The Catholic Church is often attacked for having ‘pagan’ rituals. The claim that the tabernacle in the Catholic Church bears a sun-shaped design has sometimes been associated with the notion of incorporating pagan sun worship into Catholic practices. However, a closer examination reveals a deeper theological significance behind the tabernacle’s design. In this article, we will delve into the scriptures, historical context, and writings of early Church figures to clarify the symbolism of the tabernacle and the Christian practice of worshiping on Sundays.
In this article, we explore the Scriptures’ comparison between the Messiah and the sun, examining the Scriptures, which metaphorically compare the Jesus to the sun, emphasizing His role as the light of the world and the source of divine illumination and glory. We then delve into the writings of early Church Fathers, Saint Ignatius of Antioch and Saint Justin Martyr, who discuss the theological basis for celebrating the Eucharist on Sundays which metaphorically compare Jesus to the sun, emphasizing his role as the light of the world and the source of divine illumination and glory.
In Catholic theology, the tabernacle is a sacred vessel used to house the Eucharist, which we Catholics believe is the true presence of Jesus Christ. The shape or design of the tabernacle is not meant to symbolize or promote sun worship, but rather holds a deeper theological meaning.
The tabernacle’s design varies, but it typically takes the form of a small, ornate cabinet or box made of precious materials such as gold or silver. It is often adorned with religious imagery, such as crosses, angels, or depictions of Christ. The purpose of the tabernacle is to provide a dignified and reverent space to safeguard the consecrated Eucharistic elements outside of the Mass, so that they may be reserved for distribution to the sick, for adoration, and for communion outside of the celebration of Mass.
The misconception that the tabernacle’s design is linked to sun worship likely stems from the presence of certain symbolic elements or imagery associated with light and radiance. However, it is important to understand the true theological meaning behind these symbols.
Light is a common biblical metaphor used to represent God’s presence, truth, and enlightenment. It is also used to depict Jesus as the light of the world. The use of light imagery in Catholic liturgical objects and spaces, including the tabernacle, is intended to reflect these theological concepts rather than sun worship.
Furthermore, the presence of radiance or radiant elements in religious symbolism predates any pagan associations. Radiant imagery has long been used in Christian art and architecture to represent the divine presence and glory. It is not unique to the tabernacle design and is not indicative of sun worship.
The misconception regarding the tabernacle’s alleged sun-shaped design may have arisen from a lack of understanding or misinterpretation of the symbolism used in Catholic liturgy and religious art. It is important to approach such claims with critical thinking and rely on accurate information from reliable sources.
What the Scriptures say about the Light of the world?
Here are a few examples of Old Testament verses that draw a comparison between the Messiah and the sun:
- Malachi 4:2 (NRSV): “But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”
This verse from the book of Malachi speaks of the coming of the “sun of righteousness,” which is often interpreted as a reference to the Messiah. It symbolizes the dawning of a new era of righteousness and healing, with the Messiah bringing light and restoration to the people.
- Psalm 84:11 (NRSV): “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly.”
In this psalm, the Lord is metaphorically described as both a sun and a shield. The comparison to the sun signifies God’s illuminating presence and guidance, providing favor, honor, and blessings to those who walk in righteousness.
- Isaiah 60:19-20 (NRSV): “The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.”
This passage in Isaiah portrays a future vision of Jerusalem, where the Lord Himself becomes the everlasting light for His people. It signifies the surpassing radiance and illumination that the Messiah brings, surpassing the need for the sun and moon as sources of light.
These verses from the Old Testament use the imagery of the sun to symbolize the coming Messiah and emphasize the light, righteousness, and blessings that He brings. They convey the hope and anticipation for the arrival of the Messiah who will bring spiritual illumination and salvation to the people.
Now, let’s move on the New Testament. In Luke 1:78, we find a verse that highlights a metaphorical comparison between Jesus and the sun. Let’s explore this passage:
“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.“
In this verse, the phrase “the dawn from on high” is used as a metaphor to describe Jesus, who is portrayed as the coming light that dispels darkness and leads people to the way of peace. The imagery of the dawn breaking upon us suggests the arrival of a new era, bringing hope, salvation, and enlightenment.
While the comparison draws on the concept of the sun rising at the dawn, it is important to note that this metaphor is used symbolically to express the spiritual significance of Jesus rather than establishing a direct link to pagan sun worship. The passage emphasizes Jesus’ role as the divine light, bringing spiritual illumination, deliverance from darkness, and guiding humanity towards reconciliation with God.
Additionally, we can explore other biblical passages that emphasize Jesus as the light of the world, such as John 8:12, where Jesus declares, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.“
Revelation 22:16 (NRSV): “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.“
The metaphor of the “bright morning star” highlights Jesus as the source of divine illumination and guidance. The image of a morning star brings to mind the idea of a shining light that appears in the darkness of the early morning, symbolizing hope and the dawning of a new day. This description underscores Jesus’ role as the bringer of spiritual light, truth, and salvation.
Revelation 21:23-24 (NRSV): “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.“
In these verses, the imagery depicts the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, as being illuminated by the glory of God, with the Lamb (referring to Jesus) being its lamp. The description emphasizes that the city does not require the natural light of the sun or moon because it is illuminated by the divine presence.
The metaphorical use of light in this passage highlights Jesus’ role as the source of divine illumination, truth, and guidance. It underscores that Jesus, as the Lamb of God, radiates the glory of God, bringing spiritual enlightenment to the city and its inhabitants.
The emphasis on Jesus as the light in Revelation 21:23-24 is consistent with other biblical passages, such as John 1:4-9, where Jesus is described as the “light of all people.” This portrayal reflects the central Christian belief that Jesus is the revelation of God’s truth and the one who leads humanity out of spiritual darkness into the light of God’s love and salvation.
When considering the alleged connection between the imagery in Revelation 21:23-24 and a sun-shaped tabernacle, it’s essential to note that the passage focuses on the spiritual and symbolic dimensions of Jesus as the light, rather than prescribing specific architectural designs or shapes for religious objects.
Worshipping on Sundays, a pagan practice?
The assertion that the Catholic Church celebrates Mass on Sundays, which is traditionally referred to as “the day of the sun,” is sometimes used to suggest a connection between the Church and pagan sun worship. However, it’s important to understand the historical and theological reasons behind the Christian practice of celebrating Mass on Sundays.
The choice of Sunday as the primary day of worship for Christians predates any association with pagan sun worship. It originated from the belief and commemoration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which took place on the first day of the week, commonly referred to as the Lord’s Day. This practice is rooted in the New Testament and early Christian tradition, rather than any pagan influence.
- Acts 20:7: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.“
In this passage, we find a reference to the first day of the week, which is Sunday. The early Christian community gathered together on this day to break bread, a term often used to denote the celebration of the Eucharist. The mention of the first day of the week indicates that Sunday held a special significance for the early Christians as the day for communal worship and the celebration of the Eucharist. This practice was closely tied to the Resurrection of Jesus, which occurred on a Sunday.
- 1 Corinthians 16:2: “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.”
In this verse, Saint Paul instructs the Corinthians to set aside offerings on the first day of the week. This instruction suggests that the early Christian community designated Sunday as a day for gathering and contributing to the needs of the Church. By establishing a regular practice of giving on the first day of the week, Sunday became a day that emphasized communal worship, support for one another, and the stewardship of resources.
Saint Ignatius of Antioch and Saint Justin Martyr are two early Church Fathers who provide valuable insights into the theological basis for celebrating the Eucharist on Sundays. Their writings shed light on the understanding and practice of the early Church regarding the significance of Sunday as the day of Eucharistic worship.
- Saint Ignatius of Antioch: Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who lived in the first century, wrote several letters while en route to his martyrdom in Rome. In his Letter to the Magnesians, he emphasized the importance of Sunday worship, calling it the “Lord’s Day.” Ignatius emphasized that Christians should refrain from observing the Jewish Sabbath and instead gather together on the Lord’s Day to partake in the Eucharist, which signifies their unity in Christ’s body.
- Saint Justin Martyr: Saint Justin Martyr, a second-century apologist and philosopher, wrote extensively on Christian beliefs and practices. In his First Apology, Chapter LXVII he describes the early Christian liturgical practices, including the celebration of the Eucharist on Sundays. Justin Martyr explains that on the day of the sun, which is Sunday, all Christians would assemble for worship, where they would participate in the Eucharist, listen to readings from the Scriptures, and engage in prayer.
By examining biblical passages, early Church writings, and the theological significance of Sunday worship, it becomes evident that the Catholic Church’s practices and symbolism are rooted in the teachings of Scripture and early Christian tradition. The tabernacle design and the celebration of Mass on Sundays are deeply connected to the symbolism of Jesus as the light of the world, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, and the foundation of Christian faith.
Credits for the Image
Adoration of the Blessed Sacraement of the Church of the Sacred Heart of Monaco