Catholic Classroom: Why Churches Face East
Question: Why do churches face east?
The next time you go to church, bring a compass with you. Chances are you will find that the church is built facing the east. This is no coincidence. Though it has not been possible on every occasion, many Catholic churches have been built to face the east.
There are scriptural roots to this orientation. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:27). We believe, therefore, that at the Second Coming, Christ will come from the east.
When we are oriented toward the east, we are, in effect, orienting ourselves toward Christ. As human beings, we long to be united with God, and so it makes sense to physically turn ourselves toward him. This is especially fitting when we consider the sacramental nature of the Church: we believe that matter in the physical world is important for us spiritually, which we see clearly in sacraments like the Eucharist and Baptism. If we believe that what we do with our bodies is meaningful, then it is truly an act of worship to pray facing the direction from which we long to see Jesus come again. If we are conscious of the reason our church faces the east, the physical reminder helps us to orient our hearts and minds toward God.