Who Goes First in a Procession

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Who Goes First in a Procession

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 procession.

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 used;
"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 anything."

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 processions. ZE05053122

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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 directive.

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 needs.

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. ZE05061423

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