to remove it as an abuse. Besides, they should not be too easy in receiving and commending requests for the faculty to reserve the Blessed Eucharist in places which do not enjoy it by common law. Let them rather abstain altogether from doing so, unless very grave reasons be present, especially in private oratories and churches too far removed from the houses of the faithful, or situated in desert mountains, and wide country spaces, so that adequate provision for the safe-keeping of the Blessed Sacrament is not possible. It is more tolerable that sometimes even a notable part of the faithful be deprived of the means of adoring the Blessed Eucharist than that the same should be exposed to the probable danger of profanation. Nay, moreover, these present letters given power to the Bishops to revoke the faculty of reserving the Blessed Sacrament in churches and oratories which enjoy it by Apostolic Indult, as often as they perceive that grave abuses have crept in or all the conditions required for safe custody and due reverence and veneration of the Blessed Sacrament are not present.

These are the canonical regulations and chief cautions which this Sacred Congregation has thought well to set before the local Ordinaries, that they in turn may commend them more urgently to Parish Priests and other guardians of the Most Holy Sacrament. Their execution will serve to root out abuses, if any such have crept in, or to guard against them, if they have not. Other regulations which may be suitable to particular circumstances of time and place for the better attainment of the same purpose are left to the zeal and industry of the Bishops themselves. To all such local Ordinaries we offer these helps, earnestly begging them in the Lord to leave nothing undone in order to safeguard the Most Holy Eucharist from the impious attempts of wicked men. "Than the Holy Sacrament the Church of God has nothing more worthy, nothing more holy, nothing more wonderful. In it is contained the chief and greatest gift of God, the Fountain and Author of all grace and sanctity, Christ our Lord." [Footnote 9: Roman Ritual, tit. iv, chap. I, n. 1.]

Our Most Holy Lord Pius XI by divine Providence Pope, in an audience granted to his Excellency the Secretary of this Sacred Congregation, on May 7, 1938, graciously deigned to confirm and ratify with his Apostolic authority the above Instruction, already approved by the Eminent Fathers in plenary session of March 30. His Holiness ordered it to be published in the official organ of the Apostolic See, so that it be most religiously observed by all whom it concerns. Everything to the contrary notwithstanding.

Given at Rome, from the Palace of the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments, on the feast of the Ascension 1938.

D. Card. JORIO, Prefect.

F. Bracci, Secretary.

Posted by J.R. Lilburne, 31 July 2002. The translation is from the Australasian Catholic Record, 1938, pages 290 - 300. The Latin texts is in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Volume 30 (1938) pages 198 - 207.

Other sites:

Reservation and Veneration of the Blessed Eucharist in 1983 Code of Canon Law, canons 934-944