The Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday) “An Empty Tabernacle” PDF Version
Homily for Holy Thursday 2018
An unsettling yet significant feature of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is that we are in the presence of an empty tabernacle. The tabernacle, often adorned with a coloured veil, securely locked and accompanied by the red sanctuary lamp is a comforting and familiar sight within a Catholic Church. It is a reminder that Christ is with us always until the end of all things, and that His Eucharistic Glory will sustain and nourish the children of God in the midst of times of peace and turmoil.
The empty tabernacle in our midst this evening should cause us some discomfort and concern. But it is fitting that is empty in recognition that tonight is the wondrous night that Christ first gave the Church the gift of His Body and Blood. Tonight is when the Eucharist first came into existence, when the Lord of all creation choose to humble Himself to the point of allowing the fullness of His Divine Person, His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, to be truly and substantial present under the humble guise of bread and wine. It is tonight that He began to empty Himself for us, pouring the entirety of His being into bread and wine to be consumed first by the 12 Apostles, that they and all who would eat this bread and drink this chalice would have communion with Him and proclaim His Death until He comes again in glory.
The empty tabernacle remind us that before this night God had never been as intimate with His people then when He would allow them to Eat His Flesh and Drink His Blood. It was only after this night that we could then rejoice that our tabernacles could be filled with the Glory of Heaven, the Bread of Life and Hope of the world.
But this empty tabernacle is also a sign of at what cost it would be to Our Lord to give the Eucharist to the Church. When He pronounced those most sacred words “This is My Body” and “This is the Chalice of My Blood”, Our Lord began to die as He poured His life into that bread and chalice; for no sacrificial meal can be offered without the death of a victim, in this instance The Lord Jesus who is both the eternal high priest and Lamb of God, He who becomes the Spotless Victim and oblation for the salvation of the world.
Our empty tabernacle then represents the beginning of the self emptying that Jesus will undertake at the Last Supper and fully consummate upon the Cross. Among the experiences of self emptying He will endure is when He places Himself within the Bread and Wine and what He felt as the Apostles consumed the Eucharistic Sacrifice. One mystic described what Our Lord had experienced at the Last Supper in the following words:
“The Lord first of all feels something like a great bodily emptiness; a sudden state of weakness comes over Him, as if He had emptied Himself of all His strength, of every certain sense of His body, every distinct movement, every coordination between His divinity and His humanity. As if all His strength had now been deposited in the bread.”
It cost our Lord everything to become the Eucharist for us. Like the empty tabernacle in our midst, Jesus too was emptied and gave everything to nourish us with His very self, hence why we cannot treat the Eucharist as some fine token or symbol of Our Lord. We must know and believe with proper holy fear and trembling that I am to receive that gift which cost our Lord every drop of His Precious Blood.
But there was also profound joy in Our Lord as He witnessed His Apostles receive the Eucharist. The above mentioned mystic offered these words concerning what Our Lord experienced as His Body and Blood were consumed for the very first time:
“The Lord looks on while His disciples eat the Eucharistic bread…the human hands that receive Him are good hands…At this moment of His being eaten in the Eucharist, He comes into “good hands”, those of people who, like Mary and Joseph, wish to live by His mission. He is delivered over to them, and they want to receive Him in order that He may grow and develop in them.”
Though these men, save St John, will soon betray Him, abandon Him and deny Him, Jesus nonetheless knows He has left His Body and Blood in good hands, hands He consecrated on that same night, transforming 12 sinful men into 12 priests who in a most mysterious of ways also became Himself. It was these hands that after being strengthened by the joy of the Resurrection and power of the Holy Spirit, would fill the empty tabernacles of the world with the Bread of Angels, even though their hands would often be soiled by sin and would need to be continually washed clean by humbling themselves and confessing their sins to one another so that they could then go and strengthen their brethren.
Tonight, our tabernacle will remain empty in our church. We will repose Our Lord in another, temporary tabernacle at the conclusion of tonight’s celebration. This altar and tabernacle of repose will be our Garden of Gethsemane, a place for us to pray and rejoice in a filled tabernacle until midnight, until it too is hidden away from our sight as a reliving of our Lord’s arrest, night long imprisonment and preparation for trial and crucifixion.
As we keep watch with the Lord this evening, let us pray especially that the tabernacles of the world will always remain filled with the Body of the Lord. This means we must then pray for more vocations to the Priesthood, for more men to say yes to offer their hands to the Lord, so that they become good hands, hands that will handle Our Lord with care, hands that will not be afraid to ache from being about His Work, hands that can be soiled by sin but also washed clean in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and hands that are not afraid of penance and sacrifice.
Lord Jesus, fill the tabernacles of Your world once more, teach us to love the Eucharist with a refined and generous devotion, and grant us holy and dedicated priests to care for your Body and Blood and assure that each and every church the world over will have a living and beating heart, a Tabernacle of Divine Love.
 Adrienne Von Speyr, The Passion From Within, pg.39