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Handling of the Lectionary at Mass

Date: August 28, 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: When the Gospel is proclaimed at Mass using the lectionary (not the Book of the Gospels), is it appropriate for the presiding bishop to bless the people with the lectionary? What sources are available to support the right position on this matter? -- M.B., Abuja, Nigeria

Answer: The Book of the Gospels is a special book and is accorded a special treatment that is not accorded to the lectionary.

For example, we find the following norms in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:

“60. The reading of the Gospel constitutes the high point of the Liturgy of the Word. The Liturgy itself teaches the great reverence that is to be shown to this reading by setting it off from the other readings with special marks of honor, by the fact of which minister is appointed to proclaim it and by the blessing or prayer with which he prepares himself; and also by the fact that through their acclamations the faithful acknowledge and confess that Christ is present and is speaking to them and stand as they listen to the reading; and by the mere fact of the marks of reverence that are given to theBook of the Gospels.

“117. The altar is to be covered with at least one white cloth […]. On the altar itself may be placed a Book of the Gospels distinct from the book of other readings, unless it is carried in the Entrance Procession.”

“The Introductory Rites

“120. When the people are gathered, the Priest and ministers, wearing the sacred vestments, go in procession to the altar in this order: […]

“d) a reader, who may carry a Book of the Gospels (though not a Lectionary), slightly elevated;

“e) the Priest who is to celebrate the Mass.”

If a deacon is present:

“172. Carrying the Book of the Gospels slightly elevated, the Deacon precedes the Priest as he approaches the altar or else walks at the Priest’s side.

“173. When he reaches the altar, if he is carrying the Book of the Gospels, he omits the sign of reverence and goes up to the altar. It is a praiseworthy practice for him to place the Book of the Gospels on the altar, after which, together with the Priest, he venerates the altar with a kiss.”

For the proclamation of the Gospel the deacon or a priest:

“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. The Deacon signs himself with the Sign of the Cross and replies, Amen. Having bowed to the altar, he then takes up the Book of the Gospels which was placed on it and proceeds to the ambo, carrying the book slightly elevated. He is preceded by a thurifer carrying a smoking thurible and by ministers with lighted candles. At the ambo the Deacon greets the people, with hands joined, saying, The Lord be with you. After this, at the words A reading from the holy Gospel, he signs with his thumb the book and then himself on his forehead, mouth, and breast. He incenses the book and proclaims the Gospel reading. When this is done, he acclaims, The Gospel of the Lord, and all reply, Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ. He then venerates the book with a kiss, saying quietly the formula Per evangelica dicta (Through the words of the Gospel), and returns to the Priest’s side.

“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.

“Lastly, the Deacon may carry the Book of the Gospels to the credence table or to another suitable and dignified place.”

GIRM 175 basically repeats the norms given in the Ceremonial of Bishops, No. 141.

Therefore, from all of the above it would appear that the liturgical norms strongly underline the symbolic importance of the Book of the Gospels. Only this book is carried in the entrance procession, placed on the altar, and taken from the altar to the ambo for proclamation.

The lectionary is positively excluded from these liturgical gestures and must generally be left on the ambo from before the celebration begins.

Given the above facts, I think it is clear that the liturgical norms only foresee the possibility of the bishop blessings with the Book of the Gospels and not with the lectionary.

The lectionary, however, may be incensed at the ambo before the proclamation of the Gospel if no Book of the Gospels is used.

Although it is not excluded that the deacon or concelebrating priest who proclaims the Gospel could bring the lectionary to the presiding bishop to be kissed, such a process is more likely to induce the error of a bishop’s blessing the people with the lectionary, especially if it coincides with a solemn celebration.

Therefore, in situations where the Book of the Gospels is unavailable when a bishop presides, those in charge of preparing the liturgy should inform the bishop of the circumstances before Mass begins so that he may indicate his preference, either that the lectionary be brought to him for kissing (omitting any blessing with the lectionary), or, in accordance with the possibilities of GIRM 175, allow the deacon or concelebrating priest to carry out this ritual act at the ambo while the bishop remains at the chair.

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