One of my many favorite moments in the Part I of the Paschal Triduum—that part of the single Liturgy that begins today and ends at the Easter Vigil—is the removal of the Blessed Sacrament from its regular resting place, the Tabernacle, stripping bare the tabernacle as well as the altar, and leaving the Tabernacle empty and open. The Most Holy Place within a Catholic church, where the eyes of any catholic, by sheer catholic instinct, fall or look for the very moment one enters a church or a chapel, around which the only language allowed is silence (sighs of love and angst, in silence) and the only camera permitted is the eyes of one’s body and soul, is left bare, empty, and open. The sight is akin to a primal scene, of a shocking absence of a presence you had taken for granted nearly every day. This lasts for three long days, when God is absent in the familiar places.
Where is He?
The only answer is the one given by the angel in the sepulcher of Christ on the Easter morning: “He is not here. He has gone ahead of you to Galilee. Meet him there.”
It is an iconoclastic moment, when the Eucharist comes a full circle, on the day of its institution and that of the priesthood, to disclose its full meaning in the Galilean places; in other words, when the liturgy of the Table shakes us awake to the liturgy of the Towel.
Life is easier to navigate when we know where to “localize” God. In the Tabernacle. At the altar. In the Mass. Even when we know at the back of our minds that God is everywhere, localizing Him in space and time helps us know where He is and more importantly, where He is not. To limit Him to those places is to free us up, to be our best self in those places and be whatever else wherever else. How convenient, and wrong!
In this COVID-19 times, we have been especially living this moment of the Holy Thursday with a deeper meaning, the Holy Thursday wherein the Eucharist was instituted, priesthood was commissioned. Most of us celebrate today this poignant moment away from churches and chapels, in our own creatively imagined ways—perhaps more profoundly and meaningfully than ever before. The Empty Tabernacle part of the ritual consoles us: After all, He is to be found not in a little circumscribed, gold-plated, beautified, closed-in tabernacle; but in the Galilees of the world in the marketplaces, dark dungeons of the world, and who-knows-where else. It keeps us on the edge, to see Divinity in the most unexpected places. Especially in these sorrowful days of the pandemic, He must be amidst the sick and the dying, the poor and the hungry, as one among them suffering the pandemic as well as one among those attending to them. Also, in our homes, hanging around us.
We normally keep vigil with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane in the late-night Holy Hours. But today we can do so, more effectively than before, as we work and serve among the sick (those directly working among them), or in spiritual union with them (those who are home-bound due to lockdown). Wherever we are, by exercising our baptismal priesthood in the breaking of the bread and washing the feet of those around us.
Wish you all a Very Blessed Feast of the Eucharist and Priesthood!