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Gospel in the Liturgy

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From the very earliest times the public reading of parts of the Bible was an important element in the Liturgy inherited from the service of the Synagogue. The first part of that service, before the bread and wine were brought up to be offered and consecrated, was the Liturgy of the catechumens. This consisted of prayers, litanies, hymns, and especially readings from Holy Scripture. The object of the readings was obviously to instruct the people. Books were rare and few could read. What the Christian of the first centuries knew of the Bible, of Old Testament history, St. Paul's theology, and Our Lord's life he had learned from hearing the lessons in church, and from the homilies that followed to explain them. In the first period the portions read were — like the rite — not yet stereotyped. St. Justin Martyr (died c. 167) in describing the rite he knew (apparently at Rome) begins by saying that: "On the day of the sun, as it is called, all the inhabitants of town and country come together in the same place, and the commentaries of the Apostles [anamnemoneumata ton apostolon — gospels], or writings of the Prophets are read as long as time will allow. Then, when the reader has stopped, he who presides admonishes and exhorts all to imitate such glorious examples" (I Apol., 67). At this time, then, the text was read continuously from a Bible, till the president (the bishop who was celebrating) told the reader to stop. These readings varied in number. A common practice was to read first from the Old Testament (Prophetia), then from an Epistle (Apostolus) and lastly from a Gospel (Evangelium). In any case the Gospel was read last, as the fulfilment of all the rest. Origen calls it the crown of all the holy writings (In Johannem, i, 4, præf., P.G., XIV, 26). "We hear the Gospel as if God were present", says St. Augustine ("In Johannem", tract. xxx, 1, P.L. XXXV, 1632). It seems that in some places (in the West especially) for a time catechumens were not allowed to stay for the Gospel, which was considered part of the disciplina arcani. At the Synod of Orange, in 441, and at Valencia, in 524, they wanted to change this rule. On the other hand, in all Eastern Liturgies (e.g. that of the Apostolic Constitutions; Brightman, "Eastern Liturgies", Oxford, 1896, p. 5) the catechumens are dismissed after the Gospel.

The public reading of certain Gospels in churches was the most important factor in deciding which were to be considered canonical. The four that were received and read in the Liturgy everywhere were for that very reason admitted to the Canon of Scripture. We have evidences of this liturgical reading of the Gospel from every part of Christendom in the first centuries. For Syria, the Apostolic Constitutions tell us that when a bishop was ordained he blessed the people "after the reading of the law and prophets and our Epistles and Acts and Gospels" (VIII, 5), and the manner of reading the Gospel is described in II, 57 (Cabrol and Leclercq, "Monumenta eccl. liturgica", Paris, 1900, I, p. 225); the "Peregrinatio Silviæ" (Etheriæ) describes the reading of the Gospel at Jerusalem (Duchesne: "Origines", 493). The homilies of St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom explain the Gospel as read at Cæsarea, Antioch, Constantinople. In Egypt, St. Cyril of Alexandria writes to the Emperor Theodosius II about the liturgical use of the Gospels (P.G., LXXVI, 471). In Africa, Tertullian mentions the same thing (adv. Marc., IV, 1) and tells us that the Roman Church "reads the Law and the Prophets together with the Gospels and Apostolic letters" (de præscr., VI, 36). St. Cyprian ordained a certain confessor named Aurelian that he might "read the Gospel that forms martyrs" (Ep. xxxiii, P.L., IV, 328). In every rite then, from the beginning, as now, the reading of the Gospel formed the chief feature, the cardinal point of the liturgy of the catechumens. It was not only read in the Liturgy. The "Peregrinatio Silviæ" (loc. cit.) alludes to the Gospel read at cock-crow. So in the Byzantine Rite it still forms part of the Office of Orthros (Lauds). At Rome the Gospel of the Liturgy was read first, with a homily, at Matins, of which use we have now only a fragment. But the monastic Office still contains the whole Gospel read after the Te Deum.

Gradually the portions to be read in the Liturgy became fixed. The steps in the development of the texts used are: first in the book of the Gospels (or complete Bible) marginal signs are added to show how much is to be read each time. Then indexes are drawn up to show which passages are appointed for each day. These indexes (generally written at the beginning or end of the Bible) are called Synaxaria in Greek, Capitularia in Latin; they give the first and last words of each lesson (pericope). The complete Capitularium giving references for all the Lessons to be read each day is a Comes, Liber comitis, or comicus. Later they are composed with the whole text, so as to dispense with searching for it; they have thus become Evangeliaria. The next step is to arrange together all the Lessons for each day, Prophecy, Epistle, Gospel, and even readings from non-canonical books. Such a compilation is a Lectionarium. Then, finally, when complete Missals are drawn up (about the tenth to the thirteenth centuries) the Lessons are included in them.

Selection of gospels

What portions were read? In the first place there was a difference as to the text used. Till about the fifth century it seems that in Syria, at any rate, compilations of the four Gospels made into one narrative were used. The famous "Diatessaron" of Tatian is supposed to have been composed for this purpose (Martin in Revue des Quest. Hist., 1883, and Savi in Revue bibl., 1893). The Mozarabic and Gallican Rites may have imitated this custom for a time (Cabrol, "Etude sur la Peregrinatio Silviæ", Paris, 1895, 168-9). St. Augustine made an unsuccessful attempt to introduce it in Africa by inserting into one Gospel passages taken from the others (Sermo 232, P.L., XXXVIII, 1108). But the commoner use was to read the text of one of the Gospels as it stands (see Baudot, "Les Evangéliaires", quoted below, 18-21). On great feasts the appropriate passage was taken. Thus, at Jerusalem, on Good Friday, "Legitur iam ille locus de evangelio cata Johannem, ubi reddidit Spiritum" (Per. Silviæ, Duchesne, l. c., 492), on Easter Eve "denuo legitur ille locus evangelii resurrectionis" (ibid., 493), on Low Sunday they read the Gospel about St. Thomas "Non credo nisi videro" (494), and so on. The "Peregrinatio "gives us the Gospels thus read for a number of days throughout the year (Baudot, op. cit., 20). For the rest of the year it seems that originally the text was read straight through (probably with the omission of such special passages). At each Synaxis they began again where they had left off last time. Thus Gassian says that in his time the monks read the New Testament through (Coll. patr., X, 14). The homilies of certain Fathers (St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, etc.) show that the lessons followed each other in order (Bäumer, "Gesch. des Breviers", Freiburg, 1895, 271). In the Eastern Churches the principle obtained that the Four Gospels should be read right through in the course of each year (Scrivener in Smith, "Dict. of Christ. Antiquities", s.v. "Lectionary"). The Byzantine Church began reading St. Matthew immediately after Pentecost. St. Luke followed from September (when their new year begins), St. Mark began before Lent, and St. John was read during Eastertide. There were some exceptions, e.g. for certain feasts and anniversaries. A similar arrangement is still observed by them, as any copy of their Gospel-book will show (Euangelion, Venice, 1893). The Syrians have the same arrangement, the Copts a different order, but based on the same principle of continuous readings (Scrivener, "Introduction to the criticism of the N. Test.", London, 1894, I; Baudot, op. cit., 24-32). For the present arrangement of the Byzantine Church see Nilles, "Kalendarium manuale", Innsbruck, 2nd ed., 1897, pp. 444-52. It is well known that they name their Sundays after the Sunday Gospel, e.g., the fourth after Pentecost is "Sunday of the Centurion" because Matthew 8:5 sqq., is read then. This brings us to a much-disputed question: what principle underlies the order of the Gospels in the Roman missal? It is clearly not that of continuous readings. Father Beissel, S.J., has made an exhaustive study of this question ("Entstehung der Perikopen", see below), in which he compares all manner of Comites, Eastern and Western. Shortly, his conclusions are these: The root of the order is the selection of appropriate Gospels for the chief feasts and seasons of the year; for these, the account that seemed most complete was chosen, without regard to the particular Evangelist. The intervals were then filled up so as to complete the picture of Our Lord's life, but without chronological order. First, Easter was considered with Holy Week. The lessons for this time are obvious. Working backwards, in Lent the Gospel of Our Lord's fast in the desert was put at the beginning, the entry to Jerusalem and the anointing by Mary (John 12:1, "six days before the Pasch") at the end. This led to the resurrection of Lazarus (in the East, too, always at this place). Some chief incidents from the end of Christ's life filled up the rest. The Epiphany suggested three Gospels about the Wise Men, the Baptism, and the first miracle, which events it commemorates (cf. Antiph. ad Magn., in 2 vesp.) and then events of Christ's childhood. Christmas and its feasts had obvious Gospels; Advent, those of the Day of Judgment and the preparation for Our Lord's coming by St. John Baptist. Forward from Easter, Ascension Day and Pentecost demanded certain passages clearly. The time between was filled with Our Lord's last messages before He left us (taken from His words on Maundy Thursday in St. John). There remains the most difficult set of Gospels of all — those for the Sundays after Pentecost. They seem to be meant to complete what has not yet been told about His life. Nevertheless, their order is very hard to understand. It has been suggested that they are meant to correspond to the lessons of Matins. In some cases, at any rate, such a comparison is tempting. Thus, on the third Sunday, in the first Nocturne, we read about Saul seeking his father's asses (1 Samuel 9), in the Gospel (and therefore in the third Nocturne) about the man who loses one sheep, and the lost drachma (Luke 15); on the fourth Sunday, David fights Goliath "in nomine Domini exercituum" (1 Samuel 17), in the Gospel, St. Peter throws out his net "in verbo tuo" (Luke 5); on the fifth, David mourns his enemy Saul (2 Samuel 1), in the Gospel we are told to be reconciled to our enemies (Matthew 5). The eighth Sunday begins the Book of Wisdom (first Sunday in August), and in the Gospel the wise steward is commended (Luke 16). Perhaps the nearness of certain feasts had an influence, too. In some lists Luke 5, where our Lord says, "From henceforth thou shalt catch men", to St. Peter, came on the Sunday before his feast (29 June), and the story of St. Andrew and the multiplied bread (John 6) before 30 November. Durandus notices this ("Rationale", VI, 142, "De dom. 25a post Pent."; see also Beissel, op. cit., 195-6). Beissel is disposed to think that much of the arrangement is accidental, and that no satisfactory explanation of the order of Gospels after Pentecost has been found. In any case the order throughout the year is very old. A tradition says that St. Jerome arranged it by command of St. Damasus (Berno, "De officio missæ", i, P.L., CXLII, 1057; "Micrologus", xxxi, P.L., CLI, 999, 1003). Certainly the Lessons now sung in our churches are those that St. Gregory the Great's deacon chanted at Rome thirteen hundred years ago (Beissel, op. cit., 196).

Ceremony of singing the gospel

The Gospel has been for many centuries in East and West the privilege of the deacon. This was not always the case. At first a reader (anagnostes, lector) read all the lessons. We have seen a case of this in the story of St. Cyprian and Aurelian (see above). St. Jerome (died 420) speaks of the deacon as reader of the Gospel (Ep. cxlvii, n. 6), but the practice was not yet uniform in all churches. At Constantinople, on Easter day, the bishop did so (Sozomen, Church History VII.19); in Alexandria, it was an archdeacon (ibid., he says that: "in other places deacons read the Gospel; in many churches only priests"). The Apostolic Constitutions refer the Gospel to the deacon; and in 527 a council, at Vaison, says deacons "are worthy to read the words that Christ spoke in the Gospel" (Baudot, op. cit., 51). This custom became gradually universal, as is shown by the formulæ that accompany the tradition of the Gospel-book at the deacon's ordination (the eleventh century Visigothic "Liber ordinum" has the form: "Ecce evangelium Christi, accipe, ex quo annunties bonam gratiam fidei populo", Baudot, p. 52). An exception that lasted through the Middle Ages was that at Christmas the emperor, dressed in a rochet and stole, sang the midnight Gospel: "Exiit edictum a Cæsare Augusto" etc. (Mabillon, "Musæum italicum", I, 256 sq.). Another mark of respect was that everyone stood to hear the Gospel, bareheaded, in the attitude of a servant receiving his master's orders (Apost. Const., II, 57, and Pope Anastasius I, 399-401, in the "Lib. Pontif."). Sozomenos (Church History VII.19) is indignant that the Patriarch of Alexandria sate ("a new and insolent practice"). The Grand Masters of the Knights of St. John drew their swords while the Gospel was read. This custom seems still to be observed by some great noblemen in Poland. If any one has a stick in his hand he is to lay it down (Baudot, 116), but the bishop holds his crosier (see below). The Gospel was sung from the ambo (ambon), a pulpit generally halfway down the church, from which it could be best heard by every one (Cabrol, Dict. d'archéol. chrét. et de liturgie, Paris, 1907, s.v. "Ambon", I, 1330-47). Often there were two ambos: one for the other lessons, on the left (looking from the altar); the other, for the Gospel, on the right. From here the deacon faced south, as the "Ordo Rom. II" says (Mabillon, Musæum italic., II, 46), noting that the men generally gather there. Later, when the ambo had disappeared, the deacon turned to the north. Micrologus (De missa, ix) notices this and explains it as an imitation of the celebrant's position at the altar at low Mass — one of the ways in which that service has reacted on to high Mass. The Byzantine Church still commands the deacon to sing the Gospel from the ambo (e.g. Brightman, op. cit., 372), though with them, too, it has generally become only a theoretical place in the middle of the floor. The deacon first asked the blessing of the bishop (or celebrant) then went to the ambo with the book, in procession, accompanied by lights and incense. Germanus of Paris (died 576) mentions this (Ep. 1, P.L., LXXII, 91; cf. Durandus. "Ration.", IV, 24). See the ceremonies in the "Ordo Rom. I", 11, and "Ordo Rom. II", which are almost exactly ours. Meanwhile the Gradual was sung (see GRADUAL). The "Dominus vobiscum" at the beginning, the announcement of the Gospel ("Sequentia sancti Evangelii" etc.), and the answer, "Gloria tibi Domine", are also mentioned by the sixth-century Germanus (loc. cit.). At the end of the Gospel the people answered, "Amen", or "Deo Gratias", or "Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini" (Durandus, "Rationale", IV, 24; Beleth, "Rationale", XXXIX; St. Benedict's Rule, XI). Our present answer, "Laus tibi Christe", seems to be a later one (Gihr, "Messopfer", 444). The elaborate care taken to decorate the book of the Gospels throughout the Middle Ages was also a sign of respect for its contents; St. Jerome speaks of this (Ep. xxii, 32). In a collection of manuscripts the Evangeliaria nearly always stand out from the rest by their special sumptuousness. They are not uncommonly written in gold and silver letters on vellum stained purple — the extreme limit of medieval splendour. The bindings, too, are nearly always adorned with special care. It is on Gospel books that one generally sees ivory carvings, metal-work, jewellery, enamel, sometimes relics. (For descriptions see Baudot, op. cit., 58-69.) The same tradition continues in the East. Allowing for doubtful modern taste in Greece, Russia, Syria, etc., the Euangelion is still the handsomest book, often the handsomest object in a church. When it is not in use it generally displays the enamels of its cover on a desk outside the Iconostasis. To kiss the book was always from early times a sign of respect. This was done at one time not only by the celebrant and deacon, but by all the people present ("Ordo Rom. II", 8). Honorius III (1216-27) forbade this; but the book is still kissed by any high prelates who may be present (Cærim. epise., I, 30; Gihr, op. cit., 445). For this and similar ceremonies see Baudot (op. cit., 110-19). When the ambo disappeared in the West the sub-deacon held the book while the Gospel was sung by the deacon. He also carried it first to lay it on the altar (Amalarius of Metz: "De. Eccl. offic.", P.L., CV, 1112; Durandus, loc. cit.). The deacon made the sign of the cross first on the book and then on himself — taking a blessing from the book ("Ordo Rom. I", 11, "ut sigilletur"; Durandus, loc. cit., etc.; Beleth, XXXIX). The meaning of all these marks of reverence is that the Gospel-book, which contains Christ's words, was taken as a symbol of Christ himself. It was sometimes carried in the place of honour in various processions (Beissel, op. cit., 4); something of the same idea underlay the practice of putting it on a throne or altar in the middle of the synods (Baudot, 109-110. During provincial and general synods the Gospel is to be sung at each session. — Cær. Episc. I, xxxi, 16), and the superstitious abuses that afterwards developed, in which it was used for magic (ibid., 118; Catalani, "de codice S. Evangelii", III, see below). The Byzantine Church has developed the ceremony of carrying the Evangelion to the ambo into the elaborate rite of the "Little Entrance" (Fortescue, "Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom", London, 1908, 68-74), and all the other Eastern Churches have similar stately ceremonies at this point of the Liturgy (Brightman, op. cit., for each rite). Another special practice that may be noticed here is that at a papal high Mass the Gospel (and the Epistle too) is read in Latin and Greek. This is already noticed by the first Roman Ordo (40). At Constantinople the Patriarch, on Easter Day, reads the Gospel in Greek, and it is then read by other persons (oi agioi archiereis) in various languages ("Typikon" for that day, ed. Athens, 1908, pp. 368, 372, Nilles, "Kal. man.", II, 314-15). The same thing is done again at the Hesperinos. The little Synopsis (Synopsis iera) of Constantinople (1883) gives this Gospel of the Hesperinos (John 20:19-25) in Greek (with two poetic versions, hexameter and iambic), Slavonic, Bulgarian, Albanian, Latin, Italian, French, English, Arabic, Turkish, and Armenian (all in Greek characters, pp. 634-78). The same custom is observed in Russia (Prince Max of Saxony, "Prælectiones de liturgiis orientalibus", Freiburg im Br., 1908, I, 116-17), where the Gospel of the Liturgy (John 1) is read in Slavonic, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.

Present ceremony of the gospel

Except for the disappearance of the ambo, the rules of the Rubrics in the Missal (Rubr. gen., X, 6; Ritus cel., VI, 5) are still almost exactly those we have seen observed in the Roman Rite since the seventh or eighth centuries. After the Epistle the deacon puts the Gospel book in the middle of the altar (while the celebrant reads his Gospel from the Missal). Liturgical editors publish books containing the Epistles and Gospels, otherwise a second Missal is used (the subdeacon has already chanted the Epistle from the same book). The celebrant then puts incense into the thurible and blesses it as usual. The subdeacon goes down and waits below, before the middle of the altar. The deacon kneeling by the celebrant just behind him at his right says the "Munda cor meum". Then, rising and taking the book, he kneels with it before the celebrant (turning towards the north) and says "Jube domne benedicere". Jube with an infinitive is a common late Latin way of expressing a polite imperative (Ducange-Maigne d'Arnis, "Lexicon manuale", ed. Migne, Paris, 1890, s.v., col. 1235). Domnus is a medieval form instead of dominus, which got to be looked upon as a Divine title (so in Greek, kyr and kyris for kyrios). The celebrant blesses him with the form in the Missal (Dominus sit in corde tuo . . .) and the sign of the cross; he kisses the celebrant's hand laid on the Missal. The celebrant goes to the Epistle side, where he waits; he turns round towards the deacon when the Gospel begins. The deacon, holding the book lifted up with both hands, comes down to the subdeacon's side; they make the usual reverence to the altar, and the procession starts. The thurifer goes first with incense, then two acolytes, then the deacon and subdeacon side by side, the deacon on the right. We have seen the antiquity of lights and incense at the Gospel. All this time, of course, the Gradual is being sung. The procession arrives at the place that represents the old ambo. It is still to the right of the altar (north side), but now inside the sanctuary, so that, except in very large churches, there is hardly any way to go; often the old procession to the ambo (the Latin "little entrance") is represented only by an awkward turning round. Arrived at the place, the deacon and subdeacon face each other, the subdeacon receives the book and holds it up open before him. Originally the subdeacon (two are required by the "Ordo Rom. I", 11, one as thurifer) accompanied the deacon up into the ambo, helped him find his place in the book, and then stood back behind him by the steps. At Milan, where the ambo is still used, this is still done.

In the Roman Rite the subdeacon himself takes the place of the desk of the ambo. But the "Cærimoniale Episcoporum" still allows the use of "legilia vel ambones" if there be any in the church. In that case the subdeacon is to stand behind the desk or at the deacon's right and to turn over the pages if necessary (II, viii, 45). There is a difficulty about the way they stand. The "Ritus celebrandi" says that the deacon is to stand "contra altare versus populum" (VI, 5). This must mean looking down the church. On the other hand the "Cærim. Episcoporum" (II, viii, 44) says that the subdeacon stands "vertens renes non quidem altari, sed versus ipsam partem dexteram quæ pro aquilone figuratur". This means the way in which they always stand now; namely, the deacon looks north or slightly north-east (supposing the church to be properly orientated); the book is in the same direction as the Missal for the Gospel at low Mass. The acolytes stand on either side of the subdeacon, the thurifer at the deacon's right. The deacon, junctis manibus, sings "Dominus vobiscum" (answered by the choir as usual), then, making the sign of the cross with the right thumb on the book (the cross marked at these words in the Missal is put there to show the place) and signing himself on forehead, lips, and breast, he sings "Sequentia [or Initium] sancti Evangelii secundum N . . ." It appears that sequentia is a neuter plural (Gihr, op. cit., 438, n. 3). 'While the choir answers, "Gloria tibi Domine", he incenses the book three times, in the middle, to its right, and left, bowing before and after. He gives the thurible back and sings the text of the Gospel straight through. He bows at the Holy Name, if it occur, and sometimes (on the Epiphany, at the third Christmas Mass, etc.) genuflects (towards the book). The tones for the Gospel are given at the end of the new (Vatican) Missal. The normal one is a recitative on do falling to la four syllables before the end of each phrase, with the cadence si, la, si, si-do for questions, and a scandicus la, si (quilisma), do before the end. Two others, more ornamented, are now added ad libitum. The celebrant, standing at the Epistle side, looking towards the deacon, hears the Gospel and bows or genuflects with him, but towards the altar. When the Gospel is over the subdeacon brings him the book to kiss, he says: "Per evangelica dicta", and he is incensed by the deacon. The Mass then continues. We have noted that the only other persons now allowed to kiss the book are the ordinary, if he be present, and other prelates above him in rank (Cær. Episcop., I, xxx, 1, 3). A bishop celebrating in his own diocese reads his Gospel sitting on his throne, and hears it standing there, holding his crosier with both hands (Cær. Episcop., II, viii, 41, 46). In this case no one else is ever to kiss the book (ibid., I, xxix, 9).

In low Mass the ceremonies for the Gospel are, as usual, merely an abridgment and simplifying of those for high Mass. When the celebrant has finished reading the Gradual he says the "Munda cor meum", etc., in the middle of the altar (he says, "Jube Domine benedicere", because he is addressing God). Meanwhile the server brings the Missal to the north side (this is only an imitation of the deacon's place at high Mass). With the book turned slightly towards the people, the priest reads the Gospel with the same ceremonies (except, of course, for the incense) and kisses it at the end.

The last gospel

The Gospel read at the end of Mass is a late development. Originally (till about the twelfth century) the service ended with the words that still imply that, "Ite missa est". The prayer "Placeat tibi", the blessing, and the last Gospel are all private devotions that have been gradually absorbed by the liturgical service. The beginning of St. John's Gospel (I, 1-14) was much used as an object of special devotion throughout the Middle Ages. It was sometimes read at children's baptism or at extreme unction (Benedict XIV, "De SS. Missæ sacrif.", II, xxiv, 8). There are curious cases of its use for various superstitious practices, written on amulets and charms. It then began to be recited by priests as part of their prayers after Mass. A trace of this is still left in the "Cærimoniale Episcoporum", which directs that a bishop at the end of his Mass shall begin the last Gospel at the altar and continue it (by heart) as he goes away to take off the vestments. It will also be noted that it is still not printed in the Ordinary of the Mass, though of course the rubric about it is there, and it will be found in the third Christmas Mass. By the thirteenth century it was sometimes said at the altar. But Durandus still supposes the Mass to be finished by the "Ite missa est" (Rationale, IV, 57); he adds the "Placeat" and blessing as a sort of supplement, and then goes on at once to describe the psalms said after Mass ("deinde statim dicuntur hymni illi: Benedicite et Laudate", IV, 59). Nevertheless, the practice of saying it at the altar grew; eventually Pius V made this practice universal for the Roman Rite in his edition of the Missal (1570). The fact that all these three additions after the "Ite missa est" are to be said, even at high Mass, without any special ceremony, preserves the memory of their more or less accidental connexion with the liturgy. The normal last Gospel is John 1:1-14. It is read by the celebrant at the north side of the altar after the blessing. He reads from the altar-card with the usual introduction (Dominus vobiscum . . . Initium S. Evangelii, etc.), taking the sign of the cross from the altar. He genuflects at the words, "Et verbum caro factum est", and the server, at the end, answers "Deo gratias". At high Mass the deacon and subdeacon stand on either side, genuflect too, and answer. They do not read the Gospel; it is in no way to be sung by the deacon, like the essential Gospel of the Liturgy. Whenever an office is commemorated, whose Gospel is begun in the ninth lesson of Matins, that Gospel is substituted for John 1, at the end of Mass. In this case the Missal must be brought to the north side (at high Mass by the subdeacon). This applies to all Sundays, feriæe, and vigils that are commemorated. At the third Mass on Christmas day (since John 1:1-14 forms the Gospel of the Mass) that of the Epiphany is read at the end; at low Mass on Palm Sunday the Gospel of the blessing of palms is read. Of Eastern Rites the Armenians alone have copied this practice of the last Gospel from the Latins.


All the medieval commentators (Durandus, Berno of Constance, Micrologus, etc.) discuss the Gospel at Mass and give mystic explanations of its use. See especially DURANDUS, Rationale div. officiorum, IV, 24, De Evangelio; BEISSEL, Entstehungder Perikopen des römischen Messbuches (supplement to the Stimmen aus Maria-Laach, 98) (Freiburg im Br., 1907); BAUDOT, Les Evangéliaires, series Liturgie (Paris, 1908); BENEDICT XIV, De Sacrosancto Sacrificio Miss, ed. SCHNEIDER (Mainz, 1879), II, 7, pp. 118-25, II, 24, p. 297; GIHR, Das heilige Messopfer (6th ed., Freiburg im Br., 1897), 400-406, 433-446, 723-724 (tr. St. Louis, 1903); DE HERDT, Sacr liturgi praxis (ed. 9, Louvain, 1894), I, 292-96, 438-46.

About this page

APA citation. Fortescue, A. (1909). Gospel in the Liturgy. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Fortescue, Adrian. "Gospel in the Liturgy." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. September 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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