You can have your own “Feast of Booths” right now and experience what the Jewish people did
I think I finally understand why walking into the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception felt the way it did.
I was in Washington, D.C., decades ago, desperately looking for a job a few months before my wedding. I was anxious and alone.
But then when I walked into the Shrine I was flooded with peace. “It felt like walking into my mother’s living room,” I told friends. Studying the Temple has helped me understand why.
Churches are homes away from home, just like the original Temple in Jerusalem was.
I have been doing a weekly podcast that goes through the Life of Christ, and one of the unexpected joys has been looking into aspects of the faith that I never really focused on before and discovering depths that I didn’t know were there.
One discovery I made was the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, which I was only vaguely aware of before, but now realize how important it was to some very significant events in Christ’s life: The forgiving of the adulterous woman and the healing of the man born blind both happened during it, as well as some important teachings.
Why then? Because the Feast of Tabernacles — sometimes called the Feast of Booths — was a huge deal.
It was a great harvest festival where, for centuries, each autumn, the faithful built small structures to live in for days, close to the Temple.
Think of it as Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, and a Boy Scout Jamboree, all in one.
The idea was to thank God for the harvest, and to remember and celebrate what God did for the Hebrew people by imitating, a little, the days in the desert when their forefathers found their freedom after sleeping in tents under the stars.
Imagine how great it must have been to live like that for a week, then add to this the religious element: It included once-a-year rituals like pouring water from the pool of Siloam over the altars, which would make water pour out of the Temple’s exterior ducts. And in the Court of Women, the sanctuary and the Temple courts, they lit giant candelabras and processed with torches.
Both these images were fresh in his listeners’ mind, if not right in front of them, when Jesus spoke about “rivers of living water” and “the light of the world.”
Knowing more about this feast makes the Psalms about the Temple come alive.
When they were praying Psalm 84 they must have been thinking of this feast: “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, God of hosts. My soul is longing and yearning, yearning for the courts of the Lord. … They are happy, who dwell in your house, forever singing your praise.”
And they had real joy at Psalm 122: “I rejoiced when I heard them say: Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Ultimately, they saw the Temple as their true home — the place that made the whole world feel like home again.
Genesis describes the creation of the world like the Temple, with pillars of the earth and the dome of the heavens, and waters above and below the firmament. Second Kings describes how the Temple was adorned with depictions of palm trees, lilies, and pomegranates — fruits of the vine — crawling up the main pillars. There are carvings of lions and oxen, and the supernatural creatures of heaven above, angels living in harmony with all things, guarding the temple like they did the Garden of Eden.
Once you know that you start to realize that we have all of that in every Catholic Church, only more so.
If the Temple and the Feast of Tabernacles was the promise of a future state where we could live in harmony with God again, the tabernacle in your Catholic Church is the beginning of the fulfillment of that promise.
You can have your own “Feast of Booths” right now and experience what the Jewish people did: A God who graces us with his presence and invites us to come close to him and experience the delight of his presence, the joy of his comfort, and the peace and calm that only he can deliver.
You can appreciate Psalm 132 in a new way: “Let us enter his dwelling; let us worship at his footstool.”
That’s what I found when I visited the National Shrine in D.C. Among strangers in a faraway city, I was home.