We all know the general structure of a Catholic church like the back of our own hand. We could walk into a church anywhere in the world—whether it’s in the States or in Europe or in New Guinea—and feel at home.
There usually comes a time, however, when we want to name a specific part of the church and simply can’t think of the right word. Next time that happens, just think of Get Fed’s quick guide:
Vestibule: The foyer between the outside doors leading off the street, and the inside doors opening into the church itself.
Nave: Area of the church in which the faithful attend Mass. In early churches, the nave is a wide, unbroken space; in most churches now, it is divided into aisles and sections of pews. The four walls of the nave symbolize the four Gospel writers.
Transept: Many churches are built in the form of the cross. The wings intersecting the nave are called the transept. Similar to the nave, the transept’s four walls also represent something—the four cardinal virtues.
Sanctuary: Like the Holy of Holies in Scripture, the sanctuary is separated from the lay faithful, usually with steps; it is the sacred space in which the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass takes place.
Altar: The consecrated stone—traditionally containing relics of the saints—on which the Sacrifice of Mount Calvary is again offered. The altar is stone because it represents Christ, “the stone whom the builders rejected” Who became the cornerstone.
Sacristy: The priest and altar servers prepare for Mass in this room, which is usually attached to the sanctuary. Symbolically, the sacristy is considered the Blessed Mother’s womb, from which Christ—in the person of the priest—goes out to His flock.
Baptistry: The baptismal font usually stands against a wall in the church now, but in the earlier centuries of the Church, it was housed in its own special room. This unique arrangement can still be seen in many famous churches and cathedrals.
Take your knowledge of these terms with you into Cathedrals: Masterpieces of Architecture, Feats of Engineering, Icons of Faith. You’ll easily keep pace with author Simon Jenkins as he relates the entrancing histories of our Faith’s greatest Houses of God, the architects who envisioned them, and everything in between. Filled with gorgeous photography, reading this book is like taking a pilgrimage to these sacred places without leaving your living room. Get your copy today at The Catholic Company!