The Capital Campaign has all of us excited about what can happen when people provide for the beauty of the church. A few weeks ago, when I shared our encouraging progress on that path, I mentioned a project that would occur this summer as a result of a gracious bequest. I neglected to mention something that was coming much sooner and in fact has now happened.
Because of the care and generous gift of a donor who prefers to remain anonymous, this week we installed a beautiful new tabernacle that enriches and enhances our church and our worship.
The old tabernacle was showing signs of age and was fairly plain in the first place. It was of a suitable size and style for our church, and suitably protected the Most Blessed Sacrament from sacrilege, but it was quite simply beat up.
This tabernacle was not the original of the church, but rather a replica of that first one. Why, you may ask, did we need a replica? Well, the original tabernacle was on the main altar until liturgical directives after the Second Vatican Council removed it, at which time it was placed on the Lady Altar. Apparently after this move it was not fixed to its new altar, because at some point it was stolen. The whole tabernacle and its contents, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and the ciborium that held Him, were taken and never recovered.
I believe this was sometime in the mid-1970’s, because (then) Msgr. Foley oversaw its replacement. An exact replica was obtained, and it was securely bolted down to the marble pedestal that he had designed to raise the tabernacle to a height at which it could be seen throughout the church, and there it remained, solid and secure until we removed it this week.
On that same pedestal as the tabernacle rested, he placed the statue of the Blessed Mother. Now, the statue originally had stood on a small wall-mounted pedestal identical to the ones that hold our statues of Saint Joseph and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But I am not sure that her pedestal survived the fire and the installation of the mosaic.
|The original Lady Altar when our church was consecrated in 1958.|
What fire, you may ask, and what mosaic? Well, in the late 1960s a sacristy fire (hot charcoal in the trash can, I think) caused smoke damage in the choir of the church. It was during the repairs of this that the gold and blue mosaic on the apse wall was installed, along with the marble wainscoting that surrounds the choir. The Blessed Mother statue was obviously cleaned up too, but her pedestal and the little gothic-spired canopy above her have disappeared. So, she wound up on the same pedestal as the tabernacle, her lower third obscured by it, as if Jesus were sitting at or even on her feet.
So, while the marble contractor was here to remove the old tabernacle and secure the new one, we added a new pedestal for Mary, so that now she stands almost two feet higher. I think she is now at about the height at which she stood originally. The elegant rendering is more prominent and more visible than she was behind the tabernacle, but her gesture even more strongly defers to Her Divine Son’s presence in the reserved Holy Eucharist. This is consonant with what Bishop Foley once told me was his intention, that she be seen as Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.
The new tabernacle really is not new at all, but rather is about as old as our church building, which is why it is in such a suitable style. It comes from a church in Philadelphia; what that suffering local church can no longer use can be for us a great blessing.
I suggest that you take the time to inspect the new tabernacle more closely when you have the chance; the details are remarkable. And while you are there before the Blessed Sacrament, offer a prayer of thanks for artisans who make beautiful things to reveal the glory of God, and for parishioners who make sacrifices so that beauty be at the center of our worship.