Tabernacles house the Blessed Sacrament in which the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ are present. The Ten Commandments were sheltered in the Ark of the Covenant, and the Temple of Jerusalem had as its focus the Holy of Holies in which the presence of the Lord was approached by the High Priest on special occasions. God is manifest in the Eucharist species consecrated in the Holy Mass. This symbolic presence became a real one in the Eucharist, through transubstantiation.
Over the centuries, the Church used various forms of Sacrament Houses to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in order to take the Host to the sick and imprisoned, and for adoration. In the ninth century, churches used shrines for reservation similar to what we now use. Sometimes the Host was suspended in a hanging pyx, often in the form of a dove. St. Charles Borromeo set the example of a conspicuous tabernacle fixed in the sanctuary for security. The first such arrangement may have been introduced by Cardinal Pole in England, acting on the guidelines of the Council of Trent. In large cathedrals and other churches of sufficient size, a special chapel may be set aside for the tabernacle. The latest guidelines of the Holy See encourage visibility and centrality, to cultivate a devotion which in recent years has fallen into neglect (Canon 938; Catechism 1183). When the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the sanctuary, the normal act of reverence upon entering and leaving the church is to genuflect, except in the case of physical infirmity (Eucharistiæ Sacramentum 84).
The tabernacle in the Church of Our Saviour was crafted in the studios of Arte Granda in Madrid, which was established in 1891 to promote excellence in the quality of liturgical objects. It is designed in the Renaissance style, surmounted by a typical dome representing the vault of heaven. The metalwork is plated in Spanish gold and engraved with tracery and images of our redemption. The front door depicts Our Saviour rising victoriously from the grave. The inside of the door shows the Last Supper, while the inside rear wall has images of Our Lady and the Apostles at Pentecost. These are crafted with the same care used for the visible exterior. The eight columns have Corinthian capitals, matching the two columns in the sanctuary. These are a fitting allusion to St. Paul's exposition of Eucharistic doctrine in his first letter to the Corinthians. The lintel arches are versions of the arches over the Park Avenue entrance to Grand Central Terminal, through which many of our commuting parishioners pass daily. The tabernacle is 44 inches high and 24 inches square. It is surmounted by a crucifix; tradition allows only images of the cross and angels to be placed over the Blessed Sacrament.
The tabernacle rests on a platform of Italian red marble matching the French Languedoc stone of the sanctuary columns, which are said to be the largest uncut polished marble columns in New York City. The supporting columns are in a Byzantine ("bosé") style, similar to the supports of the High Altar. They also reflect descriptions of the pillars in Solomon's Temple. They are provided by a Jewish friend of the pastor, and may be said to represent the Old Covenant supporting the New. The marble was quarried in Pakistan near the Vale of Kashmir, a focal point of the war in which our nation is now engaged.