The tabernacle and the feast
The Eucharist is reserved in churches or oratories to serve as the spiritual center of a religious community or a parish community. – Paul VI (Mysterium Fidei, 68)
Remember way back to Easter? If you played host, how long did you take to prepare the family meal? How many days did it take to fix the stuffing, the salads, the corn, the ham? Of course, at the Mass the Eucharist is the main course. We are the guests. His banquet took centuries to prepare.
Nothing in Catholic worship is arbitrary. Its origins lie in the Temple sacrifice of the Jews. God revealed the details in the Book of Numbers. The times, the places, and the parts to Israel’s worship were given by revelation first as types, then fufilled in the Church. Thus, Hebrew chant gave way to Gregorian; a bloody altar became bloodless; the Ark of the Covenant wonderfully became the tabernacle. In the Eucharist, God’s presence is literally rendered flesh: a body, bound by time and adored in fixed location.
Perhaps nothing so pointedly marked the loss of faith in the Real Presence as did the relegation of the tabernacle to the back corners of our “worship spaces.” The first example is taken from a church in Saskatchewan. (Yes, it is actually a grain elevator.) Here the Lord is sealed behind glass, boxed behind bars, and cornered so people show Him their backs. The other image comes from Calgary’s ordinariate parish. Fr. Kenyon and the community at St. John the Evangelist, so they tell me, entered full communion in 2011. Welcome to the party! They pray ad orientem. They run a choir school. And, from the looks of their altar, they had a good dose of Catholic sensibility long before they joined the family.
As Paul VI reminded us, “the Eucharist is reserved in churches or oratories to serve as the spiritual center of a religious community or a parish community” (Mysterium Fidei, 68). Within the House of God, the tabernacle is the true “tent” of the Lord. It must be artful. It must be adorable. It’s the place from which the Lord gathers his children to the Feast. Shouldn’t we want Him in the centre?