Q: If we are celebrating Vigils from the Liturgy of the Hours, and if a priest or deacon is present, must the gospel be proclaimed by that priest or deacon?
- The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours says nothing about a proper minister for the proclamation of the gospel at Vigils. #73 says that “the gospel should be read” – but does not say by whom. Because the instruction encourages lay groups and families to recite the office (27), it cannot restrict the proclamation of the gospel to an ordained person.
- The instruction says that a priest or deacon should normally preside at every celebration with a congregation (254). However, in many male religious communities, it is “normal” to have other presiders when priests and deacons are present, and this is not contrary to 254.
- When a priest or deacon presides (256), he does so at the chair, leads the introductory verse, the Lord’s Prayer, concluding Prayer, greeting, blessing and dismissal. See also 54 and 197. (In religious communities, I don’t believe that a presiding priest or deacon needs to do so from the chair. The leadership usually rotates in a different manner.)
- The proclamation of the gospel at Vigils, therefore, is not listed among the responsibilities of the presider, even when he is a priest or deacon. It passes to someone else.
- Even though a priest or deacon normally proclaims the gospel at mass, this is not the case at vigils. The same can be said of the prayer called “absolution” at night prayer. When it happens at mass, it belongs to the priest, but in the hours, it may be said by whoever is the presider.
- It should also be recalled that the Benedictus and Magnificat at Morning and Evening Prayer are pure passages from the gospel. They are said or sung by all, not only by an ordained minister.
- The introduction and conclusion of the gospel at Vigils takes place in a different way than at mass. Whereas all stand for the gospel (264), the making of the sign of the cross at the beginning is not with the thumb on forehead, lips and breast, but in the manner of the sign of the cross that begins the mass, which of course is also done at the beginning of the Benedictus and the Magnificat (266b). There is no indication that the one reading the gospel greets the people at the beginning (“The Lord be with you”) nor introduces the acclamation at the end (“The gospel of the Lord.”) These points indicate that the proclamation of the gospel is handled differently at Vigils than it is at mass.
- Finally, the Book of Blessings offers countless examples of a reader reading a passage from the gospels. Even when a priest presides, the reading of the gospel may be entrusted to any other reader.
Consequently, I conclude that the proclamation of the gospel at Vigils need not be assigned to a priest or a deacon. It is more important that one who is not presiding reads it, and anyone in the community may do so.