Sacred Heart Cathedral

From the Rector, First Sunday of Lent, 2/18/2024

  Reading the Cathedral, Part 5: The Nave

Walking from the narthex into the main body of the church can feel like a deep breath of air. From the small confines of the entry way, you can now see the high ceilings and feel the openness of the space. You are now in the nave.

The word “nave” comes from two ancient words. In Greek, naos means “temple” and in Latin navis means “ship.” The former of course makes sense, given that we are in the house of God and the Temple of the Most High. The latter is reflected even in the architecture of our cathedral, the ceiling of which looks like the top a large boat. Understanding this imagery of a ship takes a bit of thought, however. There are two biblical images that can help here. First, we have Noah’s Ark, the boat that saved Noah and his family from the flood (Gen. 6-8). Second, there is the barque—or boat—of Saint Peter, from which Jesus preached (Lk. 5:3). Both of these help us to understand what happens in this place. 

From Noah’s Ark we can see how we are saved from the floods of sin and death by God’s saving works, which have their high point here in this sacred building in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. From Peter’s Barque we recognize that in this holy edifice, Jesus continues to speak and preach to us in the Scriptures and in our prayer. This imagery is only strengthened by the fact that we have small “lifeboats” on the side of the church (the confessionals) for whenever we fall overboard by committing sin. (Make good and frequent use of these this Lent!)

Now, while these apply to the church building itself, they also apply to the Church as a whole, to the Mystical Body of Christ and the “people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Saint Cyprian, On the Lord’s Prayer, 23). This means that the Catholic Church, founded by Jesus Christ, is the place where that we are saved from the powers of Satan, from the various “floods” that can rage against us, and from this “wicked and perverse generation” (cf. Acts 2:40; Phil. 2:15). Here He continues to instruct us in the ways of truth, goodness, beauty, life, justice, and holiness. Thanks be to God for this Church and this church building! How lost we would be without them!


For the season of Lent, I will be offering short, daily reflections on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. To receive these in your email, please sign-up at

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