Built of Living Stones 95-97: Gathering Space or Narthex

More than a social area, and a bit more than a transition space between the world and the realm of liturgy …

§ 95 § The narthex is a place of welcome—a threshold space between the congregation’s space and the outside environment. In the early days of the Church, it was a “waiting area” for catechumens and penitents. Today it serves as gathering space as well as the entrance and exit to the building. The gathering space helps believers to make the transition from everyday life to the celebration of the liturgy, and after the liturgy, it helps them return to daily life to live out the mystery that has been celebrated. In the gathering space, people come together to move in procession and to prepare for the celebration of the liturgy. It is in the gathering space that many important liturgical moments occur: men and women participate in the Rite of Becoming a Catechumen as they move towards later, full initiation into the Church; parents, godparents, and infants are greeted for the celebration of baptism; and Christians are greeted for the last time as their mortal remains are received into the church building for the celebration of the funeral rites.

Space for other rooms is provided:

§ 96 § In addition to its religious functions, the gathering space may provide access to the vesting sacristy, rooms for choir rehearsal, storage areas, restrooms, and rooms for ushers and their equipment. Adequate space for other gatherings will be an important consideration in planning the narthex and other adjoining areas.

Doors to the sacred:

§ 97 § The doors to the church have both practical and symbolic significance. They function as the secure, steady symbol of Christ, “the Good Shepherd and “the door through which those who follow him enter and are safe [as they] go in and go out.”(Book of Blessings 1229) In construction, design, and decoration, they have the ability to remind people of Christ’s presence as the Way that leads to the Father.(Book of Blessings 1216) Practically, of course, they secure the building from the weather and exterior dangers, expressing by their solid strength the safe harbor that lies within. The appearance and height of the church doors reflect their dignity and address practical considerations such as the accommodation of the processional cross or banners.

The consideration of church doors is not usually given the attention it deserves.

All texts from Built of Living Stones are copyright © 2000, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Built of Living Stones 95-97: Gathering Space or Narthex

  1. Liam says:

    An image of perhaps the most famous doors custom-built* for a church in Late Antiquity, the wooden doors of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill in Rome (a particularly rare example of such extensive wood relief sculpture having survived the centuries):

    * As opposed to the plainer but more massive doors of the Curia House (of the Roman Senate) that got “repurposed” at the Lateran archbasilica….

    • Liam says:

      PS: If you’re looking for the famous depiction of the Crucifixion on that door, it’s in the top left corner panel ….

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