January 16, 2024 // Perspective

A Eucharistic Word: Tabernacle

While praying in our pew after Communion during a recent Sunday Mass, our 6-year-old son decided to administer a pop quiz to his willing little sister. “What was the first tabernacle?” he asked. “I have no idea,” she replied. “Mary, of course! Her tummy held Jesus for the first time,” he answered. “But what was the second tabernacle?” she shot back. My son then looked at me, tables turned on him from trying to stump his sister to now being stumped by her. “Do you know?” he asked me.

Of course, I could have gone a variety of directions with this. But as I raised my eyes, I was drawn immediately to St. Joseph in the creche, as we were still in the Christmas season. “St. Joseph’s arms were,” I blurted out without much thinking.

That got me thinking, then, of what the subsequent “tabernacles” might’ve been. The manger itself? Maybe the arms of the innkeeper’s wife? Maybe a shepherd? No matter who or what might’ve held Our Lord next, we know it was an unworthy place for the Lord of the universe.

But what of the tabernacles today? We have beautiful receptacles crafted of precious metals in churches and chapels. Our tabernacles contain the Eucharistic species remaining after Mass, especially reserved for the sick and dying and for both public and private worship, and adoration outside of Mass. The glowing sanctuary lamp next to the tabernacle tells us Jesus is there. When we recognize His presence, we are drawn to show reverence to Christ’s sacramental presence in our midst. By gestures and prayers, we make clear our faith in Hiis Real Presence and show Him our love and devotion.

As my mind wandered about tabernacles, I thought of how each of us, too, in a sense, becomes a tabernacle. We are members of Christ’s body by baptism. We are temples of the Holy Spirit.

When we receive holy Communion, Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity dwells within us just as the Word was made flesh and came to dwell among us in Mary’s womb at Nazareth so long ago. As the bread and wine lying in the altar are changed by the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Eucharistic flesh and blood, so, too, ought we be changed by receiving the sacrament.

When God wants us to be His tabernacle, what do we do?

The short answer is, of course, is to live as Christ did. The Eucharist contains the grace we need to live Christ and give Christ. The Eucharist is our road map to virtue, the blueprint for holiness. The Eucharist is the key to open the tabernacle of our hearts and let Christ live in the world.

While I’m not sure what – or more likely who – was the second tabernacle, I know it’s a calling for each of us. Will we stretch out our arms, open our hearts, give Him room?

Michael R. Heinlein is author of “Glorifying Christ: The Life of Cardinal Francis E. George, O.M.I.” and a promised member of the Association of Pauline Cooperators.

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