Liturgical directions

When reading works suggesting liturgical directions — “the ceremony” — you’ll quickly come across compass directions: north, south, east and west.

These don’t mean the same things in churches as they might if you were hiking. Traditionally, altars in Christian churches — in the West anyway — faced east towards Jerusalem. So anytime you face towards the altar in a church — the direction the bulk of the congregation sits in nearly every church — you’re facing liturgical east. You can work out the rest of the directions; a west gallery would be above the door entering the nave on the short end, for instance.

You might hear about “Gospel side” and “epistle side” but not from me (unless I’m feeling ironic and am giving directions to clergy in secular buildings.) But to clarify this point, gospel side is on the congregation’s left and epistle side is on the congregation’s right, or liturgical north and south respectively.

Don’t say I never helped you.

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