When entering SS. Robert and William Church in Euclid, your eyes shift from the baptismal font at the church entrance up the main aisle to the altar, which sits in front of the tabernacle. Above the tabernacle is a large crucifix.
Until recently, the tabernacle was off to the side of the sanctuary. Last summer, the parish engaged in what Father John Betters, the pastor, calls “a re-centering Christ initiative.”
As part of the initiative, the tabernacle was moved from outside the sanctuary to the center of the church, behind the altar. “I told parishioners I was doing this to help us place Christ front and center in our lives. Too many times, he is off to the side,” Father Betters explained, noting that we live in a world that no longer places Christ at the center. “As pastor, I wanted our worship space to make a very bold statement in where Christ in the real presence – the tabernacle – was located,” he said.
Parishioners embraced the idea and have been very supportive, he said. The Eucharist is important to the faithful at SS. Robert and William, he added, pointing out that the parish has a perpetual adoration chapel that is open 24/7 365 days per year.
The altar for the new tabernacle, which replaced one from the 1970s, is the original altar top the old tabernacle sat on for 50-plus years. A pelican was added to the bottom of that altar to connect the parish with the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, the mother church of the diocese, which has a pelican on the front of its altar. Marble was added to the back wall, which previously was brick, so the crucifix and tabernacle would be more visible.
Additional renovations to the church included adding St. Joseph and Blessed Mother altars on each side of the sanctuary. The St. Joseph altar is where the tabernacle had been located. A frame and a piece of marble was placed behind each of the Stations of the Cross and the baptismal font was moved to the entrance of the church. Previously, it was on the front left side. A new ambry also was added to store the sacred oils used for sacramental purposes.
The church opened in 1970, replacing the original church that now serves as the school gym. SS. Robert and William is a merger of St. William and St. Robert parishes, which took place during the diocesan reconfiguration. The new parish opened on Jan. 3, 2010 and Father Betters is the founding pastor. It is located at the St. William location.
Bishop Edward Malesic made his first pastoral visit to the parish on Dec. 11 to celebrate Mass and bless the new tabernacle.
“This is a special day of excitement and joy as we bless this new tabernacle,” he said. “I also see the baptismal font is now at the entrance of the church, making the reality that all of us first entered the Church by our baptism. It is our baptism that allows us to approach this altar and the sacrament of Christ’s presence among us.”
The bishop recalled genuflecting as a sign of reverence in church. “I went down on my right knee because I was told that Jesus was in the room. I eventually did that just out of habit,” he admitted, noting he didn’t always realize why he genuflected before entering a pew.
Genuflecting in the presence of the tabernacle is a sign of respect for Jesus, who is present in the Eucharist. “Let’s not make it a habit, but a conscious decision. We must recognize Jesus under the signs of bread and wine and actually want to honor him,” the bishop said. “Make him the center of your life. If we put him at the center, balance is found and we can weather any storm. If we take him out of the center and put ourselves in the middle, it seems that life easily spins out of control and we live in fear, confusion and anger. Put Jesus in the center of your life and find life itself,” he said.
Bishop Malesic talked about how Jesus took the Passover bread at the Last Supper and told his disciples, “‘Take this, all of you and eat of it, for this is my body.’ And the bread became his body by the power of his creative word. The same creative word that made light also brings Christ to us,” he said. Those same words, when spoken by the priest over the bread and wine during Mass, also are transformative words.
“In fact, they are the words that transubstantiate the elements of bread and wine into the reality of Christ,” he said, explaining that although the bread and wine remain, their substance is changed into the resurrected body and blood of Jesus.
Bishop Malesic said there is one thing that is specifically Catholic. “His (Jesus’) presence in the Blessed Sacrament remains in this church, even when we leave it. And so we must reserve this presence of Jesus and even protect his Eucharistic presence in a secure and noble place. And that is one of the reasons we have a tabernacle in all our Catholic churches,” he said. A tabernacle can be in the church proper or special chapel, he added.
“But we also know Jesus cannot be contained by a box. No, he is present in many ways, but in a very special way, he remains with us here in this tabernacle,” the bishop said. “Let me also say that once we have received the body of Christ, we become his tabernacle, too. The spirit of Christ dwells within us. We go forth from here with Christ living in us. That is why we are urged to live holy lives.”
He encouraged the faithful to come back to the tabernacle often “to be refreshed, recharged and made new again by the transformative power of Jesus Christ. And when you genuflect before it, remember that it is to Christ himself that you give your worship. He is in the room waiting to speak to you from the tabernacle of his heart to the tabernacle of your heart. Rejoice, and be glad because Christ wants to be at the center of your life as a worshiping parish, as loving families and holy individuals.”
After Mass, the bishop spent time visiting with parishioners and posing for photos during a reception in the gym.
Father Betters said Phase 2 of the church renovation will include restoring the main church floor, refinishing the pews and installing new kneelers. Work is expected to begin in January and it will be paid for with funds generated by the parish’s contributions to the Heart of a Shepherd campaign.