Thursday, July 26, 2012

Column: God pitches his tent within us

The root of tabernacle is the Latin for tent, tabernaculum , which derives from taberna, hut. The photo is of a stamp for making hosts found in Jerusalem, dating to the time of the Crusade (the hands are mine, reflected in the glass.)

This column appeared on, the Philadelphia Archdiocese's news portal on 24 July 2012. CatholicPhilly has launched a weekly electronic newsletter, to get it, sign-up here (link is at the end of the text).

Then He took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me. — Luke 22:19

“Is there anything I can bring you?” I asked my friend Maryann, who had been hospitalized without a chance to pack a thing and was now facing major surgery. “A scrunchy to keep the hair off my face?” “No problem.” She turned momentarily serious. “And the Eucharist?” Absolutely.

So this morning after Mass, with the blessing of the pastor, I retrieved a pyx from the sacristy, and in it placed a tiny fragment of the host consecrated just a few minutes before. Two of us went from the church to Bryn Mawr Hospital to bring Maryann word of our community’s earnest prayers for her, and Christ, cradled in our hands.

The custom of bringing the Eucharist to the sick and homebound is an ancient one. In the 2nd century, St. Justin Martyr, in his First Apology, tells of the deacons who made arrangements to carry “the consecrated bread, wine and water” from the Eucharistic table to the absent.

It’s the original reason for having a tabernacle in churches, so that the Real Presence of Christ could be ready on a moment’s notice to be brought to those in need, day or night. And later, so that those in need could find Christ, and sit in His Presence, outside of the Mass.

The Mass is a sacrifice, inextricably wound into the Sacrifice made for us on Calvary. The Hebrew word used in the Old Testament for sacrifice,
korban, comes from roots that mean “to draw near.”

I know that when I hear the words of consecration at Mass, what comes first to mind is the Last Supper and the Crucifixion, but the sacrifice Jesus made for us extends far beyond those moments, pivotal as they were in salvation history.

At the beginning of John’s Gospel, we hear that the Word became flesh and “pitched his tent among us” (Jn. 1:14). It’s a reminder that the entire Incarnation is one long sacrifice. The way in which God chose to “draw near” to His people is not restricted to Calvary or an upper room in first century Jerusalem, or in the present time, to the celebration of the Mass.

This Sacrament makes ever present to us God-in-the-flesh. So we pitch sacred tents in our churches, in tabernacles, so that Christ can dwell in our midst and we might draw near to Him.

God pitches his own tents as well. When I held up the host and said, “The Body of Christ,” I heard in Maryann’s firm “Amen!” an echo of St. Augustine’s exhortation: “to that which you are, answer, ‘Amen!’ … Become what you receive.”

Here, in my hands, is Christ. Here, in your hands, is Christ. Here, in this hospital bed, lies Christ. What was sacrificed on the altar this morning, continues to draw us near, His tent pitched within each of us, present at the table and not.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger. — From St. Patrick’s Breastplate


  1. As a volunteer in the hospital I am always overwhelmed by the firm 'Amen' of the people I visit.

    1. Word in the Hand...I'm not often a minister of the Eucharist these days (my parish's custom is one person, one ministry and I cantor), but when I do the odd turn while on retreat, or in this case, bringing communion to someone in the hospital, I, too, am always listening for the "Amen"....

  2. I am deeply moved by this post. Part of my job is to connect people who need the Eucharist at home, hospital or in a facility to those who can help. I will be sharing this with our pastoral care person and pastor.

    1. Fran, I'm glad that the words can be of help. I told Maryann's daughter this morning to tell her mother that I'd written about her (Maryann was still in the ICU at that point) -- she was a faithful reader of the column in print!