“Tabernacle” means “tent” and was the place where God dwelled among His people Israel in their journey through the desert to the Promised Land. When the Israelites pitched camp, this portable tent was erected to house the Ark of the Covenant. In the center of the Israelite’s camp, the Lord dwelled in their midst.
The tabernacle concept is picked up in the New Testament, where the author of the Letter to the Hebrews identifies Jesus as the priest of the heavenly tabernacle, which is the true one (cf. 8:2, 5). In the end, this heavenly tabernacle will descend to earth, where God will dwell with His people, hence the imagery of the new heavens and the new earth mentioned in the Book of Revelation (cf. 21:3).
During this in-between time prior to the consummation of the world, Jesus dwells among us in Catholic churches through His Eucharistic Presence, reserved in a tabernacle such as our new one. The reservation of the Eucharist is a reminder to us that Jesus’ presence comes about in the Sacrifice of the Mass. But it is also a reminder of the charity we are to have for the sick and the dying, for reserving the Eucharist was first done for their sake, and it is some of these Hosts that are brought to these of our parish who cannot join us for Mass.
The prayers employed in the blessing of a tabernacle give us a deeper insight into its function:
- In adoring Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist, we should be led to a deeper appreciation of the mystery of the saving work He wrought for us;
- Invisibly present with us in the tabernacle, we pray that the grace which comes from Jesus’ one sacrifice may be of help and strength to us as we journey to heaven;
- Finally, in prayerfully visiting Jesus dwelling in the tabernacle, we should realize that only in Him are life’s deepest desires met; that in Him alone will we find life’s real source of satisfaction and the final answer to the longings of our heart.
Grateful for God’s tabernacle among us,
David J. Conrad