What exactly do we mean when we refer to the “True Presence?”
In October of 1995, Pope John Paul II was scheduled to greet seminarians at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. At the last moment the Pope told his security team that after greeting the seminarians he would go into a side chapel to pray.
The security team sprang into action ahead of the Pope. They swept the building, paying special attention to the chapel which housed the Blessed Sacrament, the chapel the Pope intended to visit. To do this they used dogs. The dogs were trained to locate people who may be buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings after earthquakes and other disasters.
The dogs and their handlers swept the halls, offices, and classrooms quickly and then went into the chapel. They went up and down the aisles and past the pews but when they reached the tabernacle, they sniffed and whined and pointed, refusing to leave until their handlers called them away.
It is difficult to say exactly what the dogs were responding to but there are countless stories of animals sensing things that humans do not. It may be due to their heightened physical senses or it may be due to some supernatural sense that humans have lost. In this case the dogs were convinced that they had found a person in the small box used to reserve the Blessed Sacrament.
We are a forgetful people, and so we need reminders.
Why is it so important that we remain quiet when we enter a church? Why is so much importance attached to the cupboard that holds the Eucharistic host between Masses? Why do we kneel whenever we cross in front of it? And why do we take so much care in the decoration and arrangement of our churches?
The answer to all of these questions is the same, God. A miracle takes place at every Catholic Mass and Orthodox Liturgy. Common bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of God. They still appear to be bread and wine but their substance is changed. This is what theologians call transubstantiation. God is physically present in every Catholic and Orthodox Church. This is what we mean when we refer to the “True Presence.”
We believe this because Our Lord Himself revealed this to us. Six times in the Gospel according to John, He tells us that His body is true food and His blood is true drink.
And so we remain quiet when we enter the sanctuary because we enter the presence of God. What can mere words convey in the presence of the Lord of All Creation? The “cupboard” is the tabernacle where God is enthroned 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We kneel before it and surround it with as much beauty as we are capable of, as befitting the source and summit of our faith.
We are a forgetful people. Today, let us be reminded of what we truly believe.