Rorate Caeli

Philippine bishops' Liturgy Commission cracks down on the "Reform of the Reform", directs that new churches should have the tabernacle outside the sanctuary.

The blog The Pinoy Catholic has published a circular of the Archdiocese of Cebu that, citing unspecified directions of the "Episcopal Commission on the Liturgy" of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, imposes sundry liturgical rules of a decidedly anti-traditional bent. The rules also specifically target practices and principles associated with the "Reform of the Reform" movement, notably the 'Benedictine altar arrangement" and the restoration of dignity to altars and tabernacles.

The decisions are undated but the circular reports them as if they are new instead of referring to them as long-standing and present in previous circulars or decrees. At the very least, the timing of the circular is interesting, coming less than a month before the visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines (January 15 - 19).

In summary, the rules are:

1) Altars should be covered with a simple white cloth regardless of the liturgical season or observance. (Apparently a shot at the use of colored antependia.)

2) The ambo in a church is always to be made of the same material and ornamentation as the church's altar. (A measure that is apparently rooted in the idea that the ambo is also an "altar" -- the "altar of the Word" -- of the same dignity as the "altar of sacrifice." If taken seriously this measure will also entail the erection of permanent ambos inside the sanctuaries of venerable churches.)

3) A crucifix -- which the circular specifies should be "small" -- is to be placed on the altar only when there is no other crucifix anywhere in the sanctuary that is visible to the people. Furthermore this altar crucifix should face the people, not the priest.

4) Candles are not to be placed on altars but only "near" them. Six candles "may" be used -- when a bishop celebrates Mass.

5) When new churches are built, the tabernacle is always to be located to the side of the church, outside the sanctuary.

6) No more tabernacle veils, at least for tabernacles in new churches. 

7) Just one candle may be placed near the image of a saint, and only during that saint's feast day.

The Archdiocese of Cebu is far and away the Philippines' largest archdiocese in terms of both Catholic population (a little more than 4 million) and the number of priests (613) and seminarians. It is also one of the world's largest archdioceses.

Cebu has been a red hat see since the 1960's but its current occupant, Archbishop Jose Palma, has not yet been made a Cardinal although his predecessor (Cardinal Vidal) turned 80 in 2011. Palma is considered a staunch conservative and was noted during the reign of Benedict XVI for his vocal opposition to "reproductive health" laws and his celebration of two high-profile Solemn Pontifical Masses with the Franciscans of the Immaculate. His own installation 4 years ago featured many of the "Benedictine" liturgical practices that are now denounced by this latest circular.