What Is the Meaning of the Nave Facing East in a Catholic Church?

The congregation sits in the nave facing the altar in the east.
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The sun rises in the east. In the Bible's Genesis 2:8, Eden is in the east, and it is in the east that Ezekial saw the "glory of God" in Ezekial 43:2-4. In Acts 1:11, the Bible says that Jesus will return from an easterly direction, and in Revelations 7:2 that the Angel of the Lord will appear from the east in the end time. In Judaism, facing east plays an important role as the direction of prayer, and since the early days of Christianity, churches have followed the practice of worshippers facing east.

1 The Nave

Each part of a Catholic church has a symbolic meaning. A typical floor plan is based on the shape of a cross. The church's orientation is toward the east, with the congregation sitting in the nave facing in that direction. "Nave" comes from the Latin word "navis," which means ship. In Catholic symbolism, this relates to Noah's ark and the boat of St. Peter, founder of the Catholic church. Symbolically, members of the congregation are passengers in the ship of faith, facing the direction of light and Jerusalem.

Based in London, Eleanor McKenzie has been writing lifestyle-related books and articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in the "Palm Beach Times" and she is the author of numerous books published by Hamlyn U.K., including "Healing Reiki" and "Pilates System." She holds a Master of Arts in informational studies from London University.