I have just read this letter to The Southern Cross entitled “Parish under siege by criminals”. The same article appears in the Archdiocesan News of Johannesburg. It tells of how a parish church was vandalised and robbed. It is a very sad letter because it gives an account of the theft of the Blessed Sacrament.
It is sad whenever anyone vandalises and steals another person’s property.
In this instance however the real sadness undoubtedly lies in the fact that it was the Blessed Sacrament that was taken from this church.
Unfortunately this fact is only mentioned after describing at length how the vandals destroyed and stole all the various other objects in the church: “As if that was not enough, they carried away the tabernacle, complete with the Blessed Eucharist, and crowned their foul act by pulling down the pillar on which the tabernacle was erected”.
We claim to believe in the Real Presence. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which contains all our Catholic beliefs, teaches us that:
“In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist ‘the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.’”[i]
So, if we really and truly do believe in the Real Presence, then the theft of the Blessed Sacrament from this church should shock and horrify us to the very core of our being. It, not the temporal goods that were damaged or stolen, must be at the very heart of this news. This is what this news should be focused on.
A suitable heading, added to this letter when published by either newspaper, would have easily rectified this and helped to make this fact more prominent and a point of focus.
Consider the outrage that would be generated if the Quran was burned or disrespected. There are many examples of this and the consequences thereof, such as the example of the 4 people who were killed and 50 injured when NATO troops burned the Quran in Afghanistan.
There is no doubt that the world understands very clearly that the Quran is sacred to Muslims and must be respected. The Quran is not something that many in the world will knowingly toy with.
Sadly this is not true of the Blessed Sacrament.
I am not suggesting for one moment that we need to take to the streets in riots, or do anything remotely like what some Muslims have done in reaction to the disrespecting of the Quran.
Yet we Catholics must do everything possible to make the world very clearly aware of the significance of the Blessed Sacrament for us.
The Blessed Sacrament is not just a symbol for Catholics!
Protestants believe that the bread and wine in their communion services is symbolic. We Catholics do not.
Catholics firmly believe that the consecrated bread (host) is the body of Jesus. There is absolutely nothing symbolic about the Blessed Sacrament (the consecrated bread or host) for Catholics. That is why we say we believe in the ‘Real Presence’. The same applies to the consecrated wine which is the precious blood of our Lord.
This is then also why only Catholics who comply with certain requirements of the Church and who are in a state of grace receive Holy Communion. It is why often Catholics go to confession before they receive Holy Communion. We know what it is we are to receive in Holy Communion. We also know just how unworthy we really are to even dare to receive!
This belief in the Real Presence is the reason that Catholics do not permit anyone who is not Catholic to receive Holy Communion.[ii] How can we share the Blessed Sacrament with someone who simply does not believe in the Real Presence. We cannot share with non-Catholics the Blessed Sacrament when they do not understand or even believe what it is that we are sharing with them? It makes a mockery of our beliefs.
The world may not share this belief of ours. The world may also not understand it. (Even Catholics do not fully understand it. It is a mystery of our faith.) Nevertheless the world should respect our beliefs, just as they expect respect for what they hold important. The world however will not do so unless we let them know just how firmly we do believe this through our own actions with regards the Blessed Sacrament.
This then brings me to the question of the Tabernacle in which the Blessed Sacrament was reserved.
Canon Law has this to say about the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and this reflects our believe in the Real Presence:
Can. 938 §1. The Most Holy Eucharist is to be reserved habitually in only one tabernacle of a church or oratory.
§2. The tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved is to be situated in some part of the church or oratory which is distinguished, conspicuous, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer.
§3. The tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved habitually is to be immovable, made of solid and opaque material, and locked in such a way that the danger of profanation is avoided as much as possible.
§4. For a grave cause, it is permitted to reserve the Most Holy Eucharist in some other fit-ting and more secure place, especially at night.
§5. The person responsible for the church or oratory is to take care that the key of the tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved is safeguarded most diligently.
Notice how the question of the secureness of the Tabernacle which will house the Blessed Sacrament - the body of our Lord - is dealt with three times.
The Tabernacle is quite literally supposed to be a place of safety for the Blessed Sacrament. No one should be able to access it or even carry it away. The purpose of the Tabernacle is to securely protect the Blessed Sacrament until it is needed. This is not just supposed to be a symbolic gesture of security. It must be genuinely secure.
This news of what happened in this unfortunate church may be a good time to question ourselves about whether the Tabernacles in each of our churches really is secure enough to permit the Blessed Sacrament to be reserved there overnight or during periods when there is a risk of theft or vandalism.
A good means to test its suitability may well be to ask ourselves whether we would dare to leave our jewellery and other valuables in the Tabernacle overnight, or for any period of time, for safe keeping.
Is the Blessed Sacrament not more valuable than our jewellery and other precious goods? If the answer is no, the Tabernacle would not be suitable to keep my jewellery safe, then should we not immediately stop reserving the Blessed Sacrament there until it has been upgraded?
If we do believe in the Real Presence, then we need to ensure that the Tabernacle in our parish truly reflects this belief, not only aesthetically, but most importantly through its secureness. Actions always speak louder than words.
[i] Catechism of the Catholic Church #1374, The Sacramental Sacrifice Thanksgiving, Memorial, Presence
[ii] There are circumstances under which non-Catholics can receive Holy Communion. Refer Canon 844 of the Code of Canon Law. The important point of this concession being that these non-Catholics would have to hold our belief in the Real Presence.