Browsing Amen Corner

Amen Corner - August 8, 2021

Written by Kathy Kuczka

The word tabernacle in Hebrew means “dwelling place.” It is also derived from the Latin word tabernaculum, which means tent. In Biblical times, the tabernacle was known as the dwelling place of God. Within the tabernacle was an inner shrine known as the “Holy of Holies,” which housed the Ark of the Covenant. Biblical accounts describe the Ark as large, about the size of a 19th-century seaman's chest, made of gold-plated wood, and topped with two large, golden angels. The Ark of the Covenant contained several sacred objects, including the stone tablets bearing the divine inscription of the Ten Commandments. The Israelites carried the Ark throughout their forty year sojourn in the desert. When the Israelites were on the move, the Ark went ahead of them and was believed to have cleared impediments from their path and protected them in battle. When the Israelites stopped to camp, the Ark was placed in a separate tent called the tabernacle.

Later, when Solomon built his Temple, a special room was constructed to house the Ark, but that temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. To this day, no one knows what happened to the Ark. Even before the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, the prophet Jeremiah foretold the Ark’s disappearance.

When you multiply and become fruitful in the land—says the Lord--

 They will in those days no longer say,

“The ark of the covenant of the LORD!”

They will no longer think of it, or remember it, or miss it, or make another one.

Jeremiah 3:16

Jeremiah’s prophecy revealed that there would no longer be a need for the Ark of the Covenant.  God would make a new covenant with his people through his Son, Jesus Christ.

We Catholics are familiar with the word tabernacle. We believe the tabernacle is a place of divine dwelling because it houses the Eucharistic presence of God. That’s why we genuflect before the tabernacle. Our tabernacle was born out of necessity. The Church needed a place to keep the Eucharist for the sick and those who were unable to come to Mass. In the Middle Ages, a devotion grew up around the tabernacle. The tabernacle itself became an object of worship. However its primary purpose was and is to keep communion for the sick. As Fr. Paul Turner says, “The tabernacle serves the sick and the homebound. The altar serves the assembly gathered for Mass.” It is on the altar where the sacrifice of the community is joined to the sacrifice of Christ. It is on the altar where the sacrifice is blessed and sanctified. This is why, when we gather in the narthex before Mass, we place a host into the ciborium as a sign of our participation at the altar. By our participation in the Eucharist, we are “tabernacled,” that is, we become the dwelling place of God.

As rich and as ornate as was the Ark of the Covenant and many of our tabernacles throughout history, we, like the prophet Jeremiah, understand that God cannot be contained in or confined to a single place. As the evangelist John says at the beginning of his Gospel, “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  God’s dwelling, therefore, is with the human race, now and forever.


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