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Blessing With the Book of the Gospels

Date: September 12, 2021
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Who can bless the congregation with the Book of the Gospels after the proclamation of the Gospel? Is it true that it can only be done by bishops? Sometimes I hear that the provincials of religious orders can also do it since they are considered as “bishops” for their order. Is this true? -- M.Z., Malta

A: The short answer is no. Major superiors of religious congregations are certainly considered “ordinaries,” and as such have certain powers and jurisdictions with respect to their subjects and houses that resemble those of bishops.

However, there is a distinction between jurisdiction and order, and those liturgical aspects which are proper to the order of bishops do not translate automatically to the major superior.

Thus, for example, in a Mass celebrated by a bishop but with no deacon, the General Instruction for the Roman Missal says the following:

“212. During the Liturgy of the Word, the concelebrants remain at their places, sitting or standing whenever the principal celebrant does. When the Alleluia is begun, all rise, except for a Bishop, who puts incense into the thurible without saying anything and blesses the Deacon or, in the absence of a Deacon, the concelebrant who is to proclaim the Gospel. However, in a concelebration where a Priest presides, the concelebrant who in the absence of a Deacon proclaims the Gospel neither requests nor receives the blessing of the principal celebrant.”

The reason for not requesting this blessing is because even though the priest may be a religious superior and an ordinary, he has the same degree in the sacrament of orders.

With respect to a blessing with the Book of the Gospels the GIRM only mentions the bishop in No. 175:

“When the Deacon is assisting the Bishop, he carries the book to him to be kissed, or else kisses it himself, saying quietly the formula Per evangelica dicta (Through the words of the Gospel). In more solemn celebrations, if appropriate, the Bishop may impart a blessing to the people with the Book of the Gospels.”

However, things are not always so clear-cut. In some cases, where a priest is equivalent in law to a diocesan bishop (Canon 368 and 381,2), and as such has full pastoral authority over a portion of the People of God he may be accorded the liturgical aspects normally reserved to the bishop, except those, such as ordination to holy orders, for which the episcopate is essential.

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