Love Letters to the Latin Mass 2: Drawn to the Tabernacle

Continued from: Love Letters to the Latin Mass 1: In the Beginning

by Cynthia Millen at CATHOLIC STAND

O Gracious Lord Jesus, I, a sinner, presuming not on my own merits, but trusting in thy goodness and mercy, fear and tremble in drawing near to the Table on which is spread Thy Banquet of all delights. (St. Ambrose, opening line of prayer said silently by congregants before Mass.)

When you enter the nave where a Latin Mass will be celebrated, you immediately notice what is not present.

There are no musical instruments, not even a piano or organ, by or near the sanctuary.

There is no choir. There is no microphone or speakers.

There is no table with bread and wine in the middle of the aisle for parishioners to carry up.

No banners are hanging down from the ceiling or flags decorating the walls.

No parishioners are running to and fro around the altar, setting up for Mass.

There is no practicing reading, singing, or talking at all.

Nothing can take your attention away from the silent Sacred: the Tabernaculum, the “little house” or Tabernacle where Christ resides upon the Table of the Lord.

Indeed, everything is built to draw your eye to that very Tabernacle. The center aisle leads directly to it. (The side aisles are narrow and nearly hidden from sight.) The pews are low and dark, so they do not interfere with your line of vision (and are non-cushioned, so they do not make you too comfortable). The low altar railing serves as a protective wall proclaiming that there is something precious beyond.

Each step going up to the main altar leads to a smaller and smaller area so that your eye can only go in one place. The sculptures around the altar point toward or accentuate it. Even the side altars, with statues of saints and votive candles, are recessed and darker as they point to the Tabernacle shining ever more brightly.

Ecce Agnus Dei! Ecce Qui tollit peccáta mundi!

But why would you want to behold anything else? A miracle occurs at every Mass, and its results are guarded beautifully in that little royal house. For it is the King Himself who resides there; therefore, we bend our knees to Him when we arrive to greet Him accordingly. For this reason, we dress modestly and maintain a respectful silence, as is fitting the presence of our King.

On the evening of February 2, forty days after the Nativity, we celebrated the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is known as Candlemas, the last day of the Christmas season. We brought candles to thank God for the bees (“…by Thy command has caused this liquid to become perfect wax by the labor of the bees…”), His gift of candles, and to seek His blessing upon them.

It was appropriate that most of the Mass which followed was celebrated by candlelight. To say it was magical is an understatement. (“…A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.”—Luke 2:32.) All throughout, our eyes were drawn even more to the Tabernacle, now illuminated by many candles, surrounded by the darkness of the nave.

The Tabernacle at the Center

The real and complete presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is a primary teaching of the Catholic Church. Yet, sadly, less than 1/3rd of Catholics believe this. Many have claimed this is due to poor catechesis; thus, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has planned a three-year revival.

Yet, if the Tabernacle is not the primary focus of our church structure, why would we treat its Inhabitant as real or important? If His house is off to the side and surrounded by bedlam, why would we think that it is something more than a container?

Christ told us that His Body and Blood are present in the Eucharist. Shouldn’t we base our entire way of life on this statement?

Visus, tactus, gustus, in te fállitur,

Sed audítu solo tuto créditor,

Credo quidquid dixit Dei Fílius,

Nil hoc verbo veritátis vérius. 

Taste and touch and vision to discern Thee fail,

But the hearing only well may here prevail.

I believe whatever the Son of God hath told;

What the Truth has spoken, that for truth I hold.

(St. Thomas Aquinas, Adóro Te Devote)

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