The Sanctuary Lamp

A Church Visit

Edith Stein, a Jewish German scholar and philosopher, observed a woman carrying a shopping basket enter into the Frankfurt Cathedral and kneel for a brief prayer. Edith wrote, “This was something totally new to me. In the synagogues and Protestant churches I had visited, people simply went to the services. Here, however, I saw someone coming straight from the busy marketplace into this empty church, to have an intimate conversation. It was something I never forgot.” This was a beginning step for Edith Stein on her journey to become a Catholic, and later a Carmelite nun with the name of Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was arrested, transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, and martyred. Canonized in 1998, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is a co-patron saint of Europe.

Real Presence

The woman carrying the shopping basket knew of course that the Frankfurt Cathedral was not empty. She believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus in His fullness was present in the consecrated Bread stored inside the tabernacle. To come into His presence meant to be positioned to experience an intimate heart-to-heart conversation with Jesus. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us,” is present in many ways to his Church: in his word, in his Church’s prayer, “where two or three are gathered in my name,” in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, in the sacraments of which he is the author, in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister. But “he is present most especially in the Eucharistic species.”

Teach Well Your Children

Many Catholics today do not comprehend fully the beauty and depth of the Blessed Sacrament. A Pew study in 2019 reported that only 31% of Catholics believed in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and 69% did not believe that it was Jesus but only symbolic of His Body. What can we do to reverse the erosion of belief in this central teaching of the Church? Parents have the most influence on the spiritual and religious development of their children. Here are a few suggestions to parents on how to pass on to children knowledge of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament:

    1. Receive the Eucharist with reverence. Modeling a loving attitude that honors the Eucharist will speak volumes to your children.
    2. Bring attention to the tabernacle when entering a Catholic Church. Teach children to genuflect to show reverence in the presence of Jesus.
    3. Prepare your child for his or her First Holy Communion. Children have the capacity to understand the love of Jesus for them.
    4. Take your children to Eucharistic Adoration. The regular experience of prayerful silence prepares them to hear the voice of Jesus.
    5. Form their minds and hearts by reading to them from the Youth Catechism about the Eucharist. It is Jesus Himself who invites each of them to an intimate relationship.
    6. Observe the hour fast before receiving Holy Communion.
    7. Teach them to receive the Eucharist worthily. Teach your children to regularly participate in the Sacrament of Confession, and to avail of it before receiving Holy Communion if they have committed a mortal sin.
    8. Make the Sign of the Cross when driving by a Catholic Church.

Red Lamp

I am grateful for the nuns that taught at the Catholic school I attended. Those holy women instilled in me that Jesus is present in the tabernacle of every Catholic church, and a sanctuary lamp is always burning (except on Good Friday). I used to stop in a church before and after school to ‘visit’ Jesus. This awareness of the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is one of those things that has been stamped in my mind since my youth. Even in my young adult years when I was away from the Church, I always knew that a red lamp burned next to the tabernacle inside each Catholic Church I passed. One time in a big city, I noticed a man genuflecting and making the Sign of the Cross at a street corner, and when I looked to see what he faced, it was a Catholic Church. I knew exactly to whom he was reverently acknowledging amid the bustle.

Thankfully, the grace of God led me back to the Faith. Today, whenever I enter a church, I look for the flickering red sanctuary lamp. Although it is only a tiny flame that gently burns, it acts similar to a great beacon in a lighthouse to guide me safely and directly to Jesus who is truly present there.

Nannet Horton is a wife, mother, homeschool teacher, NFP teacher, and CGS catechist. She enjoys being a student of the Catholic faith and teaching it to others. Her first book, “Missionary Parenting – Cultivating the 6 Key Relationships Essential to Your Domestic Church,” is co-written with her husband, Bob.

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