The Real Presence of the Body of Christ
This year I have proposed daily visits to the Blessed Sacrament as a New Year’s resolution for the parish. Today, I would like to write something about the importance of the special presence of our Lord in the Holy Eucharist.
Some people ask, “God is present everywhere so why bother to go to the church to pray?”
God is present everywhere. In theology it is said that God is everywhere by his essence, sustaining all things in existence, by his presence, because all things are bare and open to his eyes, and by his power, because all things are directly subject to the word of his command. (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, ST Ia q8a3)
Nevertheless, he is also present in a special way, by his grace, in the knowledge and love of his faithful on earth, and even more in the angels and saints in heaven. (Ibid.) When we pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name” we recognize his glorious presence in the angels and saints in heaven, and we ask that by dwelling also in us, his name might be sanctified in us as well.
At the same time, throughout history there have been places in which God has made his presence known in a special way. So he showed himself to the people of Israel by coming down upon Mt. Sinai in fire and smoke and giving them the ten commandments in a voice of thunder. (cf. Ex 19:18,19; Ex 20:1-19) He made the tabernacle in the wilderness and then the temple in Jerusalem to be the special place of his presence. (cf. Ex 40:34-35; 1 Ki 8:10-13) The temple in Jerusalem was known especially as a place where God heard prayers and to this day observant Jews will turn towards Jerusalem when they pray.
For the same reason, whether the Eucharist is reserved in the church building or not, churches are special places of God’s presence, precisely because they have been set aside and consecrated as places of prayers. Further, there are places (Lourdes or Tepeyac) that have become places of pilgrimage because of they way that God has shown his presence there through working miracles, often associated with some sacred image.
Yet above all God made his presence known in the Word made flesh, the Son of God made man, Jesus Christ. In him the whole fullness of the godhead dwells in bodily fashion. (Col 2:9) Indeed, he is not just a dwelling place of God, he is God himself made present and visible. The man Jesus is the one mediator between God and men. (1 Ti 2:5) That means that we must not approach God in any old way, but through the man Jesus Christ.
Now, while in his own nature God is everywhere, the man Jesus Christ, as mediator, is not everywhere. In full bodily form he is in the glory of the Father in heaven, but he has not left us orphans, the substance of his body remains with us on earth hidden beneath the appearance of bread in the Holy Eucharist. This called uniquely ‘the Real Presence’.
That means that while God is everywhere, the mediator, through whom we must approach God, is found uniquely in the tabernacles of Catholic churches. This is where he has left us with his abiding presence. Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. (Mt 28:20) This is where now he hears prayers as once he heard prayers in the temple of Jerusalem. Indeed, the Body of Christ has taken the place of the temple; (cf. Jn 2:19-21) it is the fulfillment of the reality symbolized by temple, God dwelling in our midst. The Word became flesh and set his tabernacle in our midst. (Jn 1:14 – a literal translation of the Greek would be “pitched his tent”, but the root meaning of “tabernacle” is “tent”, it takes its origin from the “tent” or “tabernacle” that was God’s dwelling in the midst of the people of Israel during their 40 years in the desert.)
For that reason, while we can pray at any time and in any place, prayer before the tabernacle is uniquely privileged as the place in which we come into God’s presence through the mediator, Jesus Christ.
From the tabernacle, Jesus offers us his friendship. There he waits for us to spend time in his presence and keep him company.
Though Jesus is the Lord of heaven and earth, he has, after a fashion, imprisoned himself in the tabernacle, so that we might do him the favor of visiting him there.
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