Starving for the Contents of the Tabernacle

by Gregory Downs

Posted on March 16, 2016  |  COMMENT

Veiled before the tabernacleAnyone who’s Catholic, or has been to a Catholic Mass will have seen people kneel and make the sign of the cross before sitting in a pew. It’s surely a strange practice, and many of us who are Catholic do it with a little bit of awkwardness. It’s called genuflecting, and while we sense it has something to do with the holiness of being in Church, most of us have forgotten—or never been told—what it’s really all about.

This can’t continue, because the reason we kneel in a Catholic Church is the best news that you will ever hear.

In each Catholic Church there is a container or box called the tabernacle, and inside the tabernacle is Jesus Christ: His real Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. There is nothing truer in this world; nothing more worth kneeling before in worship. We call this great mystery the Eucharist.

Christians believe that Jesus is God, and therefore can be trusted, and He Himself tells us:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world… unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink… this is the bread that came down from heaven. (John 6:51, 53-55, 58)

This is probably the most controversial chapter in the whole Bible, and at Jesus’s words many of His disciples said, “[t]his saying is hard; who can accept it?” and left Him to go back to their former ways of life. Read John 6:22-69 for the whole story.

From the very beginning the Catholic Church has believed that Jesus was telling the truth. Here in the Bible He told us He wanted to give us His Body and Blood to lead us into eternal life, and at every Catholic Mass the priest tells us how He finally did it:

On the day before he was to suffer he took bread in his holy and venerable hands, and with eyes raised to heaven to you, O God, his almighty Father, giving you thanks he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take this, all of you, and eat of it: for this is My Body which will be given up for you.1

At the Last Supper Jesus literally gave us His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, and He also commanded His disciples to do this in memory of Him. This means that at every Mass the power of God changes bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It’s straight from the Bible (Matthew 26:26-30, Mark 14:22-26, Luke 22:14-20), and the early Church fathers believed exactly that. In 110 A.D. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the original disciples, wrote:

Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ. . .2

Many other early Christians wrote defending the Eucharist, too – check out Catholic Answers for a good list of quotes.

Throughout history the Church has never changed her mind about the reality of the Eucharist. Today, the official Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say: 

Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood.3 

What this means for us today is incredible. At every Mass, by the miraculous power of God, bread and wine is changed in an unbloody way into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, and He comes into our very bodies, thereby becoming part of us, and in some mysterious way, making us part of Him! He told us so, and the Church has always believed it. Do you?

It’s a question you need to ask. It is, as some of Jesus’s disciples said, “a hard saying” for each of us. But if Jesus is real and true at all, then what He said during His time here on earth is real and true, too. What He gave us then, and has continued to give us through the Eucharist for all of time since then, is real, and He is giving us Himself! Take a minute and think about it. Jesus is real, and He is still dwelling among us. Before you go on with your life, before you do “the normal things” again, you need to realize that God has come down to live among us. He’s in the tabernacle in every Catholic Church.

If you doubt, or if this unsettles you, don’t worry. Pray to God to help you, and He will. Read about it, from these sources and others. When you go to Mass, go with an open heart and wakeful mind. Pick up that book in the pew with the words of the Mass in it, and pray “I believe” with as much sincerity as you can give to God. Say the words of St. Augustine whenever you have difficulty: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” Stay for a while after Mass, and look upon Jesus in the tabernacle. Just look, and pray. Ask Him to show you how much He really loves you.

 Realize that what is happening in the Mass is real. It’s all there in the priest’s words, and when we go to Mass and receive the Eucharist, we are saying to God, “I believe, Lord, even if I don’t know how You do what You say You do!” This also means that going up to receive communion isn’t like anything else in this whole world. It’s not a party or a friendly “fellowship meal.” It’s God coming into your body and soul. That’s the truth. That’s why, according to the Church, we should only go up to receive communion if we’re spiritually prepared: if we have sinned seriously and not gone to confession, we’re not ready, and it would be a new sin - a sacrilege - to receive Him.

No one is really worthy of divine life, yet that is what God offers us in the Eucharist. He asks only that we believe in Him, and do in our lives what He tells us. In the Eucharist He remains with His Church forever, despite all our flaws, mistakes, and betrayals. You don’t give yourself to someone you don’t love. And this is how much God loves us: He has come to live with us in every tabernacle, keeping us company on this long, often dark and painful road of life. Jesus Himself begs you not to reject this gift. God became Man because He loves us, and He offers us Himself in the Eucharist because He loves us and wants to be with us, and wants us to be with Him.

“As the Father loves me,” Jesus says, “so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.” (John 15:9-11)

To hear something like this, that God has come to us and wants to literally be consumed by us in love, should shake us up. It’s not natural. In fact, it is supernatural. We all have a hunger for more. Jesus Christ is the only one who can fill us. If someone offered you food and drink when you were starving, wouldn’t you take it? What He offers us is more than the word “gift” can fully describe. It’s what we’re made for.

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Gregory was the 6th Place winner of the Veils by Lily Real Presence Essay Contest.

 

 

 

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 Notes

  1. Excerpted from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 2010, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.
  2. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1
  3. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1376