When a Bishop Isn’t Celebrating but Present

Date: October 15, 2023
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: In a Mass presided over by a priest, but the diocesan bishop is present in the sanctuary, when a deacon reads the Gospel does he present the Book of Gospels to the bishop to kiss it, or can he (the deacon) kiss it? -- J.J., Banjul, The Gambia


Answer: This theme is addressed in the book known as the Ceremonial of Bishops under the heading “Mass at which the Bishop presides but not as celebrant”:


“175. In the teaching and tradition of the Church, it belongs to the bishop to oversee celebration of the eucharist in the communities of the diocese. It is most fitting, then, that when he is present at a Mass he should himself be the celebrant. If he is present at a Mass but for good reason is not the celebrant, nor is another bishop the celebrant, he should preside at least by celebrating the liturgy of the word and by blessing the people at the end. This is especially true of those eucharistic celebrations within which there is to be a sacramental rite or a rite of consecration or blessing. When the bishop presides without celebrating, the provisions given in the present chapter are to be followed.


“176. After being received in the way already described in no. 79, the bishop, in the vesting room (sacristy) or other convenient place, puts on an alb and over it the pectoral cross and a stole and cope of the color of the occasion. As a rule he uses the miter and pastoral staff. Two deacons assist the bishop, or at least one, wearing diaconal vestments. In the absence of deacons, the bishop should be assisted by presbyters wearing copes.


“177. In the entrance procession the bishop walks behind the celebrant or concelebrants, escorted by the deacons and ministers.


“178. Upon reaching the altar, the celebrant or concelebrants make a deep bow, but if the blessed sacrament is reserved in the sanctuary (chancel), they genuflect. Then they go up to the altar, kiss it, and go to their appointed places.


“After handing the pastoral staff to a minister and taking off the miter, the bishop, together with the deacons and ministers, makes a deep bow to the altar (or genuflects, as the case may be). Then he goes up to the altar and kisses it.


“If incense is used, the bishop, accompanied by the deacons, incenses the altar in the usual way, including the cross.


“The bishop then goes in the most direct way to the chair (cathedra) along with his deacons, who stand close to the chair on either side, to be ready to assist him.


“179. From the beginning of Mass until the end of the liturgy of the word, the directives already given for the stational Mass of the bishop should be observed (see nos. 128-144). But if there is to be a sacramental rite or a rite of consecration or blessing within the Mass, any special provisions for the profession of faith and the general intercessions should be followed.


“180. After the general intercessions or after a sacramental rite or rite of consecration or blessing, the bishop sits and receives the miter. Then the deacon and ministers prepare the altar as usual. If the gifts are brought forward by the faithful, they are received by the celebrant of the Mass or by the bishop. After a deep bow to the bishop, the celebrant goes to the altar and begins the liturgy of the eucharist in accordance with the Order of Mass.


“181. If there is an incensation, the bishop is incensed after the celebrant; he puts aside the miter and stands to receive the incensation. But if there is no incensation, he puts aside the miter and stands after the invitation Pray, brethren. He remains standing at the chair (cathedra) until the epiclesis in the eucharistic prayer.


“182. From the epiclesis until after the elevation of the cup, the bishop kneels facing the altar on a kneeler provided for him either in front of the chair or in some other convenient place. After the elevation, he stands once again at the chair.


“183. After the invitation Let us offer each other by the deacon, the bishop gives the sign of peace to his deacons. If the bishop receives communion, he takes the body and blood of the Lord at the altar, after the celebrant.


“184. During the communion of the faithful, the bishop may remain seated until the beginning of the prayer after communion, which he says standing at the altar or at the chair (cathedra). After the prayer, the bishop blesses the people in the way indicated in nos. 1120-1121. One of the deacons assisting him dismisses the people (see no. 170).


“185. Then the bishop and the celebrant reverence the altar with a kiss in the usual way. Finally, all make the prescribed bow and leave in the order in which they entered.


“186. If the bishop does not preside in the manner just outlined, he should participate in the Mass wearing mozzetta and rochet, and at some suitable place other than the bishop's chair (cathedra).”


From the above, we can respond that if the bishop presides at the Liturgy of the Word in the manner outlined above then, in accordance with No. 179 the deacon should bring him the Gospel to be kissed in the usual manner.


If, on the other hand, the bishop is not presiding but is simply present in choir dress in the sanctuary, then the deacon who proclaims the Gospel would kiss it himself.


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Readers may send questions to Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.


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