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Home | Lifestyle | Gallery+Story: ‘What is the tabernacle’ in church?

Gallery+Story: ‘What is the tabernacle’ in church?

In last week’s piece, I wrote about the “Glass Bible” or stained glass windows and it was in the comments section that Mark asked a question based on another readers comment.

In the article, Joe Martinez said that “without stained glass [we] must remind ourselves that we are there for the greatest story, i.e. the mystical presence of God present in the tabernacle.”

Mark wanted to know what this means and asked, “What is the tabernacle? In my church, the place we worship is the tabernacle.”

Merriam-Webster defines tabernacle as a house of worship, a receptacle for the consecrated elements of the Eucharist, a tent used by the Israelites during the Exodus.

When Moses lead the captive Hebrews to freedom, and during the forty years, they wandered in the desert, God was with them. During that time, God gave clear instructions to the Israelites for a sanctuary to be built – a place where His spirit could dwell and where the people could go and worship and offer sacrifices to Him. This movable sanctuary was called the tabernacle. 

To most Protestant groups, the tabernacle is Jesus Christ Himself. 

John 1:14 says that “the word became flesh and dwelt [Gk. σκηνόω] among us.” The Greek translation of “tent of meeting” is σκηνὴ μαρτυρίου, as referenced in Exodus 33:7. So, to most Christians, when Jesus became flesh, he “tabernacled” among us. Jesus also spoke about the “the temple of his body” in John 2:19,21, and Paul taught that because one is united to the risen Christ, “we are the temple of the living God.” 2 Cor. 6:16.

The meaning of tabernacle takes on a different meaning about the liturgical churches: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopalian, et. al. First, however, we must look at the Eucharist and what it is. 

There are two major beliefs about Churches that give Eucharist – the Body and Blood of Christ in the presence of bread and wine. I will try to explain transubstantiation and consubstantiation, as both are key to the Eucharist, as well as the presence of a tabernacle within a Church.

During the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass the Priest, in the Roman Catholic Church, there is the Institution Narrative and Consecration of the bread and wine.  Those prayers read:

Be pleased, O God, we pray,

to bless, acknowledge,

and approve this offering in every respect;

make it spiritual and acceptable,

so that it may become for us

the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son,

our Lord Jesus Christ.

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.

In a similar way, when supper was ended,

he took this precious chalice

in his holy and venerable hands,

and once more giving you thanks, he said the blessing

and gave the chalice to his disciples, saying:

Take this, all of you, and drink from it,

for this is the chalice of my Blood,

the Blood of the new and eternal covenant,

which will be poured out for you and for many

for the forgiveness of sins.

Do this in memory of me.

In the middle ages, it was believed that when the priest said ‘Hoc est enim corpus meum‘ (This is my body), the host became the Body of Christ. 

Today, in the Catechism, we find that as soon as the Institution Narrative begins, the Lord is present in the elements of bread and wine. When you attend Mass, this is also why you kneel for this part of the Eucharistic Prayer.

This is called Transubstantiation – the conversion of the substance of the elements of the Eucharist, the bread and wine, into the Body and Blood of Christ. 

Where Transubstantiation holds that the bread and wine become the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, consubstantiation holds that the Body and Blood of Christ are present alongside the substance of the bread and wine, which remain present after the prayers of consecration.

Therefore, you will see a Tabernacle in some Churches, but not others – think of the Lutheran Church as an example.

So, why does the Roman Catholic Church have a Tabernacle, to hold the Body and Blood of Christ?

Earlier in this article, I wrote about Moses, and the forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert. During that time, a tent was built, a Tabernacle, where the Spirit of God would dwell. The Tabernacle in a Catholic Church follows the same principal. 

Throughout the New Testament, the divinity of Christ is demonstrated time and again. In John 5:18, authorities sought to kill Jesus because he “called God his Father, making himself equal with God.”

John 8:58, we find Jesus saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” In the next verse, we see his audience wanting to take up stones to stone him.

Passage after passage, within the New Testament, Jesus, the Apostles and others are proclaiming that Jesus is God made flesh. The same is true of the early Church Fathers.

From Ignatius of Antioch, “Ignatius, also called Theophorus, to the Church at Ephesus in Asia . . . predestined from eternity for a glory that is lasting and unchanging, united and chosen through true suffering by the will of the Father in Jesus Christ our God” (Letter to the Ephesians 1 [A.D. 110]).

Tatian the Syrian wrote, “We are not playing the fool, you Greeks, nor do we talk nonsense when we report that God was born in the form of a man” (Address to the Greeks 21 [A.D. 170]).

From Novatian we have the following: “If Christ was the only man, why did he lay down for us such a rule of believing as that in which he said, ‘And this is life eternal, that they should know you, the only and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent?’ [John 17:3]. Had he not wished that he also should be understood to be God, why did he add, ‘And Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent,’ except because he wished to be received as God also? Because if he had not wished to be understood to be God, he would have added, ‘And the man Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent;’ but, in fact, he neither added this, nor did Christ deliver himself to us as man only, but associated himself with God, as he wished to be understood by this conjunction to be God also, as he is.” (Treatise on the Trinity 16 [A.D. 235]).

Finally, from the Council of Nicaea I: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in being with the Father. Through him, all things were made” (Creed of Nicaea [A.D. 325]).

“But those who say, ‘There was a time when he [the Son] did not exist,’ and ‘Before he was born, he did not exist,’ and ‘Because he was made from non-existing matter, he is either of another substance or essence,’ and those who call ‘God the Son of God changeable and mutable,’ these the Catholic Church anathematizes” (Appendix to the Creed of Nicaea [A.D. 325]).

With Jesus being the Son of God, God in the flesh and after the prayers of consecration within the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we have Jesus present in the Holy Eucharist. The bread and wine are then the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. 

During the Mass, after the Priest has given communion to all those present, there are consecrated hosts left over. Those remaining hosts, being the Body and Blood of Christ, of God in the flesh, they are placed in the Tabernacle, where He dwells among man as in the days of Moses. 

I hope this answers your question. 

Do you have any questions about faith or religion? If so, let me know, and I will do my best to get the answer for you!


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