At the Feast of the Holy Cross Bishop Alan Hopes blessed a copy of the San Damiano Cross in Stowmarket, along with a newly restored tabernacle.
Bishop Alan was in Stowmarket for the installation of the new parish priest and agreed to bless the newly acquired Sanctuary Cross and recently renovated Tabernacle at the same time.
“The Cross is most striking,” writes Fr Simon Leworthy. “It is a copy of the famous Cross of San Damiano. In the late twelfth century, Our Lord spoke the words, ‘Francis, rebuild my Church’ to St Francis of Assisi from this Cross, and the Christian world was changed for ever.
“The Cross of San Damiano expresses the Johannine understanding of the Passion in which Jesus reigns from the Cross. Certainly, it depicts the sufferings of the Lord, but there is also the sense that He is the ‘Lamb standing, as it were, slain’ (Apocalypse 5: 6). Indeed, the scene depicted is such that there is a palpable expectation that the Risen One will walk out of the Cross towards the onlooker.”
The Tabernacle, which was found in a cupboard, tarnished and keyless, is believed to be the one from the original church. It is very simple and solid, and the newly burnished brass door sports a classic eucharistic symbol: a chalice surmounted by a Host. A beautifully crafted oak frame and plinth, matching the design and materials of the altar and ambo, encases and supports the Tabernacle; and seasonally coloured veils have been manufactured to cover it.
“A Tabernacle in any Catholic church is the meeting place par excellence of Christ’s faithful with their Lord,” comments Fr Simon. “For ‘Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and He will dwell with them. And they shall be His people; and God Himself with them shall be their God. (Apocalypse 21:3). There, as the old hymn has it, ‘in Thine ear most trustfully, they tell their tale of misery, sweet Sacrament of peace, sweet Sacrament of peace.’ This sense of the abiding and close presence of Jesus Christ Our Lord Himself is the precious heritage of all the baptised. The flickering of the sanctuary lamp has ever pointed many to the intimacy of conversation with the One Whose delight is to dwell among us (Cf Proverbs 8:31).
“Well may we empathise with the sentiments of Saint Josemaria Escriva, when he counsels us not to be ‘so blind or thoughtless as not to enter inside each Tabernacle when you glimpse the walls or spires of the house of God. He is waiting for you’ (The Way, 269).”
Our English word ‘tabernacle’ originates from a Latin word for ‘tent.’ The tabernacle veil expresses this: God pitching His tent among us. Such an idea harks back to the Tent of Meeting pitched whenever the Children of Israel paused on their forty-year march from the land of slavery, in Egypt, into their promised new and true home in Palestine. The Israelites pitched their own tents, and among them was set up the Tent where God was, among them: “And when Moses went forth to the tabernacle, all the people rose up, and everyone stood at the door of his pavilion….And all saw that the pillar of the cloud stood at the door of the tabernacle. And they stood and worshipped at the door of their tents.” (Exodus 33:8,10).
Hence the image used by St John in the Apocalypse, for the final consummation of the Redemption, in which God is tabernacled – tented – among humanity; with the result that, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away…. And He that sat on the throne said: Behold, I make all things new” (Apocalypse 21:4-5).
The blessing of the Cross and tabernacle took place in September 2021. “We are indeed blest at Our Lady’s, Stowmarket,” concludes Fr Simon, “to have such a beautiful place in which to meet with Our Lord, in the Blessed Sacrament; a meeting encouraged by the image of the Crucified yet Risen One, who is ever poised to walk toward us from the Cross placed above our Tabernacle.”