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Molly wrote:

Hi, guys —

Do you know what is meant, or what was meant, when someone refers to the "Gospel side" of the Church?


  { Do you know what was meant by the Gospel side of the Church? }

Richard  replied:

Hi, Molly —

In the old Mass, the Scripture readings were done from different places: the priest faced the altar and read the Scripture texts from the Missal sitting on the altar. He and the book would be toward the right side of the altar (from the people's point of view) for the New Testament Epistle; and toward the left side for the Gospel. Thus the "Gospel side" is the left side.

There was a little meaning behind the gesture. Churches were built facing east, so when the priest faced east, "north" would be on the left. In real life, in the late Roman Empire and the early Middle Ages, the people living to the north were the pagan barbarians. So proclaiming the Gospel on the "north" side was meant as a little gesture about preaching the Gospel to the heathen.

Thanks for writing!

Best wishes —

Richard Chonak

Andrea commented on Richard's reply:

This is for Richard Chonak.

Thanks for the answer on the Gospel Side of the Church. I am reading a book that takes place in North Carolina and they talk about the Gospel side of the Church. Being from California, we don't have a saying like that.


Andrea Morse

Mary Ann replied:


The saying used to be universal in the Church before the Second Vatican Council. For hundreds of years, the Gospel was read from a podium on the congregation's left, and the epistle was read from a podium on the congregation's right. The pre-Vatican II Catholic Encyclopedia has an interesting historical note:

In ceremonials we frequently find mention of the right and left side of the altar. Before 1488, the epistle side was called the right side of the altar, and the gospel side the left. In that year, Augustine Patrizi, Bishop of Pienza, published a ceremonial in which the epistle side is called the left of the altar, and the gospel side the right, the denomination being taken from the facing of the cross, the principal ornament of the altar, not of the priest or the laity. This change of expression was accepted by St. Pius V and introduced into the rubrics.

What this means is that "what was called right and left" changed, not which side the Gospel was read from. So since 1488, the Gospel side was called the right side, being the right side of the crucifix that faced the people and the priest, who both faced the altar.

Sometimes I miss those good old days.

Mary Ann

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