Blessings Before Reading the Gospel

Date: September 18, 2022
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.

Question: Should a concelebrating priest at a Mass in which the bishop is the chief celebrant receive the blessing from the bishop before reading the Gospel like a deacon? -- G.O., Imo State, Nigeria

Answer: The short answer is yes!

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) says:

“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.”

From this, it is understood that a concelebrating priest who proclaims the Gospel at a Mass presided over by a bishop, will always request the blessing from the principal celebrant.

It is equally understood that this is never done when a priest presides.

This also applies to concelebrations presided over by priests who in law are considered as ordinaries as specified in canon law such as major superiors of religious orders. To wit:

“Can. 134 §1. In addition to the Roman Pontiff, by the title of ordinary are understood in the law diocesan bishops and others who, even if only temporarily, are placed over some particular church or a community equivalent to it according to the norm of can. 368 as well as those who possess general ordinary executive power in them, namely, vicars general and episcopal vicars; likewise, for their own members, major superiors of clerical religious institutes of pontifical right and of clerical societies of apostolic life of pontifical right who at least possess ordinary executive power.

“§2. By the title of local ordinary are understood all those mentioned in §1 except the superiors of religious institutes and of societies of apostolic life.

“§3. Within the context of executive power, those things which in the canons are attributed by name to the diocesan bishop are understood to belong only to a diocesan bishop and to the others made equivalent to him in can. 381, §2, excluding the vicar general and episcopal vicar except by special mandate.”

This is because the distinction that applies during the Eucharistic celebration is the distinction of orders and not the distinction of authority. As one commentator states regarding the above number of the GIRM: 

“The nuances in asking/receiving a blessing prior to proclaiming the Gospel clearly highlight the hierarchical nature of three grades of sacred orders and the equality of status among presbyters.”

These are the general situations. Of course, the Church may, in special circumstances, grant special faculties and exemptions to ecclesial norms except when dealing with sacramental actions intimately tied to episcopal ordination, such as the conferring of holy orders. 

For example, the following indication was given in the complementary norms regarding former Anglican bishops who became Catholic priests in one of the ordinariates:

“Article 11 §3. A former Anglican Bishop who belongs to the Ordinariate and who has not been ordained as a bishop in the Catholic Church may request permission from the Holy See to use the insignia of the episcopal office.”

Other exemptions or privileges would not be widely known as they would be the subject of specific decrees issued on the appointment of a priest to a specific jurisdiction equivalent in law to a bishop.

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