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Standing at the Gospel Acclamation

Date: August 20, 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: I am a member of our diocesan commission on liturgy. We recently talked about the posture of the concelebrants at the Gospel acclamation. The general practice is that the concelebrants stand only when the principal celebrant (a presbyter) stands and remain seated if the principal celebrant is still seated (i.e., imposing incense or giving the blessing to the deacon). The crux of this inquiry is at times when a bishop is the celebrant. We discussed whether it is appropriate or not for the concelebrants to sit with the bishop while he does the imposition of incense and blessing of the deacon (or concelebrant) because they only stand when the bishop stands. We are of the opinion that the concelebrants should stand with the faithful if the main celebrant is a bishop. What are your thoughts about this? What is the proper posture of concelebrants during the Gospel acclamation when the principal celebrant is: a) a presbyter; or b) a bishop? -- D.A., Philippines

Answer: The principal texts that throw light upon this are from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). There are three relevant texts: one from the general explanation for Mass, another taking into account the presence of the deacon, and the third dealing with concelebrations. The texts are:

“131. After this, all rise, and the Alleluia or other chant is sung as the liturgical time requires (cf. nos. 62-64).

“132. During the singing of the Alleluia or other chant, if incense is being used, the Priest puts some into the thurible and blesses it. Then, with hands joined, he bows profoundly before the altar and quietly says the prayer Munda cor meum (Cleanse my heart).”

“175. During the singing of the Alleluia or other chant, if incense is being used, the Deacon ministers to the Priest as he puts incense into the thurible. Then, bowing profoundly before the Priest, he asks for the blessing, saying in a low voice, Your blessing, Father. The Priest blesses him, saying, May the Lord be in your heart ….”

“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.”

It is important to note that the above norms are progressive and do not repeat what has already been said. Hence, No. 175 does not repeat the indication given in No. 131 that “all rise” for the singing of the Alleluia while incense is blessed and the deacon requests the priest’s blessing.

No 212 on the other hand, because it deals with concelebrations, does mention the fact that all rise “except for a Bishop,” because of the real possibility that a bishop may preside at the concelebration.

It is noteworthy that this is one of the few times that the GIRM touches upon the ceremonies pertaining to a bishop. Most of the GIRM addresses the situation of the Eucharist presided over by a priest.

The particular and detailed norms for the celebration by bishops are mostly contained in another book called the “Ceremonial of Bishops” which the GIRM takes into account and even modifies in some minor details.

Therefore, to answer our reader’s precise questions we can say the following:

In a concelebration presided over by a priest all, including the presider, stand up at the Alleluia. The priest places incense in the thurible and blesses the deacon from a standing position.

In a concelebration presided over by a bishop, all the priests and faithful stand for the Alleluia. Only the bishop remains seated because only a bishop places incense and blesses the deacon while seated. This is similar to the custom that preaching from a seated position is reserved to the bishop as a sign of his mission as teacher of the faith.

The situation is similar during a concelebration with several bishops present. As foreseen in the Ceremonial of Bishops, No. 140, at the Alleluia only the presiding bishop remains seated while the other bishops stand up along with the rest of the assembly. 

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