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Narthax, Nave & Sanctuary

I extend a continuing Happy Easter to one and all, as we continue through this joyous Easter season.  Yes…He has risen, (the greatest of miracles), which therefore validates the Truth of all that He taught us. The Son of God has redeemed us and freed us from an eternal banishment outside of Heaven (the consequence of Original Sin).  So let us rejoice and continue to grow and show our faith, our belief, and our conviction to live and act more and more in accord with God’s Will, each and every day… going forward.

I have been wanting, for some time now, to provide some informative education regarding our beautiful new church and the various spaces. It goes without saying, but does require some reminding, that the church is indeed, Sacred Space. Having transitioned from a multi-purpose facility that housed our Church, our worship space for nearly three decades, there was a sense of “on again…off again” sacredness to the hall,  that  became acceptable, as  education, meetings, meals, receptions, church daily office-business, and celebrations  of many stripes were  the norm.

Due to the hard work and continued generosity of the founding parishioners and the growth and charity of new members in recent years, we are now blessed with a beautiful purpose-built church. And so I would like to provide you with, in the coming weeks, an explanation of, and the purpose for, the various spaces and objects in our church.

The Narthex – Our gathering space, frequently called the “Narthex”, is the place where the faithful greet one another before and after Mass. It is the area between the outside front doors of the church and the inner doors leading into the Nave, or worship space. This is where we are welcomed each Sunday…where Baptisms, Funerals, and Weddings begin. It is here we form lines for processions and receive palms. It is a place for, greeting and welcoming, religious literature, and for parish notices, and/or displays. And, quite soon, we will have our Religious Gift shop operational, as well.

In the early history of the Church, the narthex was a waiting area for un-baptized individuals and penitents who were temporarily not allowed inside the worship space and not allowed to participate in all or part of the Mass. Through the centuries, the restrictions on Mass attendance have been relaxed, but the term “Narthex” remains. In this gathering space we, at least mentally, are meant to discard our secular ways, knowing that we are about to enter “Holy Ground”, and that our attitude, our body language and even our attire…are expected to reflect the sacredness we are about to encounter therein. (The word “narthex“, in Greek, means giant funnel.”) 

The Nave – The part of a Catholic Church where the laity prays and worships is called the nave.  The word “Nave” comes from the Latin “navis,” meaning ship. We, the people of God, are regarded as passengers on a ship destined for heaven. The nave is not a meeting place, but a place of worship. The congregation is not an audience to be entertained…but are participants in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

In most churches today, the nave is filled with pews or chairs, but that was not always the case. For over 1,000 years, churches did not have seats for the congregation; the faithful mostly stood or knelt during the Mass. Not until the 13th century did pews or benches become popular. Still today there are Catholic churches without seats, save a few designated for the old and the infirm. Parishes quickly discovered that pews are an expensive addition and the cost of installation was passed on to parishioners. Pews were purchased or rented by the laity and often regarded as the property of a particular person or family. This idea persisted for centuries. Today we may contribute to pew renovation or installation, but we don’t own a particular pew (although many of us seek to sit in the same spot at every Mass).

The Sanctuary – The sanctuary is the area, often raised, in the front of the church where the altar, the ambo, the celebrant’s chair and, in many churches ours included, the tabernacle is located.  Separated from the nave, this is the place reminiscent of the Holy of the Holies, that is, the inner sanctuary of the temple described in the Old Testament. Interestingly, the altar and tabernacle were centuries apart in their introduction into the Church. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal defines the sanctuary as “the place where the altar stands, where the Word of God is proclaimed, and where the priest, the deacon and other ministers exercise their offices” (No. 295). * The sanctuary’s elevation above the nave floor serves to enhance the view of the laity but also exemplifies a special, sacred place. “They shall make a sanctuary for me, that I may dwell in their midst.” (Ex   25:8). 

Well that is a beginning, with more to follow regarding the Altar, Tabernacle, Ambo, Baptismal Font, Sacristy, Easter Candle, Stations of the Cross, Ambry, Reliquary, Confessionals and more. If any questions arise along the way, please feel free to contact me. In the meantime, I would like to provide a reminder that Sacred Silence in the Nave is the expected reverential respect we are all to strive to maintain.

Blessings on your week.