|ROME, 31 MAY 2005 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: I am an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, which in the
Archdiocese of Manila is limited to men. My question involves the order
in which the servers enter during the processional. There is confusion
on who would enter first
the reader carrying the lectionary, or the extraordinary minister of
holy Communion. The woman who carries the lectionary is under the
impression that she should enter before the priest because she carries
the Word of God, and therefore is more important than someone whose role
is merely to dispense the holy Communion. Is she correct?
— A.P., Manila, Philippines
A: There are really several questions involved. One regards whether the
reader should carry in the lectionary; the other, concerns the order of
Regarding these questions the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM),
No. 120, states:
"Once the people have gathered, the priest and ministers, clad in the
sacred vestments, go in procession to the altar in this order:
"The thurifer carrying a thurible with burning incense, if incense is
"The ministers who carry lighted candles, and between them an acolyte or
other minister with the cross;
"The acolytes and the other ministers;
"A lector, who may carry the Book of the Gospels (though not the
Lectionary), which should be slightly elevated;
"The priest who is to celebrate the Mass.
"If incense is used, before the procession begins, the priest puts some
in the thurible and blesses it with the Sign of the Cross without saying
This would be the plan in a parish Mass without a deacon. If a deacon is
present he should carry the Book of the Gospels.
Note that the norm above is quite clear: Only the Book of the Gospels is
carried in procession, not the lectionary.
The Book of the Gospels is either an elegant book containing the
official liturgical text of the Gospels, or a book in which the Gospel
texts used in the liturgy are already divided up and ordered according
to the times and seasons of the year.
These books are also frequently decorated with elaborate covers in
metal, cloth or leather. They are usually quite expensive and not all
parishes have them. Indeed, some countries have yet to print them in the
local tongue and have recourse to Gospels in Latin or another language
into which they insert a copy of the Gospel of the day.
Although the whole Bible is God's word, all liturgical traditions accord
special treatment to the Gospels
— it is placed upon the altar before
use, carried between candles, its reading or singing is reserved to the
ordained, and all stand while it is being read.
If the parish uses only the lectionary (the book containing all of the
readings) then it is placed at the ambo before Mass and no book is
carried during the entrance procession.
As mentioned above, the Gospels are usually carried by the deacon or, if
lacking, an instituted lector.
It does not appear that the liturgical norms, as written, foresee that
the Book of the Gospels be carried by a lay person, male or female, who
acts as a substitute reader for an instituted lector as the norms
mention only that the lector may be substituted for the readings and
omit any mention of carrying the Gospels.
However, since this practice is in fact quite widespread and has not
been expressly forbidden, perhaps a fairly good case could be made that
it has gained the force of custom.
Therefore if the lector, or on the presupposition that it is permitted,
the substitute reader, carries the Gospels, his or her position is right
in front of the priest.
If the Gospels are not used, then the reader(s) may follow after the
acolytes and other ministers (including extraordinary ministers of holy
Communion) mentioned above.
However, there is no obligation for extraordinary ministers of Communion
(or readers for that matter) to take part in the entrance procession at
all. They may be in their places from before Mass if the logistics of
the church building and the sanctuary space augur against complicated
* * *
Follow-up: Who's First in a Procession [06-14-2005]
An Ohio reader has made an interesting point with respect to my
interpretation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal regarding
the possibility of non-instituted lectors carrying the Gospel in the
entrance processions (see May 31).
He asserts that sometimes the word "lector" is used in an expanded sense
to include the commissioned reader as in GIRM, No. 135: "If no lector is
present, the priest himself proclaims all the readings and the Psalm,
standing at the ambo."
If this were the case it would remove all doubt as to the legitimacy of
having readers who were not instituted lectors from carrying the Gospel.
I think our reader's close reading of the GIRM has a high degree of
probability but, even if this were not so, I still believe that it would
be allowable as a custom interpretative of law.
I may be beyond my ken in venturing into canonical epistemology but, as
mentioned before in our final follow-up on blessings, that is how I see
the interpretation of this kind of law.
A Canadian correspondent asked about the following directive given, in
the name of a bishop, by a pastor in the United States: "Ordinarily,
lectors (readers), unless carrying the Book of the Gospels, and
extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, whose ministries are limited
to specific moments, do not process, nor are they seated in the
sanctuary." The correspondent asked for a possible reference to this
The GIRM simply mentions "other ministers" who may participate in the
procession without specifying who they are or any degree of obligation
as to their participation.
No. 294 of the GIRM does indicate that, if possible, lectors should have
a place in the presbytery. But that does not necessarily mean
participation in the procession.
I believe that this is a prudential decision to be made at the local
level in accordance with the demands of space, logistics and pastoral
A bishop would be perfectly within his rights to determine which of
these "other ministers" enter in procession so as to ensure a broad
uniformity of practice within the diocese.
Likewise, it falls within the range of responsibilities of a pastor, in
organizing the liturgy in his parish, to decide how to apply the
liturgical norms to the concrete situation of his church, especially
with regard to aspects where the law allows for various possibilities.