A Tour of a Catholic Church

A Catholic church is a building set apart for the public worship of God. As an image of the heavenly Jerusalem, the very structure of the church brings Sacred Scripture to life, proclaims the Gospel, and points toward Heaven.

While the sacred art and architecture may appear different, every Catholic church has the same essential parts and includes certain furnishings, all of which have meaning.

The primary entrance to the church leads to the narthex, a space that buffers the area of worship from the outside world. The narthex is traditionally found on the east side of the building, opposite from the main altar.

The main part of the church is called the nave, reflecting the appearance and symbolism of the Church as a ship. This is where the congregation sits during the liturgy.

The sanctuary is the focal area of the church where the Scripture readings and the homily are proclaimed from the ambo, and the Eucharistic sacrifice takes place on the altar. The sanctuary is separated from the nave by a rail or steps.

Traditionally, the sancturary is where the tabernacle is located along with a burning sanctuary candle indicating that Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament.

Catholic churches also contain a sacristy, a small room used to store vestments and liturgical vessels, and where the priest prepares for Mass.

Located in the sacristy is a sacrarium, a special sink that drains directly into the ground and is used to purify linens and vessels, and to properly dispose of any particles of consecrated Bread and Wine.

Why a church looks like a church:

They are to make a sanctuary for me, that I may dwell in their midst. According to all that I show you regarding the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of its furnishings, so you are to make it

Exodus 25: 8-9

The church communicates the faith:

Common spaces, furnishings, and objects:

In its earthly state the Church needs places where the community can gather together. Our visible churches, holy places, are images of the holy city, the heavenly Jerusalem, toward which we are making our way on pilgrimage.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1198

Entering the Church through Baptism:

Features essential to the liturgy:

The True Presence of Jesus:

Sacred images and statues:

A place of preparation and purification:

The house of prayer in which the Most Holy Eucharist is celebrated and reserved, where the faithful gather and where the presence of the Son of God, our Savior, offered for us on the altar of sacrifice bestows strength and blessings on the faithful, must be spotless and suitable for prayer and sacred functions. There pastors and the faithful are called to acknowledge with grateful heart the gift of Him, Who through his humanity constantly pours divine life into the members of his Body.

Pope Paul VI, Presbyterorum Ordinis, 7 December 1965

Visual representations of Jesus:

Pointing toward God:

The Truth, Goodness, and Beauty of the Catholic Church

Full of the life and vitality of Jesus:

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