Dear St. Paul’s family,
Do you know the name of the place where we gather for worship? Of course, the overall name of our church is The Cathedral Church of St. Paul, but each part of the church space has its own particular name, in the peculiar tradition of the Church that demands specialized words for every aspect of our worship (or liturgy, meaning “the work of the people”). If you are sitting in a Pew (or bench) as you read this, you are in the Nave of the cathedral (from the Latin for “Ship” because it’s like an upside-down ark). This is the portion of the building that extends from the baptismal font to the altar rail. The Sanctuary is the part of the church from the altar rail to the front (east) wall behind the altar. We also refer to that space as the Chancel. The area in the very back of the nave between the baptismal font and the doors is the Narthex.
Up against the back wall to the west and in the south Transept are structures of marble panels. These comprise our Columbarium, a word derived from the Latin for a dovecote, a place to house the ashes of the deceased. Each panel conceals a niche which holds up to four urns. The Transept portion also includes panels with no niche, for the names of those who rest elsewhere. Niches and panels are available for advance purchase.
Behind the Altar (the table where we bless bread and wine) is a side table, where the elements for Communion are laid out for the service. This table is called the Credence.
Behind the organ console on the south side there is a bumped-out area known as the South Transept. The original plans for the Cathedral included a matching North Transept, creating a cross-shaped Chancel, but there is a long tradition of cathedrals never being finished!
The suite of rooms dedicated to the storage and preparation of vestments and apparatus for worship is called the Sacristy.
On the south wall of the Chapel of the Holy Family is a small cupboard. This is an Aumbry, a cupboard specially blessed and set aside to house the Reserved Sacrament, the blessed bread (and sometimes wine) of Holy Communion, saved for pastoral visits. If this cupboard were physically attached to the altar it would be called a Tabernacle. Indicating the presence of the Reserved Sacrament is the Sanctuary Lamp above the Aumbry. This light is extinguished on Maundy Thursday when the Aumbry is emptied and relit at the Easter Vigil when we consecrate and reserve the new Sacrament. The Chapel also houses a small Columbarium, for the ashes of the members of the Society of St. Paul, a religious order whose two remaining brothers are beloved members of our congregation.
I hope you enjoyed this little tour of the Cathedral!
Your sister in Christ,