This week’s question: During Mass, should our reverence be focused toward the Alter or the Tabernacle?
This one was emailed to me recently, so – as always – thanks for asking! The answer to your question is the answer to THE question: JESUS, so let’s take a look at how that plays out.
Jesus, as you know, is present in the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the Tabernacle at church. That’s why we genuflect toward the Tabernacle whenever we enter or leave the church – it’s a way of showing reverence to Jesus. Of course, there are also other ways that Jesus is present in church – especially during Mass. The Altar represents Jesus among us, as does the Crucifix. The priest acts in persona Christi during Mass, and the assembled baptized believers make up the Body of Christ. So, all of these deserve special reverence at various times and in various circumstances.
During the Mass, our focus of Jesus’ presence is primarily connected with the Altar and the Priest celebrant – because both of these are necessary to make Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament (which is what Mass is all about!). So, when the priest and ministers approach the sanctuary before Mass officially begins – and when they leave the sanctuary after the conclusion of the Mass – they genuflect to the Tabernacle. In between (from the beginning to the end of Mass), we reverence the Altar – sometimes with a kiss, sometimes with a bow.
The Altar is one of the few things specially anointed with Sacred Chrism (The others being a bishop, a priest, and a confirmed and baptized person). This is done when a new church building (or a new Altar) is consecrated by the bishop. The Altar is also traditionally marked on top by 5 small crosses (representing the 5 wounds of Jesus).
So, in answer to your specific question, during Mass, our reverence is focused primarily toward Jesus represented in the Altar. At all other times, we focus our reverence toward Jesus present in the Tabernacle (unless the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for adoration on the Altar or in a procession).
Thanks again for another fine question, and may God bless you, and your loved ones throughout this new year!