Book of Gospels

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: In the Motu Proprio Aperuit illis of 30 September 2019 the Pope has written: “It is important, however, that in the Eucharistic celebration the sacred text be enthroned, in order to focus the attention of the assembly on the normative value of God’s word.” This applies to the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time. How do you interpret this, particularly when a parish does not have a Book of the Gospels?

The 1982 book “Documents on the Liturgy 1963-1979” has in the index, for the entry “Book of the Gospels”, “enthronement 1346”. This is from a document by the Consilium of 14 September 1965 “Masses for the Fourth Period of Vatican Council II, Introduction and Order of Celebration.” It has “To emphasize the dignity and great importance of the Book of the Gospels, its enthronement will take place at the beginning of Mass, in preparation for its use for the reading of the gospel during the eucharistic celebration. The enthronement procession takes place as part of the entrance procession,”.

In the praenotanda to the Book of the Gospels it has in n. 7: “Finally, the enshrinement of the Book of the Gospels whenever the Church gathers in a council or synod is a sign of the presence of Christ himself as teacher and guide.” This ends with footnote 15: “Caeremoniale Episcoporium, (edito typica, 1984), no. 1172.”

Ceremonial of Bishops n. 1172 has: “When there is no procession, the Mass begins in the manner usual for a stational Mass. After the gospel reading, the open Book of the Gospels is placed on a suitable stand in the center of the sanctuary (chancel).”

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal makes it clear that the lectionary is to be at the ambo before Mass begins, in n. 118. In n. 120 it has, in describing the entrance procession: “a reader, who may carry a Book of the Gospels (though not a Lectionary), slightly elevated;”

Does the Pope’s 2019 Motu Proprio reverse this? If a parish does not have a Book of the Gospels does it enthrone the Lectionary? Should a Lectionary’s enthronement, (placing it open, on a stand in the centre of the sanctuary), only happen after the Gospel is read from it? May the Lectionary be put on the altar? Are there additional instructions about it?

A: Thanks for your work on this question. I’ve seen nothing official to interpret this idea, but the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions has a suggestion here:

  • As Pope Francis has suggested, enthrone the Word in some prominent way. Perhaps the Book of Gospels could be displayed prominently in the sanctuary after the proclamation of the Gospel. Today, this display might include candles, flowers, or plants. Lectionaries or Bibles might also be on display in the narthex or gathering space. 

I believe that one key to interpreting the pope’s suggestion is his use of the words “sacred text” – which need not explicitly mean “liturgical book”. It could actually mean a bible. I like the idea of enthroning a bible, while using the liturgical books in the usual way.

Usually, I think that the person who carries the Book of the Gospels in the entrance procession is to lay it flat on the altar. But perhaps on this day it could be set on a stand. That would constitute enthroning a sacred text, and it seems to be consistent with the consilium’s idea in 1965.

Following CB 1172, you could also make a case for processing the Book of the Gospels to a distinctive stand in the sanctuary after the proclamation of the gospel.

One suggestion I’ve seen online that I do not espouse is having people bring bibles from home so that the priest may bless them. The Book of Blessings has no blessing of a bible. Even the USCCB’s Order for the Blessing on the Fifteenth Birthday never has the priest bless a bible. The bible is the Word of God. How could we possibly bless it?