The Visitation and Mary, the Walking Tabernacle

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When I first signed up to assist in bringing Holy Communion to the sick and homebound, I was invited to attend a sort of commissioning breakfast, which primarily consisted of a talk and instructions given by the parish’s parochial vicar. Father’s talk included some classic dos and don’ts, and a beautiful extended reflection on and elucidation of the Church’s faith in the Eucharist. But there was one insight in particular that had a profound impact on the way I understand the Eucharist and the effect it has on those who receive it – and further reflection led me straight to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth.

Father felt the need to address a problem of lack of proper reverence for the Eucharist. As communion visitors, he said, we needed to be exemplary in our actions. The remark that made such an impact on me was almost offhand, but it stuck in my brain and I could not stop thinking about it: “When you are carrying the Holy Eucharist in that pyx, everyone you pass should genuflect, because you are essentially a walking tabernacle.” We carry Jesus Christ, and via our feet He is moving throughout the world. From place to place, He is carried, and we are the carriers, the receptacles for the Eucharist – the walking tabernacles.

The primordial tabernacle, the first vessel for Jesus Christ, was the Blessed Virgin Mary. And she was the perfect example of devotion to Jesus, of reverence for His Holy Presence.

In his account of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, St. Luke tells us that Mary moved “in haste” to see Elizabeth in a town of Judah (cf. Luke 1:39). Why would she move in such haste? The answer to such a question comes to us via the words of Elizabeth, and Mary’s canticle of praise that immediately follows.

One might be tempted to think that Mary went in haste to her cousin because she was seeking counsel regarding her pregnancy, or something of the sort. But Elizabeth’s reaction makes clear that they both knew the import and significance of the situation. Elizabeth recognized Mary as “the mother of my Lord,” and declares, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:43, 45). Mary’s response is not to say, “What, are you crazy? Don’t you realize what a bind I am in?” Rather, she praises the Lord’s greatness and His goodness, and the strength and mercy by which he operates, and the powerful guiding hand.

“For [God] has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Luke 1:48-49). Mary explicitly and clearly declares with fervor that it is a great and wonderful gift that the Lord has given her, and that she is truly blessed to be carrying the Son of God in her womb.

Mary is, if I may use such a term, a walking tabernacle. She carries within her Jesus Christ – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Contrary to many heresies of the first few centuries following the life of Christ, Jesus was fully human and fully divine. This is something we all take for granted now, but do we really understand what this means? Jesus was not God in a human shell. He was not the second person of the Trinity pretending to be human. He was not a human with the second person of the Trinity animating the body instead of a soul. No. This was the second person of the Trinity, this was God, incarnate, become man, like unto us in all things except sin. And Mary was blessed to be the first person to carry Him within themselves.

Perhaps this is one of the most significant takeaways from the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth: we revere Mary as having been eternally blessed to be the mother of God, to carry Jesus in her womb, to care for Him and nourish Him and raise Him – but she was only the first to carry him within her. Through the gift of the Eucharist, Jesus has made all of us walking tabernacles. When we receive the Holy Eucharist, we carry within us Jesus Christ – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

How do we react when we find ourselves so near to our Lord? John, the child in Elizabeth’s womb, leapt for joy at the approach of Jesus in the womb of Mary. This woman, most blessed among all women, carried within herself her creator, the Word of God through whom all things came into being – and nothing that came into being was not created through Him (cf. John 1). This child in the womb of Elizabeth could not contain his joy, and leapt, danced, rejoiced at the approach of Jesus.

I think it is fair to say that few of us react with such poignant and uncontainable joy when we come close to our Lord. In every Catholic church, in chapels, in oratories, there is present Jesus Christ – in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Fully, truly, really, and substantially present. This is not a mere symbol, nor even some manner of imperfect presence. The person of the risen Christ, in all His splendor and majesty, in all His humble warmth and devotion, is present in the tabernacle under the auspices of bread.

Do we react the same way that John the Baptist reacted? We have the benefit of 2,000 years of reflection; the benefit of centuries, millennia, of the most gifted theological minds grappling with the questions of the Eucharist, struggling to understand in some small way this great and august Mystery. We have beautifully-worded church documents which inspire great reflection on and devotion to the Eucharist. We even have developed practices that are designed to help us treat the Eucharist with appropriate respect and reverence.

Far too often we are guilty of falling dramatically, scandalously short of appropriate reverence for the Eucharist. Let us pray that we be granted a deep and abiding faith in the Eucharist, a profound recognition of the glorious and splendorous gift it is, and of the importance of bringing this gift to others, and spreading the marvelous news of Jesus Christ incarnate, dead, and risen, and present in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Paul Senz

By

Paul Senz is a native of Verboort, Oregon, and a graduate of the University of Portland, where he is currently working towards a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry.

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  • noelfitz

    There is room for thought in this reflection.

    But the priest in our parish had a different slant.

    When we were being trained to be ministers of Holy Communion the priest pointed out that if the sacred species fell down through a women’s blouse there is no need to search down to retrieve it. This was good advice.

    He also pointed out that if we feel unworthy to distribute communion we should not feel unusual, as none of us, not even a holy priest, is worthy.

    He also pointed out that Mary went in haste to visit Elizabeth to get away from the gossip about an unmarried woman being pregnant.

    There is great food for reflection in his views.

    Please let me know what you think.

  • I think this is a good aspect and perspective to consider. Sometimes, perhaps more often than not, we forget that we are a tabernacle for Christ and so are those to whom we minister. For me it’s takes quiet time in prayer for me to become aware of God’s Presence within me and others. Certainly we need this reverence in relating to other people. The world would certainly be a different place if we allowed ourselves to experience the awe of Christ’s sacrifice and the beauty of Holy Communion.

  • Episteme

    Another beautiful piece of this is something that actually comes to us from science. It’s been proven in recent years that, after a woman has carried a developing baby in her womb, the transferral of nutrients between mother and child also exchanges cells between the two, such that the mother retains a certain amount of fetal stem cells preserved in her body for her life. In effect, much life we maintain a supply of the host in a church tabernacle to distribute to the sick, so too would the smallest portion of the hypostatic-united Body of the Lord remain in our Blessed Mother after the birth of the Lord in Bethlehem. I’ve considered that the part of the ‘reason’ (if such is the word) for her Assumption was not only to leave her uncorrupted but to leave that part of Our Lord remaining alive and uncorrupted; now, just as you and I as EMHC bring the Body to those who need it, the Blessed Mother continues to visit with a portion of her Son preserved in the uncorrupted – by death or unchastity – tabernacle of her body.

  • TobiasRaphael1

    Hi neofitz,

    While common sense would dictate not to search down a woman’s blouse to retrieve a host or particle of a host yourself, it ALSO dictates that you inform the woman of what happened and instruct her to retrieve and consume it immediately after you leave the room and shut the door!
    If one truly believes in the Real Presense of Our Lord in the Eucharist, one would not allow Him to be left in a blouse, on the floor, etc.

    About Our Lady visiting her cousin St. Elizabeth; Mary had too great a faith in God to let gossip rule how she acted. Holy Scripture does not support that she left for reasons of gossip either. No one would have known she was expecting as she wouldn’t have been showing when she left… (it said she left in haste to visit her cousin).

    Also, she stayed there three months(Elizabeth was in her sixth month(as the Angel revealed), when Mary left to visit her). So, it can be deduced that her purpose was to stay with her until St. John was born… (in three months). Then, Mary went back to Nazareth and courageously faced all that her beautiful life would have to endure, for love of God!

    We have to remember that Mary is the only PERFECT human person that ever existed, from conception to end of life here on earth. It is an effort to try to rightly comprehend all that this entails, but we must try, for love of her and to Honor God!

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