Non-celebrating Priests Reading the Gospel

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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Q: I know that a priest concelebrant may read the Gospel at Mass in the absence of a deacon. In this case, he need not seek the blessing of the principal celebrant prior to reading the Gospel, unless the celebrant is a bishop. My question is: May a priest read the Gospel at Mass if he is preaching, but not concelebrating at that Mass? I ask because it is a common practice in my diocese for parishes to have one priest preach at all the Masses on a given Sunday, including some at which he neither presides nor concelebrates. If it is permitted for a non-concelebrating priest to read the Gospel before he preaches at Mass, should he seek the blessing of the principal celebrant prior to reading the Gospel? — K.D., Toronto

A: There are few norms which address this precise question. We can glean some pertinent indications from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). First, regarding who reads the Gospel:

“No. 59: By tradition, the function of proclaiming the readings is ministerial, not presidential. The readings, therefore, should be proclaimed by a lector, and the Gospel by a deacon or, in his absence, a priest other than the celebrant. If, however, a deacon or another priest is not present, the priest celebrant himself should read the Gospel. Further, if another suitable lector is also not present, then the priest celebrant should also proclaim the other readings.

“After each reading, whoever reads gives the acclamation, to which the gathered people reply, honoring the word of God that they have received in faith and with grateful hearts.”

This, of course, refers to the Latin tradition. In some Eastern Churches, reading the Gospel is actually reserved to the principal celebrant as representative of the voice of Christ.

With respect to the homily GIRM, No. 66, says:

“The Homily should ordinarily be given by the priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to the deacon, but never to a lay person. In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate.”

No. 59 above does not state that the priest “other than the celebrant” who reads the Gospel is also a concelebrant, but it would be presumed that this would ordinarily be the case. Reading the Gospel is a ministry within the celebration, and logically the person who carries out this ministry should be an integral member of the assembly, take part in the entire celebration, and receive Communion as completion of his full participation.

A priest who is to preach at several Masses, for example, on occasion of a mission appeal, would not usually be able to celebrate or concelebrate at all of them. Nor can he fully participate in each one as a member of the assembly, since the norms that preclude more than two communions a day also apply to a non-celebrating priest.

For this reason, in order to respect the integrity of liturgical participation, I am of the opinion that the preacher should not read the Gospel.

Likewise, when “in particular cases and for a just cause,” a minister other than the celebrant gives the homily at every Mass, it is likely that he is not present for the entirety of each celebration. Once more, he is not fully a member of that particular assembly and should not read the Gospel.

In the above cases the preacher should approach the ambo after the proclamation of the Gospel. He would normally be vested in alb and stole or cassock surplice and stole.

It is also questionable that this should be a “common practice.” It is certainly permissible on occasions, but to do so on a regular basis would not be in conformity with the spirit of the liturgy.

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Readers may send questions to Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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Fr. Edward McNamara

Padre Edward McNamara, L.C., è professore di Teologia e direttore spirituale

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