With the US Conference of Catholic Bishops focusing these days on the Eucharistic Presence of Christ, and with the Sunday Scriptures urging us to “seek what is above,” it seems timely to review the Church’s legal regulation of the Body of Christ as it is reserved and respected in a parochial setting.  Canon law refers to the Most Blessed Eucharist as the “source and summit” of the Catholic faith.  It is “the most venerable sacrament in which Christ the Lord himself is contained, offered, and received, and by which the Church continually lives and grows (c. 897).” 

Given that, it is no wonder that “the key to the tabernacle, in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved, must be safeguarded most diligently by the pastor, the primary custodian of the Eucharist in a parish church or oratory (c. 938, §5), and that any danger of profanation is prevented to the greatest extent possible (GIRM, n. 314).” 

Further, this time-honored concern is addressed in Nullo Unquam Tempore; the 1938 Instruction from the Congregation for Holy Sacraments:  “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 … the key must be kept by the priest in charge of the oratory or church, or kept in the sacristy in a safe and secret place, under lock and 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.”

The canons and other legislative documents of the Church are very clear that there are not to be alternative keys to the tabernacle “floating around.”  If someone has need of the tabernacle key, then it should be kept in a location under another key or code that the individual deputed by the pastor can have access to rather than keeping the tabernacle key. 

With prayerful best wishes,

Fr. John Mahoney