Letters from Fr. Carlos
This weekend as we continue our Lenten focus on the Mass, I would like to turn your attention to the Tabernacle, the Altar and the Cross.
Most of you have probably grown accustomed to different postures during mass…standing, sitting, kneeling and genuflecting. These are all acts of humility, acknowledging that we are in the presence of God. But there is a hierarchy of reverence we show to the different items that represent Jesus Christ in our worship space.
The Tabernacle is literally the “Holy of Holies,” since it is where the Body of Christ (the Eucharist) is reserved between liturgical services for adoration, or to be used to bring to the sick and dying. It usually has a red light next to it that is kept burning at all times. It should be in a prominent place and the centerpiece of the worship space. Our church currently sets the tabernacle off to the side but I hope to someday place it back under the Baldachino (the big arch behind the presider's chair) which literally reads across the top in Latin: “Behold the tabernacle (house) of God among men.” This is why it should be the first thing we locate and look for when we enter a church. And we should genuflect—literally ‘bend the knee’—in its direction, since it is Christ himself who is present. If we are physically unable to genuflect (due to age or affliction), we should at least revere it by bowing our body or head to it.
The second prominent representation of Christ during mass is the Altar itself, where the holy sacrifice of the Mass is offered. This is why the priest kisses the altar at the beginning and end, and we bow to it when we go up to read during liturgies. Every altar is consecrated by the Bishop in a special ceremony, and the relics of a saint are embedded in it (ours has the bones of St. Josaphat). On occasion we will also incense the altar, purifying it and sending our prayers up to God from it.
Finally, the Cross. Right now our cross is bare (no corpus/body of Jesus) because of Lent. We are leading up to the great events of Holy Week. Once Easter comes, the cross with the body of Christ will be in its place again. We only revere this during the mass when we use incense, to acknowledge Christ’s sacrifice.
Two final things represent Christ, the first of which is the Easter Candle, consecrated at the Easter Vigil. It is mostly lit during Easter season, baptisms and funerals, to represent the light of Christ among us. It is also only reverenced with incense during mass. The second is the priest himself, who stands in the person of Christ… more on this next week.
I invite you to continue to ponder our beautiful church and all the symbols it uses to open up the mysteries of God to us. Hope to see you at our next liturgy, and God Bless you and your family throughout this week.