Sacred Heart Cathedral

From the Rector, Third Sunday of Easter, 4/14/2024

Reading the Cathedral, Part 8: The Sanctuary

The word “sanctuary” means holy place. It is where God dwells and is therefore a place set aside for divine worship and nothing else. In the Old Testament, this took the form of the Meeting Tent and later on the Temple, where there was the sanctuary where the priests would daily offer their sacrifices, and the even more holy place (the “holy of holies”) where only the high priest could enter, and that only once a year, on the great Day of Atonement.

Now, in Catholic Churches, we still have sanctuaries—the holy place where the priests do their work by offering the Sacrifice of Christ—as well as the “holy of holies” which is the tabernacle itself, where Jesus, the true High Priest, dwells. Hebrews 9 gives a thorough explanation of all of this. 

The sanctuary itself stands at the head and center of the church. As we have seen to now, it is preceded by the narthex and the nave. Each of these also have their Old Testament counterparts in the “Courtyard of the Gentiles,” where even non-believers could come to worship the God of Israel, and the “Courtyard of Israel,” where all the Jews would gather to pray and to bring their offerings to priests who would then take these offerings to the sanctuary to be sacrificed.

In general, then, we can say that a Catholic Church is a continuation and fulfillment of the Jewish Temple. It continues what started there in shadow and figure, i.e. the worship of God, but it does so in a very different way: through the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ, now presented in an unbloody manner on our altars. The following diagrams may help to show this.

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