The Tabernacle

This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive the graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We’re in the section on preparing yourself before Mass.

What:

Locate the tabernacle (usually a gold case behind the altar, sometimes with a veil in front of it). This is where Jesus is most especially present.

Point your body toward Him and genuflect (touch your right knee to the floor). Most people also make the Sign of the Cross as they genuflect. If you are unable to genuflect, another sign of reverence (e.g. a bow) is appropriate.

If the tabernacle is not behind the altar, after reverencing Jesus in the tabernacle, bow toward the altar.

Both signs are often done either upon entering/leaving the room or as you enter/leave your pew.

Why:

At Mass, the bread and wine are turned into Jesus’ Body and Blood.

This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me… This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

1 Corinthians 11:24-25
Photo Credit: 4bp.blogspot.com

God humbles Himself to become especially present in what used to be a piece of bread and some wine. We call this Heavenly food and drink many things (the Holy Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament, the Body and Blood of Christ, the Precious Body and Blood, etc.). By the end of Mass, any leftover Precious Blood is consumed, but the leftover Precious Body is collected and retained in the Tabernacle. Jesus is present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in each host (in each crumb of each host). There is a candle (usually red) that is kept lit near the Tabernacle to notify us that Jesus is present. This candle is called the Sanctuary Lamp.

As a sign of respect to Jesus, we lower ourselves in His Presence to show our subjection to and honor for our God and King. We genuflect toward the Tabernacle to recognize that Jesus is present there more especially than anywhere else in the world.

“Genuflect’ comes from the Latin for “bend the knee.” This genuflection usually consists of touching our right knee to the floor (for those who are able). In some ancient cultures, such an act using the right knee was reserved for the king. By using your right knee, you are physically recognizing that Jesus is the King of Kings. The right knee, in this instance, is an act of worship of God as God.

A genuflection, made by bending the right knee to the ground, signifies adoration, and therefore it is reserved for the Most Blessed Sacrament, as well as for the Holy Cross from the solemn adoration during the liturgical celebration on Good Friday until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.

General Instruciton of the Roman Missal 274
Photo Credit: Flicker

If the Precious Body is exposed in a monstrance, the tradition is to use both knees. A genuflection using the left knee is used traditionally for one’s bishop, the bishop of a diocese in which you are visiting, and the Pope.

The altar is reverenced because it is the place where Jesus will be made present and His sacrifice offered again to the Father, but we do not genuflect to the altar because Jesus is not yet present there.

When the tabernacle is behind the altar they are reverenced at the same time (genuflection, if possible). When they are apart, they are reverenced separately.

We also traditionally genuflect whenever we cross the tabernacle. Most people genuflect both when entering and leaving as signs of greeting and departure, but I have heard of some people who do not genuflect when leaving if they have received Holy Communion because they recognize that Jesus is present in the same way inside them, so they are not actually leaving Him. To me, it seems appropriate to still genuflect in that situation, but I can understand the idea of not doing so.

While genuflecting, many people also make the Sign of the Cross.

Going Deeper:

Right before you genuflect, make a mental exercise of recognizing that in the Tabernacle is actually Jesus, really, truly, present—body, blood, soul, and divinity.

Make an act of faith such as:

  • My Lord and My God! (There’s an indulgence for doing this well.)
  • Jesus, I believe the Eucharist is you; help my unbelief!
  • Jesus, I believe the Blessed Sacrament is you; I worship you, and I love you!

When you are not in the church, but you happen to be passing by, it’s traditional to make the Sign of the Cross with similar prayers as a sign of reverence for Jesus’ Presence in the tabernacle.

Off the Wall

Growing up, I didn’t grasp the idea that the Eucharist actually is Jesus. I remember my First Communion prep class going over this idea, but that memory only came back to me after I had learned about the Eucharist as a young adult. Therefore, I just saw the act of bobbing down and up as part of entering your pew (like you had to punch a ticket to get in or something). There was no real meaning behind it.

Since my realization of the Eucharist, I’ve worked at multiple Catholic parishes and noticed many children who had grown up the same way. Some look at the crucifix, some look at the floor, some have no idea what they’re doing, and they end up looking at the wall as they make a quick bounce before entering their pews. In all those positions, I’ve tried to influence a cultural shift to help everyone know what they’re doing. I hope my efforts have gotten their eyes off the wall and onto the Tabernacle.

What About You?

  • How has your understanding of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist affected the way you treat the Tabernacle?
  • Have you noticed a difference between different parishes’ reverence toward Jesus’ Presence in the Tabernacle (placement, beauty, signs of respect, etc.)?

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