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Tabernacles and the Real Presence

Again, Where Should the Tabernacle Be?

Q: When new churches are built, or old ones remodeled, why is the tabernacle taken from the main body of the church? Most Blessed Sacrament chapels can accommodate only about six people.

A: Start by recalling that at the Last Supper Jesus consecrated bread and wine and gave them to his apostles to eat and drink. No one suggests that anything remained to be kept and reverenced or put in a special place.

It was only with time that Christians began to reserve some of the consecrated Eucharist. And their purpose was to have the sacrament available to give to the sick or dying. Thus, some place or container was necessary to reserve the sacrament with proper dignity and reverence.

Once Christians began to reserve the Blessed Sacrament for the sick, they also began to adore Christ in the reserved Eucharist, and spend time in prayer and reflection in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Associated with these periods of adoration and prayer came public eucharistic devotions such as holy hours, processions in honor of the Blessed Sacrament and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament with Benediction following. These developments came about because the faithful, led by the Spirit, came to appreciate many aspects of the Eucharist over time.

All of these actions were distinct from the celebration of the Eucharist, where we reenact the Last Supper and make present again the sacrifice of Christ.

The bishops at Vatican II attempted to reemphasize the ancient, communal aspects of the Eucharist and Christ's presence. Today's liturgists and Church leaders believe that it is confusing to call for Christ to become present in the eucharistic prayer when the sacrament is already present on the altar in the tabernacle. It divides our attention.

When we are celebrating Mass, our attention should be devoted to the eucharistic action and all that it implies—not on the tabernacle.

Thus, the Church urges that the places of celebrating Mass and reserving the Blessed Sacrament be distinct, that the altar and tabernacle be separated architecturally and structurally.

Speaking practically, a separate chapel will provide more quiet and foster greater reverence than the main body of a church, which has people coming and going, choir practices, wedding rehearsals, etc.

If providing a special place for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is seen as minimizing the presence of Christ, how do we explain St. Peter's in Rome and the other great basilicas and cathedrals with their special Blessed Sacrament chapels that were in place long before Vatican II?

If the parish wants to have special devotions, with a large number participating, the Blessed Sacrament can be exposed on the main altar and put back in the tabernacle afterward.

Why Mass Vestments?

Q: Why does the priest dress the way he does at Mass?

A: For the first three centuries there were no special clothes for the presider or celebrant of the Eucharist. The celebrant wore ordinary street clothes.

Late in the third century or early in the fourth century writers begin to mention special garb for liturgical actions. Sts. Athanasius, Jerome and John Chrysostom all mentioned liturgical garb for clerics. They particularly referred to the orarion, a primitive stole. The Council of Laodicea (343-381) often referred to vestments for sacred functions.

Today's vestments have their origins in the ordinary clothes of the later Greco-Roman world. The alb, a long loose-fitting garment, was worn around the house. The more decorative chasuble was worn over it in public.

As Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., in the Catholic Update "A Tour of a Catholic Church", points out, "If you attended Mass in fourth-century Rome, the leader of the liturgical assembly would be dressed in much the same way as the priest today vests for Sunday Mass. But at that time, everyone in the church would be wearing an alb and chasuble!"

How Can a Priest Retire?

Q: Since the Catholic priest is a representative of the apostles and every day changes bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, then how can priests and bishops retire and in effect say, "I'm not doing this anymore"?

The priest, I thought, was next to God, the person who would always be there. How can the person who hears my confession and gives me absolution say, "I'm not doing this anymore"?

A: Quite frankly, I don't understand your anger at the thought priests might retire. But perhaps you and I do not have the same idea of retirement.

Priests may retire from active ministry for a variety of reasons. Like other people, they get old, weak and sick. Most are unable at 70 to stand in a classroom for five or six hours a day. They do not have the energy to run a parish of 1,000 families. Some are forced into nursing or retirement homes for the same kind of help other old people need.

Few, unless they are blind, deaf or bedridden, stop praying or celebrating the Eucharist. Many who are able continue to give what help they can in parishes, convents, nursing homes and other institutions.

There are a lot of heroic priests out there who have labored many years with little attention then or now. Where I live, many parishes are glad to have a retired priest take up residence there and offer help with daily and Sunday Masses and Confessions.

Old age doesn't pass a priest by simply because he is a priest. I know. Years of sickness have limited my activity. For those still able to travel and enjoy the relaxation of a few years, I rejoice.

Religious Lodgings in Europe

Q: We are considering a trip to Europe, traveling from Rome, north and west to France and into Switzerland. Are there any monasteries or convents that put up travelers, and how can we obtain that information?

A: You can write the Office for United States Visitors to the Vatican (North American College, Casa Santa Maria, Via dell' Umilta 30, 00187 Rome, Italy) for a list of some pensiones and small hotels run by religious communities and others in the city of Rome and near the Vatican.

U.S. and Worldwide Guide to Retreat Center Guest Houses is available from CTS Publications (P.O. Box 8355, Newport Beach, CA 92660). It covers Europe from Great Britain and Ireland to France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, Malta and Sweden.

    The Wise Man welcomes your questions. If you have a question, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Wise Man, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.
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