That precious sanctuary light

I recently visited the Boston area to bury my mother, who passed away in October.  On the Sunday morning of her memorial reception, I attended Mass in a suburb.

When I went to the parish nearest where I was staying, I could not find the tabernacle.  I had no idea in what direction to genuflect when I took my seat.  It was only after the Consecration, when someone went into a darkened chapel along the side to get some of the reserved Sacrament, that I saw where it He was.

At the end of Mass, I went to the darkened chapel to pray the Rosary before the Tabernacle and poured out my gratitude for Christ’s physical presence there.

I used to go to pray in non-Catholic churches.  Back during an immensely difficult trial when I was in my late 20s, I would go to a little Anglican Church in Bear River, Nova Scotia, that used to be left unlocked (until vandals broke one of the beautiful stained glass windows).  There I would pray, wrestling like Jacob with the angel, until God replaced the anguish and turmoil I was experiencing with His peace.   If it took two hours, I would not taking “No’ for an answer to my pleas for help.  And God was always faithful.

But now, I wonder if I could do that now, that is, to go inside any Christian church to pray.  Well, I suppose I could, but it would not be much different from praying in my living room before my icons.

Even if the Catholic church building was shaped like a spaceship, vs. a beautiful building glorifying God that tabernacle light would make all the difference, even if Our Lord was banished to a hidden corner or separate chapel.

A friend sent me a link to this article published earlier this year at The Catholic Herald about what surprised Cardinal John Henry Newman after he became a Catholic.  It certainly resonated.   Fr. Ian Ker writes:

And so it was that the feature of his new religious life as a Catholic that most struck him came as a complete surprise – namely, the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in Catholic churches. He wrote in a letter to a close friend, herself about to become a Catholic a few months later:

We went over not realising those privileges which we have found by going. I never allowed my mind to dwell on what I might gain of blessedness – but certainly, if I had thought much upon it, I could not have fancied the extreme, ineffable comfort of being in the same house with Him who cured the sick and taught His disciples … When I have been in Churches abroad, I have religiously abstained from acts of worship, though it was a most soothing comfort to go into them – nor did I know what was going on; I neither understood nor tried to understand the Mass service – and I did not know, or did not observe, the tabernacle Lamp – but now after tasting of the awful delight of worshipping God in His Temple, how unspeakably cold is the idea of a Temple without that Divine Presence! One is tempted to say what is the meaning, what is the use of it?

Go on over and read the rest.  Lovely!

4 thoughts on “That precious sanctuary light

  1. The best practice actually is to reserve the blessed sacrament in a separate room configured as a chapel of reservation where people may go to pray at any time of day without interfering with, or interference from, liturgical celebrations. Ideally, the sanctuary lamp should be at the principal entrance to this room.

    Unfortunately, many older buildings simply do not have rooms that would be suitable for this use, so the pastor must improvise. Here in the Archdiocese of Boston, some parishes still reserve the blessed sacrament in the original tabernacle on the original high altar, which they no longer use for celebration of mass, but that creates an awkward situation: the clergy, celebrating mass at the Altar of Sacrifice, are back to the tabernacle, and it also puts the tabernacle in a place of great prominence when the focus of the congregation should be (1) on the ambo during the readings and the homily and (2) on the altar of sacrifice during the consecration. Other parishes reserve the blessed sacrament at a tabernacle on a side altar or in a side chapel that is open to the main worship space where parishioners can go to pray even during a liturgical service (though doing so probably will not be ideal). But in either case, there should be a sanctuary light burning brightly near the tabernacle and the area around it should be well lit.

    I have often thought that the ideal solution for older churches would be to partition off the original sanctuary, creating a space for a dedicated chapel of reservation while preserving high altars and reredoses that are artistically significant, and reconfigure the nave into a new worship space that would allow the present ordinary form of the Roman Rite to realize its full potential. With respect to celebrating the present ordinary form of the Roman Rite in older buildings constructed for the Tridentine liturgy, the admonition about putting new wine into old wineskins is what comes to mind. Unfortunately, we’re not “there” yet.

    Of course, the problem may solve itself in due course. The latest revelations about sexual abuse probably are going to take out a LOT of the clergy of some dioceses, with the consequence that dioceses that are less affected will have to loan clergy to those that are severely affected. With fewer priests available to celebrate masses on Sundays and holy days, dioceses will have to build larger buildings to accommodate more parishioners at each mass.

    That said, the most important tabernacle is the one in each of our hearts, where our Lord came to dwell in our baptism.



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