The Nave (and Holy Quiet)

This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive the graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We’re in the section on preparing yourself before Mass.

What:

Once we enter the body of the church (the nave; where the pews are), we remain quiet.

Before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action of the Mass in a devout and fitting manner.

General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) 45

Why:

We have left the outside world, transitioned through the narthex, and have now entered a place for prayer. Here, we begin to observe “holy quiet,” a respectful silence because we are in the Presence of Jesus (reserved in the tabernacle). This also better allows us (and those around us) to focus on praying in preparation for what we are about to do.

The Body and Blood of Christ present under the appearances of bread and wine are treated with the greatest reverence both during and after the celebration of the Eucharist (cf. Mysterium Fidei, nos. 56-61). For example, the tabernacle in which the consecrated bread is reserved is placed “in some part of the church or oratory which is distinguished, conspicuous, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer” ( Code of Canon Law, Can. 938, §2). According to the tradition of the Latin Church, one should genuflect in the presence of the tabernacle containing the reserved sacrament. In the Eastern Catholic Churches, the traditional practice is to make the sign of the cross and to bow profoundly. The liturgical gestures from both traditions reflect reverence, respect, and adoration. It is appropriate for the members of the assembly to greet each other in the gathering space of the church (that is, the vestibule or narthex), but it is not appropriate to speak in loud or boisterous tones in the body of the church (that is, the nave) because of the presence of Christ in the tabernacle.

The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist: Basic Questions and Answers (USCCB, 2001) #9

Going Deeper:

Offer a prayer as you enter the Nave and quiet yourself. Among other things, you can:

  • Tell God that you dedicate this time to Him
  • Make acts of adoration (small prayers of worship) to God
  • Make small prayers about honoring God’s house and the community He has gathered

Zeal for your house will consume me.

John 2:17 (see also Psalm 69:9)

Take a minute to notice the architecture of the church building.

The word “Nave” has the same root as “navy.” The Church has often been likened to a boat (commonly called the “Barque of Peter”). You might notice that this part of many churches might look like the inside of a ship—the pews arranged like benches for rowing. You can imagine that you are entering a great warship and are about to set off in battle against the devil’s forces and/or you can imagine how you are in this “ship” (this church building) while you take part in the great ship of the Church (the Body of Christ), which will lead us to the safe shores of Heaven as the ark preserved Noah and his family from the flood and landed them safely on Mt. Ararat.

The Church is the successor of the temple, the place of right praise—the Biblical vision is that salvation is a cosmic reality—God’s trying to save all of His creation. That’s the Noah story. The ark is like a floating temple, so it’s a little microcosm of the right order of things, led by a family that’s properly ordered. And what are they concerned about? The animals, the life that God created. That’s why the ark becomes a symbol of the Church. So all the churches are meant to look like ships… They’re meant to be a little floating temple where creation is honored and preserved.

Baron, Bishop Robert. Interview with Jordan Peterson: https://www.jordanbpeterson.com/podcast/s2-e14-bishop-barron-catholicism-and-the-modern-age/

In the same way, the nave is also symbolic of the mother’s womb, in which pilgrims are kept in a nurturing environment that helps them to develop, mature, and grow toward their eternal des tination with God in the heavenly kingdom. The Church, in fact, has long been referred to as Mater Ecclesia, Mother Church, mother of all. The church building, then, is a physical representa tion of the maternal place on earth, where the pilgrim goes so as no longer to feel a foreigner, where he goes for sanctuary. It’s a sa cred place conducive to prayer and worship.

The Fathers of the Church often spoke of the maternity of the Church, and church builders have long manifested this maternal aspect of the Church in her sacred structures. Thus, the church building is also seen as a representation of Mary, who nurtured in her womb and brought forth the incarnate Son…

Another aspect of the nave is that it’s always directed toward the sanctuary, at the head of the building. Indeed the nave is also a representation of the body at the service of the head, just as the Body of Christ is at the service of Christ the Head…

The layout and various artistic and architectural elements that the nave comprises help to reflect Christ’s journey from Galile to Jerusalem, that same journey that plays out during the Mass.

Ugly as Sin, Michael Rose, 54-56

Silence is Golden

Growing up, I attended a parish where it was common for some people to remain in the nave after Mass and talk instead of moving to the narthex or parish hall. I never thought about it because that was my normal experience. In my twenties, I started attending a different parish, where the priest had cultivated a deep respect for Jesus’ Presence in the Eucharist. He tried to keep the doors between the nave and narthex closed, he led the congregation in observing holy quiet, and he arranged the architecture of the church in such a way that I was moved to silence by the beauty of the place. He even politely asked me once to move a more boisterous conversation from the narthex to the parish hall to respect the people still in the nave. That respect really made an impact on me as soon as I walked into the nave. This made me deepen my respect for what goes on in that building and helped me to enrich my participation in the Mass. The change between those two atmospheres made a huge impact on me and set me on this road of wanting to get more and more out of Mass and help others to do the same.

What About You?

  • Have you ever been awed to silence by walking into a beautiful church?
  • Have you experienced the difference between a parish with a culture of silence in the nave versus one where the nave is treated more casually?
  • Do you have any stories of experiencing the power of silence in a church full of people?

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