Devotion to Christ in the Tabernacle

Author: Roberto Masi


Roberto Masi

"The unique and indivisible existence of the Lord, glorious in Heaven, is not multiplied but is made present by the Sacrament in the numerous places on earth where the Mass is celebrated. After the Sacrifice, this existence remains present in the Blessed Sacrament, that is, in the tabernacle, the living heart of each one of our churches. It is for us a pleasant duty to honour and worship in the Sacred Host which our eyes see, the incarnate Word which our eyes cannot see and which without leaving heaven has made itself present before us".                  Credo of the People of God

The Council of Trent teaches that Christ is truly, really, and substantially present in this sacrament without leaving heaven. And it is not repugnant that he is in all places where the sacrifice of the HolyMass is celebrated while remaining in heaven, in such a mode of existence which, by reason enlightened by faith, we know is possible for God, although we cannot express it in words (Sess. XIII, cap.1; Ds, 1626).

Sacred Scripture presents the Eucharist as a sacrifice and as a meal: thus the Synoptics, St. Pauland Saint John; and it clearly affirms that Christ is truly and substantially in the Eucharist both because of the expressions in the biblical text itself and because it is implicit in the affirmation of the eucharistic sacrifice and meal.

Whenthe eucharistic celebration of the Holy Mass ends and the Eucharist remains,the body and blood of Christ always remain in it. This doctrine is very ancient in the Church.

The early Christians had the habit of receiving the Eucharist and taking it hometo keep it and eat it later. This we know, for example, from Tertullian (De oratione, c. 19;. P. L., 1. 1181), from Novation (De spectaculis, CSEL III p. 8), and from St. Basil (Lettera 93; P.G. 32, 483-486), etc.

Thus the early Christians believed that even after the end of the Mass the body of Christ remains in the Eucharist. Cyril of Alexandria exclaims that those who deny this make a gross error: " In fact—he writes—Christ does not change nor does his sacred body, but the power and the strength and the life-giving grace alwaysremain in it. (Letter to Calosyrius;P.G., 76, 1075).

Thus faith in the presence of Christ after the celebration of the Eucharist is an ancient belief in the Church; one could even say that it is of apostolic origin and directly connected to the Words of Christ.

Is well known that Luther and hisdisciples affirmed that Christ is in the Eucharist only during use; that is, during the Eucharistic celebration, and thusthey denied all belief in the real presence and did not keep the tabernacle in their churches.

TheCouncil ofTrent expressly condemned this opinion asfalse: "He who maintains that after the consecration thebody and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ is no longer present in the sacrament of the Eucharist but that it is only present in the use, and not before or after; and that in the consecrated hostsor particles that are preserved after thecommunion or that remain afterwards, there is not present the true body of Christ, let him be anathema" (Sess. XIV, can. 4; DS, 1654).

Consequently the Council of Trent taught authoritatively the duty of Christians to venerate and worship Christ who remains in the tabernacle. In fact, the tabernacle does not contain a relic but aperson, and precisely a divine person; thusit must be worshipped. And as God the Father sent Christ on earth commanding all the angels to worship him (Psalms 96, 7; Hebrews 1, 6), the Magiadored him (Mathew 2, 11) and also the Apostles (Mathew 28, 17); and thus men must also worship him.

It is easy then to understand that the Church should wish to honour Christ in the Sacrament with a special cult, even after the Eucharistic celebration. This has been the case during the entire history of the Church , but especially since the XIII century, when under the Influence of Blessed Giuliana di Monte Cornillon, Urban IV (1210-1264) with the famousBull "Transiturus" extended the feast of Corpus Domini throughout the whole Church.

Since that time devotion to Christ, who is really and substantially present in the Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle, spread and grew among the Christian people and it took various forms such as adoration, visits, the Forty Hours, processions, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, etc.

Thus, after various vicissitudes, it has reached us today, and is now subjected here and there, to illogical contestation. Once again the doctrine of Luther, rejected by Trent is put forward, namely, that Christ is present only during the Eucharistic celebration. Hence Paul VI warned against this error in the recent Eucharistic Encyclical "Mysterium Fidei" (1965).

* * *

"The Blessed Sacrament, in the tabernacle, is the living heart of each of our churches", says Paul VI.

The universal Church is the society of the worship and of the salvation of men in Christ. In it perfect honour is rendered to the Father, and humanity receives spiritual health. The Catholic Church is present in the various places where there is a local church. This church is fully active when it renders honour to God and leads men to salvation. This happens in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, where the local community is gathered together around Christ who offers himself to the Father in sacrifice and to men in food; and with him, who is the head with his members, they honour God and are saved.

The eucharistic celebration which is a sacrifice and a meal, is thus the centre of the Christian life of the local church, which is the diocese and also the parish. From the Holy Mass originates the ecclesiastical life of the Christian community, its charity and its holiness.

When the Eucharist remains after the eucharistic celebration, the Lord Jesus is present bodily and substantially, and lives in the tabernacle in the midst of the Christian community, He continues to be the heart of the parish: "The Eucharist is reserved in the churches and oratories—writes Paul VI in the Mysterium Fidei—as the spiritual centre of the religious and parish community". In fact, as the Pope adds, "he lives with us full of grace and truth; he renews moral life, nourishes virtue, consoles the afflicted, strengthens the weak, and urges all those who approach him to imitate him. "The Lord Jesus in the tabernacle continues the work begun in holy Mass and in the Eucharistic Communion.

* * *

Thus we must bear in mind the particular significance of the veneration due to Christ in the tabernacle. In the tabernacle Christ is in the Eucharist which remained after the celebration of Mass; thus in some way the work of the Mass continues in the tabernacle.

The Lord is in the tabernacle under the species of bread, that is, under the aspect of victim, in the sacramental state of sacrificial offering. And in the tabernacle his prayer continues "always living to intercede for us" (Hebrews 7, 25). Whoever honours Christ in the Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle, must see him as a sacrificed victim, that is to say, he must unite himself with the victim of Calvary, continuing the sacrifice of the Mass.

Moreover, Christ is in the tabernacle under the species of bread, which signifies food to be eaten. Devotion to Christ in the tabernacle thus supposes a spiritual continuation of the Eucharistic Communion, which makes one participate in the sacrificial victim of the Mass.

In the light of this we can understand the true meaning of the worship of Christ in the Eucharist as reserved. It is a devotion which continues the Mass and its fruits as a sacrifice and as a meal. It is in this sense that we should understand visits to the Blessed Sacrament, adoration, processions, etc.

If the presence in the tabernacle is separated from the Mass and Communion, then certainly, devotion to Christ in the Eucharist as reserved is no longer understandable, since Christ is in the tabernacle as a consequence of the sacrifice and of the meal. Only in relation to these is it possible to understand this presence correctly. Consequently, it is only as a continuation of the Eucharistic sacrifice and meal that devotion to Christ in the tabernacle is theologically clear and set in the Eucharistic context willed by Christ.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
6 February 1969, page 9

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