A tabernacle can be found in every Catholic Church, in a place of honor that can be in the sanctuary or in a separate chapel. A Sanctuary Lamp is placed nearby – this Sanctuary Lamp contains a candle that is constantly burning to alert people that the Real Presence of Jesus is in the tabernacle.
You have probably seen an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion go to the reservation chapel to retrieve the ciborium that contains the Blessed Sacrament – those hosts that have been previously consecrated at Mass and therefore are now the true “Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity” of Jesus. Any consecrated hosts that remain after Communion are then placed in a ciborium and placed in the tabernacle and locked to ensure that no one can profane the Blessed Sacrament.
In our parish, the tabernacle has been placed in a separate “reservation chapel,” which allows people to use the chapel to pray to Jesus, knowing that He is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament contained in the tabernacle. Since the tabernacle is not readily visible by all those who come to worship, Bishop Ricken has asked us to move the tabernacle into the sanctuary under the foot of the Crucifix, where it will be permanently located. This move will take place after Pentecost. The statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary will remain in the reservation chapel, and it will then become the Marian Chapel. The chairs, kneelers, and votive candles will remain as well.
As a sign of respect and reverence for the Real Presence, when you enter Church and before you enter your pew, you should genuflect facing the tabernacle. To make a proper genuflection, one should bend the left knee while touching the floor with the right knee. Then stand and enter your pew.
His Excellency, Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield in Illinois, wrote the following to his parishioners regarding genuflection:
28. In recent years, there has arisen the practice of bowing to the Lord present in the tabernacle, rather than genuflecting before Him. Such a profound bow - made purposefully and reverently from the waist - can be a fitting way to reverence the Divine Majesty, but only if one cannot genuflect….
29. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal provides that "if, however, the tabernacle with the Most Blessed Sacrament is situated in the sanctuary, the Priest, the Deacon, and the other ministers genuflect when they approach the altar and when they depart from it, but not during the celebration of Mass itself. Otherwise all who pass before the Most Blessed Sacrament genuflect, unless they are moving in procession. Ministers carrying the processional cross or candles bow their heads instead of genuflecting."
30. To genuflect means, literally, "to bend the knee." In the ancient world the knee symbolized the strength of a man. If a man is struck in the knee, he stumbles and falls; his strength is taken from him. When we genuflect before the Lord, our strength is not taken from us; rather, we willingly bend our strength to the Lord and place ourselves humbly in His service. When we bend our knee to the Lord of heaven and earth we should hear the words of the Psalmist ever in our hearts, "Lord, I am your servant," remembering that before the Lord every knee must bend (Psalm 116:16; cf. Philippians 2:10).
31. I must note here, that as important as the Eucharist is to the Church, and that the proper reverence to the Blessed Sacrament is "to bend the knee," to genuflect, it does not replace another reverence made by all between the opening and the closing processions. During Liturgy between these processions, all who enter or leave the sanctuary, or who pass before the altar, make a deep bow, a bow from the waist toward the altar. Neither a deep bow nor a genuflection is made to the tabernacle within the Mass between the opening and closing processions.
32. In order to keep these words in our hearts and put them into practice, it is helpful to be purposeful and deliberate in the moment of genuflection. One may avoid a hasty and irreverent slide through an attempted genuflection by consciously touching the right knee to the ground and humbly pausing momentarily before rising again. In doing so, we not only pay proper respect to the Lord, but we also remind ourselves in whose presence we are.
Does this help you understand why you see people bow when they approach the sanctuary? They are showing reverence to the altar, the table where the sacrifice of the Mass takes place and the table to which the People of God are invited to share in the Eucharist. During Mass, the altar takes precedence over the tabernacle because the Real Presence of Christ will soon be present upon the altar.