Question About Catholic Church Layout

Is there an official name for the room where the priests change their clothes? A Spanish-speaking acquaintance of mine called it something like “secretaria” in Spanish.



I’m thinking that “vestry” could also work, although it has taken on other meanings over time.

The sacristy is where linens, robes, and other miscellaneous religious equipment is kept. In addition, it often houses a specially constructed sink that is not connected to the sewer or septic system, but instead to the ground.

More importantly, it is the room where the patens, chalices, pyxes, etc., are cleansed and stored between services, containing that sink, called a “piscina.” In the event that the robes are in a different room from the sacred vessels, the latter is the sacristy.

If the robing room is a different room than the sacristy, it is in fact the vestry – the room where one vests for service. Because parish councils used to meet in the vestry, the terms vestry and vestrymen for the councils and their members respectively came into common use in some denominations.

ETA: This is not to disagree with Mr. Moto’s useful and informative post but to draw a distinction left unclear in his. If there is one room, it is the sacristy; if two, differentiated as noted, the communion-prep. room is the sacristry and the robing room is the vestry.

Okay. Why is the sink different? Where does its water come from and go to? Is this true for modern, modestly budget churches?

This sink (piscina or sacrarium) is used when washing out the chalices, ciboria, and patens after Communion so that any residual particles are not simply dumped into the sewer or septic system.

The water is normal tap water, but the drain empties into a dry well below the building.

To elaborate, this is important because any residual particles of the communion elements are held to still be the Body and Blood of Jesus. You don’t just flush Jesus into the sewer.

Thanks to everyone for their replies!

Ahhh…memories of my altar boy days. Our sacristy was connected to the crying room by a “hidden passage” (well, it seemed that way)…to the civilians in the congregation, an altar boy would go into the crying room, and then re-appear as if by magic leaving the sacristy, headed to the altar. Cool stuff.

Apologies in advance to practicing Catholics, but that just made me giggle. I’m guessing it would be a tad uncouth to mop up the particles with your finger, then, and rub them on your gums.

I am so going to hell.

Actually, if the particles are detectable, this would be perfectly appropriate. The communion elements are meant to be consumed. The sacrarium is only necessary because there are bound to be crumbs or droplets too small to be detected and therefore consumed, but some respectful way is still needed for dealing with them.

As for the giggling, any theological position seems inherently silly to outsiders. It’s the nature of the subject. So don’t feel too bad about giggling.

please help - what is a “crying room” for altar boys??? in light of recent events regarding priests and altar boys, this sentence just sounds too weird.

The cry room-or at least this is how it is at my church-is a room for parents with cranky babies and what not. There’s a speaker in there to hear Mass, but that way you don’t interupt the other parisheners.

We used to sit in there when I was little because my sister was so bad in church, and was constantly trying to climb over the pews, etc. It’s not like Mom and Dad could yell at her during Mass.

“Holy Locker Room of Antioch” isn’t a good suggestion?

Thanks for the reply, Chronos.

Shame, though. I had my asbestos jogging suit all picked out.

Piscinas: I’ve never seen one with a tap/faucet. They’re customarily a round foot-wide basin set into the counter area next to a “normal” sink, with a drain that empties onto the soil (or, as Tom~ notes, into a drywell). The idea, more or less, is to return the consecrated elements to the earth whence they came, reverently. On the one altar guild I’ve been involved with, the procedure is to take a little water, rinse the paten or ciborium (which held the bread) into the chalice, slosh it a bit to pick up any drops of wine clinging to the chalice, then either drink it (preferable if the altar guild member doesn’t mind) or pour it into the piscina. Then a second rinse of the chalice with a bit more water, dumped down the piscina, then wash the vessels with soap and water in the normal sink. While this is an Episcopal church, it matches what I’ve seen in Catholic churches, so I presume something of the same process is used.

The separated sacristy is also the ideal place for altar boys between weekday morning Masses (when you’re waiting for the priest who’s doing the second Mass) to illicitly partake in a bit of the (not yet consecrated) fruit of the vine…

And the Spanish word your friend used is sacristía.

The sacristy sink is also for communion wafers that were mishandled, dropped or somehow disrespected. While most people (nuns, priests, etc) would just consume the ‘abused’ wafer after retrieving it, there are any numbers of odd things that can happen, which would prompt the priest to retrieve the wafer, and, if not consume it himself, then proceed to grind it up for disposal in the sink.

Examples? A kid who takes the wafer and never swallows it, then discards it. A fellow church goer may notice, and bring this urgent issue to the attention of a priest. The wafer is found, and most often consumed. If not consumed, then it is is sent down the sacristy sink.

I’ve seen nuns shake a kid upside down when he tucked the wafer into his school uniform pocket. They caught it and returned it to the priest. It was ground up and sent down the sacristy with holy water. I’ve also witnessed a nun take a wafer from the floor that was soggy and trampled on by a wet, slushy boot and consume it.

Most of my ‘strange things that happen with communion wafers’ stories come from Catholic grammar school. Nuns were always on patrol for strange things. The most common occurrence was ‘pocketing’. Kids were also busted playing with the communion wafer in their mouths.

When we were eventually allowed by doctrine to receive the host in hand and place it into our own mouths, the nuns cranked up their patrols, because it was expected that abuse of the wafer would increase.