The other day I saw a blog post (I don’t remember where) in which a Muslim friend accompanied the blogger to mass, and said, “If I really thought God was in that gold box, I’d fall on my face in worship. I’d be afraid to stand up.” I’ve seen similar sentiments ascribed to Gandhi, and the challenge is clear: if we Catholics truly believe that the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, why don’t we act like it? Why don’t we fall down on our faces and worship?
The answer, of course, is that we do. During his ordination, and at other times, the priest prostrates himself before the altar. At each mass (at least at the parishes I attend) we kneel during the consecration; and outside of mass we genuflect before the tabernacle.
Sometimes, at Eucharistic Adoration, I do feel moved to go and prostrate myself before the tabernacle, before that “gold box”, in worship of the Blessed Sacrament inside—because that is God in the tabernacle. I never do, because if I did I wouldn’t worship; I’d just worry that someone would come in and see me. If we had perpetual adoration and I had the 3 AM slot, then I probably would from time to time—though not for long, for fear of falling asleep.
Falling asleep in front of the altar would be an entirely Dominican thing, mind you. St. Dominic never slept in his cell; he spent the day talking about God with others, and the night talking too God in the church, until he fell asleep there.
But here’s the thing: it’s not just God in the tabernacle: it’s God and Man in the Tabernacle. It’s Jesus’ body and blood, there present under the species of bread and wine. God is omnipresent, of course; He’s everywhere, and so He’s present in the church, and in the tabernacle as well. But Jesus is present in the Tabernacle in his human nature; and God the Son is present there in a special way because Jesus is God Incarnate.
And so when I bow down before the tabernacle I bow down to God, but specifically I bow down to Christ, and hence to Man; to my God, but also to my King, and even more to my brother. He is the Son of God by right, but we are to be sons and daughters of God by adoption.
And because of Christ’s sacrifice, and because of His love for me, I can stand tall before God, a glorious work of his hands despite the tawdry mess I so often make of it. I can stand tall, knowing that he loves me in my shabbiness, for the glory of the work that lies underneath, and draws me on to grow in holiness and love.
And then, practically speaking, God has better things for most of us to do than lie around all of the time. Some few of us are called to be pure contemplatives, Trappist monks and the like, but even they have their daily duties.