Hey, Father! Are the hosts in the tabernacle really the Body of Christ?
When I go to Mass, during the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest blesses the host that he consumes, but the unleavened bread that is given to the congregation is not taken out of the tabernacle until right before Communion. Since it has not been on the altar during the consecration, how can it be the Body of Christ?
– John in Quincy
Catholics are a ritualistic people. Everything that we do from the moment we enter into the Church to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass until we exit through those very same doors has deep meaning and significance. For example, when we first walk through the doors of the Church, we dip our fingers into the Holy Water font and make the Sign of the Cross. This ritualistic action reminds us of our Baptism, and therefore reminds us of who we are.
Then, when we arrive at our selected pew, we genuflect toward the tabernacle as a sign of reverence. When we see that little flicker of light from the Sanctuary Lamp which burns near every tabernacle across the globe, we know that the Real Presence of Christ is present in the Holy Eucharist contained within the tabernacle. Referring to the tabernacle, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
“The tabernacle was first intended for the reservation of the Eucharist in a worthy place so that it could be brought to the sick and those absent outside of Mass. As faith in the real presence of Christ in his Eucharist deepened, the Church became conscious of the meaning of silent adoration of the Lord present under the Eucharistic species. It is for this reason that the tabernacle should be located in an especially worthy place in the church and should be constructed in such a way that it emphasizes and manifests the truth of the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament” (CCC 1379).
Here, we see that the tabernacle is the place within the Church where the Eucharist is reserved. During the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the priest prays the Eucharistic Prayer, those very same words uttered by Jesus at the Last Supper, and consecrates the bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is then distributed to the faithful present at Mass; however, there are often leftover hosts after everyone present in the Church has received. These remaining hosts are then reserved in the tabernacle to be distributed at future Masses, to the sick and homebound, for silent adoration, etc. This is why we genuflect toward the tabernacle as we arrive to our pews: to show reverence to Jesus truly present in every tabernacle the world over.
So, to the main crux of your question, we know that the hosts present in the tabernacle are the Body of Christ because the priest has consecrated them during a celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. While it may be true that the Priest did not consecrate the hosts at the specific Mass that you are present for, the host that you are receiving from the tabernacle is still the Body of Christ—the very same Eucharist made present on the altar.
Father Zachary D. Samples is Parochial Vicar of St. Peter Catholic Church in Quincy and associate chaplain at Quincy Notre Dame High School.