What is the symbolism of the missal being moved from the left side of the altar to the right side?
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During the mass of the catechumen’s you will notice that after the gradual or the tract is read the altar server will approach the altar, take the missal from the right side and reverently make his way over to the left side of the altar to place it down.
There is much to be said about this discipline, but I wish to focus on just one aspect of it for now. So let us begin with the symbolism that is present in the action. In his work, The Holy Eucharist, St. Alphonsus de Liguori relates the following:
“The priest leaving the right side of the altar, which represents the Jewish people, passes to the left side, which represents the Gentiles, who accepted the Gospel that was rejected by the Jews.”
Hence, it is often said that the right end of the altar is the Epistle Side (ie: readings from the scriptures outside of the four Gospel writers).
Fr. Michael Müller CSSR also gives a more detailed treatment of this action saying:
“The server next carries the Missal to the other side of the altar for the reading of the Gospel, at the left, to signify how Our Lord was led about from one iniquitous judge to another. The carrying of the book from the right to the left signifies that when the Jews had rejected the Gospel it passed over to the Gentiles, who received it with joy.” (The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass)
After the communion rite has concluded the altar server will again remove the Missal and place it back on the right end of the altar. This too has wonderful symbolism in that just as the Jews had rejected their messiah and thus the Gospel was taken to the Gentiles, in the end days St. Paul tells us that there will be a great apostasy (particularly among the gentiles) and the Jews would at this time be converted to the true faith once again.
For those accustomed to the ordinary form, this action rarely accompanies the lectionary, but there is nothing stopping its continuance in the ordinary form. For instance it should be noted that on October 16th, 2012 the mass celebrated by then Pope Benedict included the lectionary being offered in this manner. (a link to this can be supplied upon request)