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Today, one of our churches at Our Lady of the Lakes Parish, St. Januarius’, celebrated the dedication of its newly renovated sanctuary.  The present church was built in the 1960’s.  Another one of our churches is having some roof work done.  Yet another is dealing with loose plaster.  Just like we have to deal with maintenance issues on our homes, our church buildings need regular maintenance.  That maintenance is important but why are our churches important for us?

In today’s first reading, the Lord speaks of his “house of prayer”.  Our church buildings are to be “houses of prayer” for us.  God is present everywhere but God is present in our churches in a special way.  We have many items in our churches to help us remind us of how God is with us. 

After becoming King, David set about to build a house for God (2 Samuel 7).  Before he could start, God spoke through the prophet Nathan to tell David it was not for him to build a house for God.  That would be done by his descendant.  God does not need a house to live in but, in our humanness, we need a place where we can focus ourselves on God.

What do we have in our churches to help us focus ourselves on God?  When we enter a Catholic Church, the first thing we might encounter may be Holy Water Fonts.  We use the water that has been blessed to remind ourselves that we are baptized children of God.  In the readings and the homily, we hear how we are called to live as baptized children of God.

As we continue to look around the church, we will likely see the Stations of the Cross.  In some churches, the Stations may be as simple as little crosses placed around the church or elaborate paintings depicting the story told in the Stations of the Cross.  Big or small, the purpose of the Stations of the Cross is the same, to remind us what Jesus went through in his final hours.

We may see statues, paintings, or stained glass windows depicting the saints or biblical scenes.  In doing so, we do not worship the saints or any other object.  We use these images of saints to remind us of the example the saints are for us in how they lived their lives in service to God.  We use the biblical scenes in artwork to remind us of what God has done for his people.  We do not worship the images for that would be the sin of idolatry.

As our eyes move to the front of the church, we will see the ambo (other names may be the pulpit or lectern).  Functionally, the ambo holds the readings but it is no ordinary word that is read from the ambo.  The ambo is a special place of God’s presence because the Word of God is read there.  The words of the Bible were written down by human hands for us but their writing was inspired by God.  The Bible tells us the story of Salvation History so that we may always know how God has always watched over his people so we may live in hope, knowing God is there for us.  The Bible also tells us the teachings of God so that we might know how we are called to live.  The ambo is thus a focal point of God’s presence speaking to us.

Turning our eyes from the ambo, we will see the altar.  Actually, you probably see the altar before the ambo because the altar is always front and center in the church.  The shape of the altar comes from the idea of a table.  Jesus celebrated the Last Supper at table with his disciples but it was no ordinary supper.   It was the First Eucharist.  At that meal, Jesus took the bread and wine and transformed them into his Body and Blood.  The word we have for this change is transubstantion, meaning the substance of the bread and wine is changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus but it still looks like bread and wine.  That is what we celebrate on our altar according to Jesus’ words “Do this in memory of me.”  But there is still more than that happening as we celebrate the Eucharist.  If you look up the definition of the world altar, it is place of sacrifice.  Sacrifice means to give something up.  Jesus said at the Last Supper (and we repeat it in the Eucharistic Prayer), “this is my body, which will be given up for you …. (turning to the cup) it will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.”  This is the intimate connection Jesus establishes between the Eucharist and his Crucifixion where he literally sacrificed his life of the Cross for us.  So the celebration is a central act and mystery of our faith.  The altar is where this happens and so the altar is centered in our church.

Recognizing the real presence of Jesus in the form of bread, we keep the consecrated host, the Blessed Sacrament, in church.  We have a very special place for it.  It is called the Tabernacle.  When we celebrate the Eucharist, the altar is the focal point because it is where we celebrate the sacrifice of Jesus.  But when Mass is not in process, the Tabernacle is the place we can turn to know Jesus presence in our lives.  Jesus is always with us.  Jesus is present in a special way in the church and most profoundly in the Tabernacle and at the Altar when celebrating Mass.

Our churches hold the Ambo, the Altar, and the Taberancle.  There are many other things in our churches.  We do not worship the building, the paintings, or statues.  We have all these things to point us to God.

May our churches always stand as “houses of prayer” so that we may know the Lord.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

2 Comments

  1. John says:

    Please restore the tabernacle to the center of St. Jan’s. I can’t understand why such a decision that is opposed by most of the parishioners must be forced down the people’s throats when it’s not even required by the Church. A small (yet significant) gesture like this would do much to repair the hurt that has taken place in this community.

  2. Fr. Jeff says:

    John,

    I hesitate to respond to your comment. It is not that I question your comment. This is not a blog I write for the parish. It is a personal thing that I do myself. While the ideas of my articles often relate to parish activities, it is not about specific parish events. I have decided that I will respond but only to offer some references to where the tabernacle is to be placed. I think many people are well aware that there are two opinions of where the tabernacle should be (centered behind the altar or a space of its own). I had actually thought about talking about this in my original post but decided it was not the point I was trying to make. I know there may be readers who will cite other sources that say the tabernacle is to be located in the center of the church behind the altar.

    Here are some sources I found on the location of the tabernacle:

    The Code of Canon Law, Canon 938 §2. “The tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved is to be situated in some part of the church or oratory which is distinguished, conspicuous, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer.”

    The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Chapter V, paragraph 314, “In accordance with the structure of each church and legitimate local customs, the Most Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a tabernacle in a part of the church that is truly noble, prominent, conspicuous, worthily decorated, and suitable for prayer.” and paragraph 315, “Consequently, it is preferable that the tabernacle be located, according to the judgment of the Diocesan Bishop: a) either in the sanctuary, apart from the altar of celebration, in a appropriate form and place, not excluding its being positioned on an old altar no longer used for celebration (cf. no. 303);b) or even in some chapel suitable for the private adoration and prayer of the faithful[128] and organically connected to the church and readily noticeable by the Christian
    faithful.”

    Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to the Bishops, Clergy, Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful on the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church’s Life and Mission, “69. In considering the importance of eucharistic reservation and adoration, and reverence for the sacrament of Christ’s sacrifice, the Synod of Bishops also discussed the question of the proper placement of the tabernacle in our churches. (196) The correct positioning of the tabernacle contributes to the recognition of Christ’s real presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Therefore, the place where the eucharistic species are reserved, marked by a sanctuary lamp, should be readily visible to everyone entering the church. It is therefore necessary to take into account the building’s architecture: in churches which do not have a Blessed Sacrament chapel, and where the high altar with its tabernacle is still in place, it is appropriate to continue to use this structure for the reservation and adoration of the Eucharist, taking care not to place the celebrant’s chair in front of it. In new churches, it is good to position the Blessed Sacrament chapel close to the sanctuary; where this is not possible, it is preferable to locate the tabernacle in the sanctuary, in a sufficiently elevated place, at the centre of the apse area, or in another place where it will be equally conspicuous. Attention to these considerations will lend dignity to the tabernacle, which must always be cared for, also from an artistic standpoint. Obviously it is necessary to follow the provisions of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal in this regard. In any event, final judgment on these matters belongs to the Diocesan Bishop.”

    Following Canon Law and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the new tabernacle area is specially created for the tabernacle, distinguished, and conspicuous.

    It is still next to the altar. While is not centered behind the altar, I would say that the new location of the tabernacle at St. Januarius’ is actually more visible than before. I am well aware that there are people who do not agree with this opinion. I’m sure that there may be readers who can cite sources favoring the location behind the altar. There are other blogs within the diocese that probably already have that information on them. Pope Benedict’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation leads the final judgment of the placement of the tabernacle to the diocesan bishop.

    Peace,

    Fr. Jeff

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