The parish church: Inside - Page 3


The sanctuary

Beyond the chancel, there is the sanctuary in which the altar itself is situated.  We shall be looking at that in more detail in our next session.  But at the moment you can see how important and necessary the altar is when you realise that without it the church would not be a church at all.  For a church is really a building that contains an altar at which the Eucharist can be celebrated.

Aisles and processions

We have already seen how the aisles, by making the church larger, provide room for more people; and how the arcades lead our eyes to the altar at the east end.  Aisles also make it possible for processions to go round the church, and that is why the Stations of the Cross are put up at intervals along their length.  There are 14 of these Stations, and they picture the events of Good Friday from Our Lord’s condemnation by Pilate to his burial.  Sometimes there is a 15th station depicting the Resurrection.


Aisles have a further use as well.  The east end of an aisle often forms a very convenient place for another altar.  In many churches this altar is screened off to make a chapel.  That word chapel has a very interesting history.  You’ll remember the story of St Martin of Tours, the young soldier who gave half of his cloak to a beggar and put the other half round his shoulders as a cape.  St Martin became Bishop of Tours in France, and after he died in the year 397 AD, his half of the cloak was kept as a treasured relic.  In fact, the Frankish kings used to have it carried with them when they went into battle.  This cape, or capella as it was called, was kept in a tent and was guarded by priests who were called capellani, that is, chaplains.  The capellani also celebrated the Eucharist in the tent, and in the course of time the word capella – chapel – came to be used, not only for the cape, but also for the tent itself, and later was used for any small church or for an enclosure within a church where the Eucharist could be celebrated.

Usually in one of the side chapels you will find the confessional, where the priest hears Confessions and administers the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Penance).

A chapel where the Eucharist is offered only for the repose of the souls of the Faithful Departed is called a Chapel of the Holy Souls.  A Lady Chapel is a chapel dedicated to Our Lady.

In some churches you will see a statue of Our Lord, and one of Our Lady and perhaps other saints.  In front of these there is often a stand for candles, known as a pricket, on which you can put a lighted candle in honour of Jesus or a saint.