|ROME, 18 NOV. 2008 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: A priest-professor of liturgy at a seminary in India told me about
the Book of the Gospels which is carried in the entrance procession
during the Mass and kept on the altar till the Gospel reading and which
is used for proclamation of the Gospel. He explained to me the reasons
and significance of this special honor given to the Book of the Gospel.
Some of our friends who heard about it for the first time raised many
doubts about this practice. I read the General Instruction of the Roman
Missal (GIRM), which also speaks about it. I have three questions on
this subject: 1. The Book of the Gospels that he showed to me was an
American edition (National Conference of Catholic Bishops
Catholic Book Publishing Co.). Can we use it in India? I called the
National Liturgy Commission in India and the person in charge said we do
not have an Indian edition, but if we have the U.S. edition we could use
it in English-speaking congregations. Is it correct? 2. In India we have
many vernacular languages. In those languages we certainly do not have
Book of the Gospels. In that case can we use the lectionary (GIRM, No.
120.d, says "not lectionary") or the New Testament (Bible) in procession
instead of Book of the Gospels? 3. As regards honor given to the Book of
the Gospels, can we give some special honor according to our Indian
culture (see GIRM, Nos. 60, 273, 390) such as arathi and garlanding
(homage by flowers)? In the approved cultural adaptation (Sacra
Congregatio Pro Cultu Divino, Protocol No. 802/69, dated April 25, 1969)
for India, the arathi is approved by Holy See, but in the decree it does
not mention specifically the Book of the Gospels. Therefore, can we do
S.C.A., Thanjavur, India
A: Our correspondent is clearly a very well-formed layman and sedulous
with respect to correct liturgical practice.
First of all, he is correct regarding the importance of the Book of the
Gospels. Historically the Gospels have always been accorded special
treatment in the liturgy. In many ancient churches it was common to have
large elevated stone podiums placed opposite each other on either side
of the nave
before entering the sanctuary. The one on the right was taller and more
richly decorated and was reserved for the proclamation of the Gospel and
occasionally substituted the cathedra as the place of episcopal
The left-side ambo was divided into two levels, the higher for reading
the Epistle and the lower for the chanter of the responsories. Some
ancient Roman churches, such as St. Lawrence and St. Clement, still
conserve their fifth-century ambos.
While the mode of expressing particular veneration toward the Gospel has
varied over the centuries, it has always been present in some way. In
the present liturgy it is expressed in the GIRM. The "Book of the
Gospels" referred to in GIRM is generally a book in which all the Gospel
texts used in the liturgy are arranged for liturgical proclamation in a
manner similar to the lectionary. However, the norms would not seem to
exclude the use of an ornate book containing only the four Gospels
provided that the translation corresponds to texts officially approved
for liturgical use.
The GIRM says:
"120d: 'A lector, who may carry the Book of the Gospels (though not the
Lectionary), which should be slightly elevated':
"122: 'It is a praiseworthy practice that the Book of the Gospels be
placed upon the altar.'
"133: 'If the Book of the Gospels is on the altar, the priest then takes
it and goes to the ambo, carrying the Book of the Gospels slightly
elevated and preceded by the lay ministers, who may carry the thurible
and the candles. Those present turn towards the ambo as a sign of
special reverence to the Gospel of Christ.
"At the ambo, the priest opens the book and, with hands joined, says,
Dominus vobiscum (The Lord be with you), and the people respond,
Et cum spiritu tuo (And also with you). Then he says, Lectio
sancti Evangelii (A reading from the holy gospel),
making the sign of the cross with his thumb on the book and on his
forehead, mouth, and breast, which everyone else does as well. The
people say the acclamation Gloria tibi, Domine (Glory to you,
Lord). The priest incenses the book, if incense is used (cf. below, nos.
276-277). Then he proclaims the Gospel and at the end says the
acclamation Verbum Domini (The gospel of the Lord), to which all
respond, Laus tibi, Christe (Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ).
The priest kisses the book, saying quietly, Per evangelica dicta
(May the words of the gospel)."
If a deacon is present, he will carry the Book of the Gospels in the
entrance procession and perform the other rites attributed to the priest
in the above texts.
The historical privileging of the Book of the Gospels shows why only
this book and not the full lectionary should be carried in the
procession and left on the altar.
Addressing the three questions at hand:
1) I must defer to the indications of the official at the National
Liturgy Commission regarding the use of the American Book of the
Gospels. Although the approval of liturgical books is the exclusive
province of each bishops' conference, some allow the use of any
officially approved texts by other conferences. This may be the case in
2) In multilingual countries such as India, where the cost of
publication of specific Books of the Gospels would be exorbitant, one
may have recourse to a certain maneuver that can help overcome the
difficulty. In this case any duly approved Book of the Gospels is
adopted into which a photocopy of the Gospel to be read that day in the
local language is inserted. Since a proper Book of the Gospels is used,
it is attributed the usual liturgical honors in spite of being in a
language different from that of the Mass. Even the Holy See has
occasionally avoided a moment of liturgical embarrassment through this
practical sleight of hand.
3) I think it is best to have recourse to the National Liturgical
Commission regarding rites specifically approved for India. I could say,
as a matter of general principle, that if the sense and meaning of the
local rite is basically equivalent to that of the missal, then it should
be possible. For example, if the aforementioned rites such as the arathi
(an offering of bowls containing incense) are used in venerating the
altar at the beginning of Mass, then it is probably legitimate to use
them for the Gospel. A cleric from Tamil Nadu state studying in Rome has
informed me that this rite is occasionally used in venerating the Book
of the Gospels on solemn occasions.
The fact that the Gospel was not mentioned in a decree from early 1969
is not surprising as it precedes the definitive publication of the 1970
Roman Missal, and some aspects of this rite were not definitively
clarified until some years later.
* * *
Honoring the Book of the Gospels [12-2-2008]
After our Nov. 18 comments on the honors attributed to the Book of the
Gospels, a reader from Sweden asked: "I would like to ask, is it right
that the deacon gives the Book of the Gospels to the bishop after
reading the Gospel, so that the bishop can kiss the book? Someone told
me that this does not belong to the Roman rite. When we are celebrating
a Pontifical Mass, this is how it is usually done in our parish. I think
this is a beautiful sign of veneration for Christ, but is this gesture
foreign to the Roman rite?"
It is most certainly not foreign to the Roman rite but is a legitimate
option offered in the Ceremonial of Bishops, No. 141, to wit:
"After the gospel reading, the deacon takes the book to the bishop, who
kisses it, saying inaudibly, 'May the words of the Gospel [wipe away our
sins]'; alternatively, the deacon himself kisses the book and inaudibly
says the same words."
The Book of the Gospels is usually kept open on the text that has been
read while the deacon brings it to the bishop, who customarily kisses it
at the passage's opening words.
The 2001 General Instruction of the Roman Missal (No. 176) also provides
that on solemn occasions the bishop may also impart a blessing with the
book after having kissed it. This custom was probably introduced on the
initiative of Pope John Paul II, who frequently imparted this blessing.