30 March 2021

Talks on the Sacramentals, by Msgr Arthur Tonne - Tabernacle

(N.B. Msgr Tonne has the name of the Cathedral wrong. It is the Cathedral Church of the Immaculate Mother of God, Help of Christians, not St Patrick's.)

"How terrible is this place! This is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven." Genesis, 28:17.

In the history of the Catholic Church in Australia we read this inspiring story. The first priest to have full ecclesiastical faculties there was the Very Rev. Father O'Flynn. Bigotry, promoted by British dislike of the Church, lead to his expulsion. On the morning he had to leave he gathered all the Catholics in the home of William Davis at Sidney to offer Mass for the last time. He was forced to hurry his departure, and as a result left the Blessed Sacrament behind in a cedar tabernacle.

Day after day for two years the Catholics came to that house to visit and adore their Eucharistic God. The little house was cared for like a sanctuary. There was no priest within 6,000 miles, no priest to give them Communion, no priest to absolve them from their sins. Daily they prayed for a priest.

After two years their prayer was heard. Two priests finally were able to come. They found the Sacred Species still in that house-- incorrupt. Today on the site of the Davis home stands the imposing St. Patrick's Cathedral. In 1928 this edifice was the center of the World's Eucharistic Congress.

The tabernacle is the center of all Catholic life and worship. No matter where it is set up, whether in the lowly mission chapel or in the lofty cathedral, it is the house of our Lord and we honor it. The Catholics of Sidney loved their Lord in the simple cedar tabernacle as much as in the costly cathedral.

The tabernacle is the receptacle, the case or cupboard-like box in which the Blessed Sacrament is kept on the altar. It is made of wood or steel, with a door or doors opening toward the people. Its inside is lined with silk, with gold or silverplate, or at least gilded.

On the outside the tabernacle must be completely covered, if possible, with a canopy or veil, or at least with a veil hung before the door. This covering veil gives the appearance of a tent. Tabernaculum means tent.

1. That meaning goes back into the Old Testament. There the tabernacle meant the movable tent-like sanctuary of the Hebrews before the building of Solomon's temple. It is sometimes spoken of as 'the tent of meeting,' 'the tent of testimony,' 'the dwelling,' 'the house of God,' and 'the sanctuary.'

We must distinguish the tabernacle proper from the tent in which it was enclosed. The larger enclosure was about 170 feet long and 85 feet wide. In it was the tabernacle proper which was about 50 feet long and about 17 feet wide. These are approximate figures to give some idea of the proportion. Both the larger and smaller enclosures were hung with curtains. The tabernacle proper contained two sections: the western section, called the "Holy Place," contained the altar of incense, the golden candlestick, and the table of shewbreads. The eastern section, called the "Holy of Holies," contained the Ark of the Covenant with the propitiatory and the cherubim.

The original tabernacle, built by skilled workmen selected by God, was dedicated on the first day of the second year after the flight from Egypt. Henceforth, under the special care of the Levites, it accompanied the Israelites through their wanderings in the desert. It disappeared about 600 years before Christ.

2. Its place was taken by the much more precious Christian tabernacle. As late as the Middle Ages there was no universal custom as to where the Blessed Sacrament was kept. Two things were always demanded: that the Sacred Host be kept in a secure place, that it be a clean place. The Sacred Host was kept either in the sacristy; in a wall cupboard of the choir; in a dove-like pyx hanging over the altar by a chain; or in a cupboard-like box placed above the altar.

From the sixteenth century it became more general to keep the Blessed Sacrament in a receptacle that rose above the altar table. Today our tabernacles vary in size, shape, color, material and design. More and more bishops are requiring a solid, burglar- proof, safe-like box. The key to the tabernacle is the special charge and care of the priest, who is personally responsible for its safe-keeping. He is also responsible for the regulations regarding the decoration and adornment of the tabernacle.

But all tabernacles, no matter how they vary in size and value, are precious in this that they contain the Lord of heaven and earth. Here lives the God-Man, body and blood, soul and divinity, waiting to pour out His blessings upon those who approach Him. Here is the same Jesus who lived, labored, suffered and died for all of us. Here is the same Jesus who said the night before He died:

"This is my body--this is my blood."

Here is the same Jesus who said He would give us Himself as our food, the same Jesus who said He would be with us to the end of time.

He has chosen to stay with us in that narrow home. It is a holy place, It is the most sacred place on earth. It is precious to us in every way. We can prove our appreciation in two ways particularly:

1. By visiting our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament as often as possible. Just as the tabernacle is the architectural center of our church structure, just as the tabernacle is the center and focus of all our ceremonies, so it should be the center of our lives. A life centered about the Eucharist is a godly life.

2. We can show our appreciation of Him who lives here by deeming it a privilege to contribute to the maintenance of His church, to the decoration and adornment of His altar home.

May the tabernacle be the center of our thoughts, the center of our attention while we are in church, especially during Mass, yes, the very center of our life as Catholics. Amen.

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