Some monks and nuns trace their community origins back a thousand years or so, before it became customary to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in tabernacles. In their rules of life, which evolved from the life- style and prayer of their predecessors, the core experience of Christ’s presence is at the altar itself, and in the symbol of assembly for prayer. To this day, when the monks or nuns file into their church in procession, they march two by two, and then bow profoundly to the altar before turning and bowing in reverence toward the brother or sister at their side. It is probably more difficult, in practice, to revere the presence of Christ in a person who irks you by taking the car keys, shirking a work duty, or burning the toast!
We can trace in these religious orders’ enduring customs the ancient appreciation for the altar as the center of the church building, and of the community of the faithful as the Body of Christ. Usually, a monastery today will reserve the Blessed Sacrament in some quiet corner of the monastic church, in a fairly small space, more suitable for private prayer than for the gathering of the whole community. In a cloister, the architecture may allow the public limited access to this space. Liturgical law tells us, in both monasteries and parish churches, that there is no need for more than a few hosts in the place of reservation, just enough for viaticum, the “food for the journey” that is the final sacramental celebration for a dying Christian.
—Rev. James Field, Copyright © J. S. Paluch Co.