Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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The Book of the Gospels
by Father Jan Larson
(From the Jan. 14, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)
Readings from the Scriptures are an integral part of every liturgical celebration. No liturgical rite of the Church begins without first hearing a proclamation of Godís word.
The collection of Scriptural readings used at the celebration of the Eucharist are found in two liturgical books: the Lectionary containing all the readings used at Mass, and the Book of the Gospels, containing only the words of Jesus. The Lectionary has been in use in our churches for at least a quarter of a century. Previous to that the readings and the prayers of the priest were all contained in just one book, called the Roman Missal. At the time of Vatican II the priestís prayers were published in a separate book called the Sacramentary, and the readings were put into the Lectionary. It was in 1984 that the first book containing only the gospel passages was published in the United States. Since then, many parishes use this book, especially on Sundays, and it appears that its use is becoming normative in every parish.
Some have argued that the Gospel readings should not be separated into two different books, for both contain Godís inspired word. Yet we realize that the words and deeds of Jesus are unique. He is the Word of God made flesh, and the Gospels shape the lives of his followers as no other words could. It is likely that for this reason Christians, centuries before the invention of printing, began to†collect the words and sayings of Jesus into separate books. Gospel books were often beautiful creations, some of them encrusted with gold and jewels as a sign that nothing could be more precious to the Christian community than Godís word brought to us through Jesus. Gospel books were used throughout the middle ages, but became increasingly rare from the middle of the 16th century to the 20th.
The restoration of the use of the Book of the Gospels today allows every worshiping community to bring an additional richness to the celebration of the liturgy. The deacon, or in his absence, a reader, carries the Book of the Gospels in the entrance procession (the Lectionary is never carried in procession at any liturgy). This is a symbol of Christ entering the assembly to join us in worshiping the Father. The book is placed on the altar, which is also a symbol of Christís presence in the assembly. In fact, in earlier centuries, the Gospel book was placed on a special chair at synod meetings and theological debates, as a symbol that Christ was the one who was present and presiding at such important gatherings. Today it is the same Christ who is present with us as we assemble to pray, and thus the Book of the Gospels, the symbol of his presence, is always handled carefully, may be accompanied with candles and incense before it is opened, and kissed before it is closed.
Since the Book of the Gospels is not taken in procession at the end of the liturgy, it has become customary in some communities to provide a place for the display of the Gospels in the sanctuary area, using either the front of the pulpit or ambo, or another kind of pedestal nearby.
(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)