Thursday, August 25, 2005

The history of the tabernacle

That there was one altar in churches is documented from the 4th century, later they increased in number, but absolute respect remained for the mensa dominica that excluded anything extraneous to the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice. Toward the end of the 9th century a new, highly expressive element began to appear on the altar table in a lasting way: the relics of the saints. Very soon other elements were added, so many that at the beginnings of the 10th century an important document, of Gallican origin, known by the name of Admonitio Synodalis, that became general law for all the Churches of West, prescribed that the altar must hold only "the urns of the saints (capsae), the missal and the pyx with the Body of the Lord for the sick; every other thing should be kept in a fitting place".

It wasn’t till the 16th century that the tabernacle came to be fixed on the high altar and, later still, for it to be set in the center of the table, the last phase in the historical development of the altar. In dutiful homage to the recent encyclical and to the consequent instruction on the Eucharist, I propose to describe – even if in rapid summary - the history of the casing of the Eucharist, both in terms of the location, and in terms of the sacred vessel used to contain the Eucharist.

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