This Is The Biblical Reason Why We See Mary On The Left And Joseph On The Right Of The Altar


This alignment of the images is often found. But what is due?

When we enter a Catholic church, we often see an image of Our Lady on the left side of the altar and another image of St. Joseph on the right.

Is it pure chance or is there any rule in this respect?

Good, specific rule or rule does not exist with regard to the position in which images are to be placed within the churches.

What exists is the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which calls for care and wisdom so that the number of statues is not increased indiscriminately and that they are organized so as not to distract the attention of the faithful during the celebrations. Ideally, there should be only one image of a certain saint (cf. number 318).

At certain times and places it was customary to place the parish patron statue in the center of the church above the tabernacle, but this use has been diminishing in favor of the focus on the Crucifix and the tabernacle itself.

As for the placement of the image of Mary, it is typically placed to the left of the altar from the point of view of the faithful because in reality it is to the right of Jesus from His point of view!

It is from the Old Testament tradition that the Queen Mother is seated at the right hand of the King. In the first book of the Kings, for example, we can read:

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So Bathsheba went to the king to speak to him in favor of Adonijah. The king rose to meet him, bowed low, and sat on the throne. He ordered a throne for his mother, and she sat down on his right (1 Kings 2:19).

Pope Pius X confirms this tradition in the Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum , declaring that “Mary is seated at the right hand of her Son”.

Along with this tradition, it is important to remember that the left side of the churches was called the “gospel side” – and Mary, biblically, is the “New Eve”, playing a key role in the History of Salvation.

In the eastern churches, an icon of the Mother of God is also placed to the left of the iconostasis, the wall that separates the sanctuary from the nave of the church. It is often an icon of the Mother of God holding the Baby Jesus in the lap to represent the beginning of our salvation.

The presence of St. Joseph on the right is therefore seen in the light of the privileged role of Mary. However, it is also frequent that, instead of St. Joseph, the image of another saint is placed, according to the preponderant devotion in the church in question.

It is important to note that if the image of the Sacred Heart is placed on the right side of the altar, then the statue of Mary is usually placed on the “side of Joseph”, since Our Lady always occupies a position less prominent than that of the Son.

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Along with all this, it is easy to remember that, in the past, it was a tradition for women and children to sit on one side and men on the other in churches. This custom also influenced that in some churches the saints were placed on one side and the saints on the other.

In short: there is no rigid rule for the positioning of images within churches, but rather a beautiful set of reflections, traditions and general orientations so that the choice is well grounded, makes spiritual sense, respects the centrality of Christ the Eucharist and is edifying for the faithful.


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