Project Canterbury

God With Us:
The Meaning of the Tabernacle

by Frank Weston, D.D.
Bishop of Zanzibar

[London and Milwaukee: Mowbray and Morehouse, 1920. 135pp]
pp 75-85

transcribed by Mr. Alexander van Ness Munoz
AD 2000


LET me now attempt a summary, brief and simple, of the main meaning to us of the Blessed Sacrament, and of its place in our daily life.

i. In heaven Eternal God, our Father, awaits the return of His sinful children, desiring the day when they shall render to Him His due—obedience, love, adoration, praise, penitence, and reparation. Before Him is Jesus, Son of Mary, in His glorified manhood. Jesus our Lord , Himself, all that man owes to God. He is obedience, love, adoration, praise, penitence, and reparation. As on Calvary in painful death, so now in glory, He is our propitiation. And in the saints around His throne Jesus has already gained for His Father all that the Father desires. In Jesus they obey, adore, and praise God. In Jesus they love their Father. And in Jesus their penitence is perfected and their reparation made acceptable. In them Jesus satisfies the Blessed Trinity.

Here on earth the offering is yet to be won from each generation, and duly offered. Therefore, in sacramental mode. He is present in our midst, the necessary Mediator between us and our Father. So that in sacrament we see the Father's love for us, and His just claim upon us, and the Saviour's all-sufficient Sacrifice that covers the deficiencies of our self-surrender. As therefore we offer Him, with ourselves, to the Father, in the Holy Ghost, we are conscious of the fatherly pity that gives us what He claims from us, and we lose ourselves in the movement of divine love, as it passes from the Father to us, and back again with us to the Father, love's eternal and only source.

Thus the divine liturgy is the revelation of the Father's Love, the Saviour's Sacrifice, and the Spirit's activity of unifying love. And the revelation is made in the moment the Sacrifice is consummated, by way of the sacramental presence. To "hear Mass," to be "present at the Eucharist," to "attend without communicating" at the Holy Communion, what does it all mean but contemplation of the Eternal Godhead, in the Father's loving restoration to Himself, through Christ, of us His sinful children? It means adoration of the Father as He makes one all creation, in Christ, with Himself. In fact it means a thankful, humble vision of the whole activity of God in redeeming the world, with whatever self-consecration to the Father this vision may elicit from us.

2. The act of communion is the supreme surrender of ourselves to Jesus, that we may entirely share with Him in all that He offers to His Father; that He may fill us with Himself, and make our acceptance possible; and that we may lose ourselves in the common life of the Father's household. Thus in Jesus we are atoned with God and man.

Ideally this act of communion is necessary to a full share in the sacrifice that is being presented. And we perceive that our complete self-identification with the Christ, in order to give our Father His due, depends upon the sacramental presence of Jesus in our midst. Then is our Father glorified when Jesus, who is all He seeks from His creatures, enters, really and truly, within the hearts and bodies of a congregation of men and women. How much more, then, is He glorified in heaven, where the whole body of the saints lives only because Jesus lives in them?

3. See, then, how wonderful is the Blessed Sacrament, as we kneel before Him at the tabernacle. The liturgy of the Sacrifice is finished for the day, and our communion has gathered us up right into the sacrificial act, making us, with Jesus, well-pleasing to the Father. And we have come back to the sacramental presence. Why? Because Jesus is sacramentally present! He is present as our Sacrifice, our Life, and our unifying Head. Kneeling before Him, so revealed, we find a royal road to the contemplation of the Father's love and wisdom; moving along which we may praise and magnify our Saviour Road-maker, and give hearty thanks to the Spirit, our Guide. The Sacrament speaks of the Blessed Three who is yet One. It is the characteristic mode of the Father's atoning activity; it makes articulate the dual relation in which we stand to Jesus. Therefore to the Blessed Sacrament we return; to the very Christ present with us; to the Spirit who, by sacrament, makes all things one; to the Father, from whom and in whom, for whom and to whom, the Blessed Sacrament and we have our being. We renew, in heart and will, the morning's Sacrifice, for is not the High Priest and Victim present? And, so doing, we are consciously one with heaven's great company who cease not, day or night, to offer to the Father the Lamb, whom they as ceaselessly adore.

We renew our union with Jesus, spiritually, with all our power of faith and penitence; feeding by faith upon Him who came to us so short a time ago in sacramental manner, and who remains within us mystically our life and our salvation. And, so doing, we are lifted up by Him into the Father's love; we find ourselves gazing, through the manhood born of Mary, into the very face of God, which no man shall ever fully apprehend. And, prostrate before Jesus, the Head of the Church, our Lord, our King, and Priest, we pour out to Him the prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings He has inspired us to bring, that our prayers and His may ascend together, as smoke from one golden censer, before the Father's throne.

Again, we listen. For God, may, perhaps, vouchsafe a message through His Incarnate Word, Jesus, the Blessed Sacrament. It may be in listening silence, it may be in humble self-examination that we shall be made aware of His will for us. And we find ourselves drawn out of our narrow lives into the wider life of the brotherhood. And, finally, we depart to do our brethren nobler and more humble service, just because we have met God in Christ.

4. Not for a moment do I believe that the prayer underlying such an experience as I have tried to describe is necessarily dependent on the sacrament, for many make it in simple mental prayer. But it is certainly far easier for some people to make it when the sacrament is present; and the sacramental presence does give to the prayer a special note and tone. In any case, we all require some mental image, or picture, when we pray, until we receive the highest gifts of prayer. And God has given us His own image, incarnate, as the centre of our prayer. And the sacramental presence of this Image exactly serves our need. "Come unto Me," He cries, for "I and My Father are One." It is therefore very hard to appreciate their position who are shocked at our desire for access to the tabernacle. Jesus in sacramental presence is with us. To adore Him seems a duty. And prayer in His Presence may rise to contemplation of the Godhead.

5. A grave objection will, no doubt, occur to the reader at this point. Why is not such a conception of the sacrament found in the early writers of the Church? Let us meet this by another question: Why did devotion to the Holy Ghost take so long to develop? Is it necessary that all our feelings towards God should have been expressed in every generation from the beginning? More directly to the point, we may suggest that we have no knowledge of the degree of reverence paid to the Blessed Sacrament in the first few centuries of Christian life. We know that reservation was practised from very early days; reservation for the sick and absent; and reservation in private houses both for the devout, and in case persecution prevented attendance at the altar. Our remote predecessors did not worship as we do; their bodily postures were different. But, like most human beings, they no doubt had their private spots for prayer at home, and the reserved sacrament would, very naturally, be kept there. More we cannot, less we need not say.

But before this practice of private reservation was completely stopped the custom of public reservation was begun. This is practically certain, owing to the introduction in the West of the custom of offering at each Mass a Host from the previous liturgy, and in the East also, and more widely, to the Mass of the Pre-sanctified. So that everything was in train for the devotion to the sacrament that afterwards developed.

In the East popular devotion took the line our bishops urge upon us. It centred itself on the Christ in the mystical body, on Christ within the family of God. And since the Easterns do not suffer from individualism as much as we do, since they have that social sense our bishops now urge upon us, they found the expression of Christ's presence in the persons of the saints. Encouraged, no doubt, by their pre-Christian modes of thought, they developed an intense devotion to the saints and the holy dead : sacred pictures were to them what, in a sense, their tabernacles otherwise might have been.

The Bishop of Oxford is socialistic enough, and human enough, to trace this development. And, as a catholic theologian, he will perceive the truth it expresses and the logical end of the devotion he advocates.

Unfortunately, the East has somewhat neglected the sacramental presence of Christ glorified. Their liturgies are richer than ours in the expression of His glory. But popular devotion has not seized on the reality of the sacramental presence, although it is fully alive to Christ's mystical companionship with Christians. In consequence, communion is received very rarely indeed, and the tabernacle is not visited.

Christ is very real to the Easterns. But their favourite meeting-place with Him, out- side the liturgy, is a sacred picture, and most often the medium of His presence is some saint—the Blessed Mother, or another. The Westerns are not behind them in this devotion to Christ in the saints, although the tone of their devotion is not quite that of the East. They magnify the personalities of the saints more than do their Eastern brethren, sometimes to the exclusion of Christ's presence; but they have better preserved the balance of truth, at least, in theory. The tabernacle is the chief centre of their extra-liturgical devotion to Christ, while they are officially exhorted to strive after a daily communion.

6. On the whole, then, the wisest course for a missionary bishop is to steer clear of the evident pitfalls revealed in the past. He will teach his people, and lead them to practise, just as much of devotion to the saints as they can combine with a living sense of Christ indwelling the mystical body, the Church. And he will forbid, and by all means prevent, such devotion as lays stress upon the personalities of the saints and their activities as against the dominating indwelling of the Christ within His holy ones.

So doing and teaching, he will best lay the lines of devotional development. For he avoids the danger that arises from individualism. The individualist too often neglects Christ in the saints. Sometimes he forgets the saints altogether, and sometimes he exalts them, in his own interest, to the dishonour of Christ. Either way he is his own centre, worshipping the person who best serves his own advantage.

And on the same lines of cautious foresight, a bishop will teach his people, and lead them to practise, just so much devotion to Christ at the tabernacle as they can combine with a living sense of His presence within them, individually and as a body. He will see that they are taught to find the end of religious faith in God, the Blessed Trinity. As means to that end the Christ will be preached, and the presence of Christ will be explained, in its twofold mode. They will be led to realize Him as He is in glory, manifest to them mystically as He accompanies them by day and night, and revealed to them sacramentally as their Sacrifice, their heavenly Bread, and their coming Judge. At the same time, they will be encouraged to perceive Him within themselves, as true members of His mystical body, His indwelling that is mediated by the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Christ; and to think of His presence within them as the means and vehicle of the very true indwelling of God the Blessed Trinity.

The divine liturgy is their corporate duty, and communion in the sacred manhood their individual and corporate privilege, while the worship of the Saviour in His reserved sacrament is an individual opportunity, God-given and God-inspired, of recalling themselves to the supernatural plane, upon which they make their continual memorial and feed upon the Lamb once slain. To them the tabernacle is not a way to aesthetic self-indulgence; it is the very gate of Christ's highest heaven.

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