INTRO We have spent some time on the ‘action’ of the Liturgy – the Mass. But in all our churches and chapels there is the Tabernacle for the ‘Reserved Sacrament’.
 Why do we reserve the Eucharist at all? The first and most important reason is so that the housebound and sick can receive Christ in the Eucharist even though they are prevented from gathering with the community at Mass. As a priest (as many Lay Ministers of the Eucharist can equally testify) taking Holy Communion to the sick really does connect the housebound to the community – they too are part of this ‘Holy Communion’ which is the parish community. Christ in the Eucharist is their food, their encouragement and strength, their healing and peace. Increasingly, as priests are fewer in numbers, the Reserved Sacrament also enable Services of Word and Communion to be led by Lay Ministers and deacons, to sustain the spiritual life of the parish, especially on weekdays – and now and into the future increasingly on Sundays. The second reason for reserving the Sacrament is to enable people to come for private prayer and adoration, and I will share something of this form of prayer this evening.
 But before that perhaps just a word about the ‘Tabernacle’. The word comes from the Hebrew meaning ‘tent’ and calls to mind the ‘Tent of Meeting’ that Moses erected among the journeying Hebrew Slaves on their 40 years wanderings in the desert. There we are told in the book of Exodus, the Ark of the Covenant was housed, with the tablets of stone that bore the Ten Commandments, a bowl of the Manna from heaven and Moses rod that swallowed Pharaoh’s serpents, parted the waters of the Sea of Reeds, and struck the Rock in the desert to give forth fresh water for a thirsty people. This Tent of meeting was experienced as the dwelling place of God among his People. God is the Pilgrim God, journeying among His People and always available to them. He meets them on the journey (as the Risen Jesus did on the road to Emmaus, before the two downcast disciples ‘recognised Him in the Breaking of Bread). At St Nicks, our Tabernacle is made of wood carved in Malawi in Africa as a village ‘Hut of Meeting’ – or alternatively a village ‘grain store’ – both interpretations speaking of the purpose of the Tabernacle.
 But let us now turn to first reflecting upon and then practising the Prayer of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
The motto of Bl John Henry Newman (‘Heart speaks to Heart’) cannot be bettered as a description of the beauty of this form of prayer: sitting in the stillness and silence , adoring the Christ of the Eucharist.
This form of prayer began to develop in the life of the Church between the 12th and 14th centuries, at a time when there was great controversy about the doctrine of the ‘Real Presence’ of Christ in the consecrated Bread and Wine of the Eucharist. It was and remains a way of deepening our faith in ‘this most wonderful gift’ of the Eucharist and so entering into a more profound communion of heart with God.
The prayer of Adoration is at once a preparation for and an overflow from the Celebration of Mass. It is never a substitute for the Mass, but enlarges our hunger to be fed at the Table of Christ’s Love and Sacrifice. That is why many parishes will precede weekday Mass with a time of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. If your parish does not, perhaps you could think about suggesting this to the parish priest, parish council or Liturgical Committee.
Before Jesus returned to the Father in what we call the Ascension, He promised to be always with us, His disciples, His Church. The Eucharist is one of the primary and tangible ways He fulfils this promise. At Advent and Christmas we acclaim Jesus as our ‘Emmanuel’ – ‘God-with-us’. Sitting before the tabernacle of Divine Presence or gazing on the Bread of the Eucharist exposed leads us to experience powerfully that He is indeed God always with us.
But how should we use this time of Adoration? Firstly try to give some time – at least 15 minutes, hopefully more. There are books of Eucharistic Devotions to help us focus on the love of Christ made visible and tangible in the Bread of Presence before us. The Scriptures are a privileged source of prayer and reflection during such time.
But above all, let your heart speak! In our noisy world of smart phones, tablets and ipods we neglect our deep need for stillness, to enter into the silence of God’s heart where He speaks beyond words to the heart that is open to listen. God rarely shouts – He usually whispers His precious life-giving Word of Love – a Word beyond words, too deep for the understanding but which can be experienced by a silent listening heart that yearns for Him. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is a prayer of Love’s dialogue, a personal encounter with our Brother Jesus who has laid down His life in love for you – the sacrificial love you that embraces you, enfolds you in the Eucharist. Let there be few words in your prayer of adoration, but rather a mutual listening, Heart speaking to Heart; a mutual gazing upon the wondrous Presence that burns love into our hearts. We gaze upon the Sacred Bread – but He gazes into your eyes with all the love with which He loved the young rich man in the Gospel. And in a Word beyond words He calls you ‘Come to me, I will refresh you, heal you, love you beyond your imagining, send you to be My love in the world’
The Bread of Christ that you gaze upon with loving adoration is the Bread of Freedom, the Paschal Bread; it is the Broken Bread that makes you whole; it is the Bread of the Poor that calls you to live like Christ Jesus in service of the poor of our nation, the poor of our world. It is the Bread of Life which brings me Life in all its fulness but without which my life in Christ withers on the Vine. It is also the Bread of Creation transformed into and filled with Christ, a truly Cosmic sacrament which is the beginning of the fulfilment of God’s promise of a New Heaven and and New Earth.
So the prayer of Adoration can become not only the bedrock of your own personal discipleship of Christ, becoming like the Master you gaze upon; but also can become the source of love’s power for the mission of the your community, can become the well-spring of loving intercession for your world, especially its peace. For the Eucharist is indeed the Sacrament of Peace, not just for yourself or your parish community, but can radiate peace into our world.
So find out when your church (or another) is open and slip quietly in, away from the noise and pre-occupations of your world. Sit awhile before your Brother Jesus in the Eucharist. Be in the stillness and listen to His Heart, watch for His gaze of love, pour out your own heart’s pain and joy, hopes and disappointments, and let ‘Heart speak unto Heart’.