The Lady Chapel - Mary praying

Many of the greatest cathedrals on earth were built to the honor of our Lord's mother. Perhaps the most beautifully exquisite cathedral is Notre Dame (Our Lady) in Paris, France. All cathedrals, regardless of their names, have their Lady Chapels on the south arm of the Transept or great crossing that divides the choir from the nave.

Why a Lady Chapel? One might as well ask, "Why do you love your mother?" The mother in question is Christ's mother, and He commended her to us all from the cross when He asked St. John to take care of her. This is reason enough for us, be we Protestant or Catholic, to honor that precious soul that said unto the Lord: "Let it be unto me according to Thy word!"

There are Lady Chapels in Episcopal cathedrals, in Presbyterian church buildings such as St. Giles in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the Mellon Memorial Presbyterian Church in East Liberty; and, of course, there are Lady Chapels in Roman Catholic churches. While these three traditions may not officially see St. Mary the Virgin from the same theological perspective, they do honor her; they do love her. Who couldn't love Mary?

I believe the reason we Episcopalians have Lady Chapels in our cathedrals and in some of our parish churches are not dissimilar from why they are present anywhere else. It is more a matter of poetry than it is of theology. St. Mary the Virgin was the first to believe in Her Son. She was among those who stood at the cross until the end, and she was honored along with the apostles at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit also fell upon her.

We claim no particular power for Mary beyond the power of a Mother's love for Her Son's brothers and sisters. We shall, therefore, look at our Lady Chapel within our souls and understand that so much of it has to do with our love for our own mothers. Mary raises that love from its earthbound mortality into an heavenward immortality.

The poetess, Mary Dixon Thayer, penned these words that bring to view what all Christians feel toward the Lord's Mother. It is not theology: it is the poetry of the heart; it is a child's resting her head upon the lap of this precious Lady. Whatever I say further should always keep this sort of spirit in mind, for Mary will speak out on behalf of Jesus and the God she adores, but she will never accept worship from us. That she wants to go to the Most Blessed Trinity alone, for her God is our God as well.

Lovely Lady dressed in blue,
Teach me how to pray.
God was just your little boy,
Tell me what to say.
Did you lift Him , sometimes,
Gently on your knee?
Did you sing to him the way mother does to me?
Did you ever try telling him stories of the world?
And oh, did He cry?
Do you think He cares if I tell you things,
Just little things that happen?
And do angels wings make a noise?
Can He hear me if I speak low?
Does He understand me now?
Tell me, for you know.
Lovely Lady dressed in blue
Teach me how to pray,
God was just your little boy
And you know the way.

Martin Luther Portrait of the first of the Protestant Reformers, Martin Luther.

The great Protestant Reformers had a deep and godly respect for Mary. It is very sad for us all that the excesses of Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy have discouraged us Protestants from honoring Mary as did men like Martin Luther and John Calvin. The devil is called a liar and a thief in scripture: in this case I believe he is the thief and has stolen something quite beautiful from our lives, the Mother of our Lord. It has ever been the genius and the beauty of Anglican Christianity (the Episcopal Church in this country) that we have taken the via media, the middle road between Catholicism and Protestantism, and therefore some of our most glorious churches are named in honor of Mary and some of our most moving hymns are written to her living memory among us Christians. Of course, at Christmas, nearly all Christians forget their "hang ups" over this dear Lady and for that joyous and most holy season we come closest to being a united people than at any other season of the year.

I write a few words from Martin Luther, the first of the Protestant Reformers, on St. Mary's Magnificat (her song of praise to the Lord):

"When the holy virgin experienced what great things God was working in her despite her insignificance, lowliness, poverty, and inferiority, the Holy Spirit taught her this deep insight and wisdom; that God is the kind of Lord who does nothing but exalt those of low degree and puts down the mighty from their thrones, in short, breaking what is whole and making whole what is broken.

'For He has considered the lowly estate of His handmaiden' -- Just as God in the beginning of creation made the world out of nothing whence He is called the Creator and the Almighty, as his manner of working continues unchanged. Even now to the end of the world, all His works are such that out of that which is nothing, worthless, despised, wretched, and dead, He makes that which is something precious, honorable, blessed, and living, He makes to be nothing, worthless, despised, wretched and dying. In this manner no creature can work; no creature can produce anything out of nothing.

Therefore to God alone belongs that sort of seeing that looks into the depths with their need and misery, and is near to all that are in the depths; as St. Peter says (I Peter 5:5), "God opposes the proud but gives place to the humble." And this is the source of man's love and praise of God. For no man can praise God without first loving Him."

We are grateful to our first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury that the beautiful rendering of the Magnificat is among the jewels of our Anglican worship at Evensong. (Archbishop Cranmer's influence upon the original Book of Common Prayer, its translation from old Latin services and use of the earliest English language translations of scripture, is universally accepted. This information is included to enrich your appreciation of these texts, remembering, however, that Cathedral Soul does not propose to be a scholarly treatise, rather a devotional book originally intended for the use of my family.)

Picture of the Annunciation

Magnificat. St. Luke I. 46.

My soul doth magnify the Lord, * and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded * the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth * all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me; * and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him * throughout all generations.
He hath showed strength with his arm; * he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat, * and hath exalted the humble and meek;
He hath filled the hungry with good things; * and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel; * as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed, for ever.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
(from the Book of Common Prayer)

Thanks are extended to Our Lady's Gallery of the Immaculate Heart web site for many of the images in this and the following sections.

Go to Lady Chapel I - From "The Little Rubric Book"

Go to Lady Chapel II - Annunciation

Go to Lady Chapel III - Presentation

Go to Lady Chapel IV - Coronation

Go to Lady Chapel V - Our Lady of Walsingham

Go to Lady Chapel VI - Our Lady of Guadeloupe

Go to Lady Chapel VII - The Miraculous Medal

Go to Lady Chapel VIII - La Sallette

Go to Lady Chapel IX - Our Lady of Lourdes

Go to Lady Chapel X - Knock, Ireland

Go to Lady Chapel XI - Fatima, Portugal

Go to Lady Chapel XII - Kibeho, Rwanda

Go to Lady Chapel XIII - Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina

To 'One Episcopalian's Rosary'

Back to the South Arm (Lady's Chapel) article

Back to Table of Contents