What does Upper Church and Lower Church mean?

In a Catholic parish near my house I see these terms, what do these terms mean? I do not think they mean physical locations since when I see masses performed in either the Upper Church or Lower Church, they are in the same places. Sorry if this is a stupid question.

Since I’m seeing all Sunday Masses and the Saturday Vigil performed at the Upper Church while others are performed at the Lower Church.

Upper and lower church? Are you thinking High Church?

They are mostly directed to the Anglican church.
Where Low church means less vestments, incense, etc. High church has all the “accoutrements”. Some will claim that because it is so similar to the mass it is part of the Catholic Church, they call themselves “Anglo-Catholics” but they are not in full communion with the Catholic Church.

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I think I may know what you’re referring to.

In larger churches, there is sometimes the main nave, which is the “upper church” and a smaller chapel either in the basement or somewhere else, called the “lower church.”

The lower church can be used for daily Masses. I’ve also heard of some large intercity parishes with small congregations that use the lower church almost exclusively since it’s less costly to heat/cool or in some cases, the building is in such poor state of disrepair that plaster would literally be falling on parishioners if the used the main “upper church.” We’re talking about structures that can seat 1000+ but are getting 100 or less for a Sunday Mass.

I’ve never experienced this in the city where I’m from, but I’ve heard of it in places like Philadelphia.


This is the answer I was looking for! Thank you! I’m just confused about this church as upper and lower church Masses look like they are in the same place but that is probably due to the Coronavirus.

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The “lower church” mentioned in the way you describe is generally a worship space or chapel in the basement area or lower level of a church building. Often it’s smaller and less ornate, and is often used for stuff like daily Masses or vespers.

The “upper church” would generally be the large main church space that is typically used for Sunday Mass and other large gatherings.

It is also possible to have two Masses going on simultaneously with one in the upper space and one in the lower space, if there’s a demand for Masses. For example, you might have the English language Mass in the upper church and the Polish language Mass in the lower church at the same time.

Many older pre-1950s churches have an upper and lower church.

This has nothing to do with “high church” and “low church” in Anglican usage.

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The Church I grew up in (in Philadelphia) had an Upper and a Lower Church. Simultaneous masses were held on Sundays. (Parking was so much fun…)

This is actually an old design, with the lower Church frequently called the Crypt. The Basilica at Notre Dame is built that way. The Crypt at the Shrine in DC is underneath just the sanctuary of the Upper Church.

I have seen a few Churches where the basement was built first and used as a worship space while raising money to build the Upper Church, with no intention of keeping the lower part as a church. I would not be surprised if that was how that Church in Philly started, but they decided to keep the lower level as a Church because they needed the room.


Was it Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary?


What gave it away? The parking lot?

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Oh my gosh no although I am intimately familiar with same. No, I’m a proud graduate of the 100th anniversary class (1970). Was in the 6th grade when they put in the then ‘new’ addition for grades 6-8 (yeah back when it was really grades 1-8). I remember being so proud to play the organ for Sister in the upper church (in which as as 5th grader in the choir we sang the Latin; the following year everything was English sob), and I remember morning church Lent weekdays down in the lower church and how peaceful it was!

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I did not attend the school, so I probably have some stranger memories than you. Like going to confession in the lower church for All Saints Day; the quiet darkness takes on a different feeling on Halloween.

A few stray traumas like that left aside, it was a nice church coping with growth and change in good ways.

Yes, days like Halloween one was grateful for one’s glow in the dark rosary ha!

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I was thinking it might have been St. John’s Philly. Beautiful lower church there.

Down past city hall?

BVM is pretty far in the Northeast. I’m very thankful that they let me stay for 7th and 8th grades even when I had to move out to practically Feasterville (I got real familiar with Septa buses those years).

Yes, St. John the Evangelist on S. 13th.

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