BROOKLYN, NY (CNS) – The loss of the St. Augustine Church Tabernacle in a burglary is a “sadening” material loss, but what brings Catholics together “is our faith in the presence of Jesus Christ among us in the Blessed Sacrament,” Brooklyn Bishop Robert J. Brennan said June 4.

The bishop made the comments in his homily during an evening Mass which included the blessing and purification of the altar and the church after the burglary a week earlier.

The brazen theft was discovered on the afternoon of May 28. The burglar broke through a protective metal casing and got away with the tabernacle, which dates back to the construction of the church in the late 1800s. This sacramental holy receptacle is irreplaceable because of its historical and artistic value, depending on the diocese.

Angels flanking the tabernacle were beheaded and destroyed, and consecrated guests from inside the tabernacle were thrown all over the church altar in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn.

“The lost material is saddening (and) the historical loss, when one realizes that the tabernacle represented generations of people who came before us,” Bishop Brennan said in his homily. “A bit of our history has been taken away from us.

“But above all, what brings us together each week is our faith in the presence of Jesus Christ among us in the Blessed Sacrament. It has been desecrated in a terrible way and indeed we are broken,” he said.

The blessing and purification were part of a “penitential rite of reparation”.

At the beginning of the rite, the altar of the church was bare. After entering the sanctuary, Bishop Brennan blessed the water and sprinkled the altar, worshipers and the walls of the desecrated church as a sign of purification. The altar was then dressed at the beginning of the offertory of the mass.

The parishioners took over the altar and Father Frank Tumino, parish priest of Saint-Augustin, lit the candles in preparation for the Eucharistic liturgy.

Mass was then celebrated and the desecrated church building was restored “to its renewed sacred dignity”, Bishop Brennan said.

The restoration “renews the resolve of the local church in Brooklyn and Queens to grow in holiness and witness to the presence of our risen Lord in the world today,” he said.

The New York Police Department announced a reward of up to $3,500 for information leading to an arrest in the case. The solid gold and jeweled tabernacle is valued at $2 million.