Who does what: why the deacon proclaims the gospel

Last night, I attended the annual convocation for deacons in my diocese.  During dinner, one of the deacons — a classmate of mine, in fact — told me about a particular problem he was having with his pastor.

“If I’m not preaching,” he said, “he doesn’t want me to read the gospel.  He wants the person who is doing the homily to do the gospel.  What can I do about that?”

Well, as a priest in my parish likes to put it: just do the Roman Rite.  Life is so much simpler if you just do what you’re supposed to do, instead of what you’d prefer to do, which is almost never an improvement.

I’ve run into this problem once or twice before; a few years ago, the priest who was preaching the homily for a deacon at a funeral mass insisted on also reading the gospel.  The deacon supervising the liturgy informed him that a deacon really should do it, and the priest relented.

To clear up any confusion, it might be worth revisiting the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM):

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.

I don’t think it gets much clearer than that:  the celebrant is not supposed to proclaim the gospel, and only does it if no one else is available.  In fact, the deacon should do it by default.


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15 responses to “Who does what: why the deacon proclaims the gospel”

  1. Although we may not think this is important or that it is trivial, Deacon Greg makes a great point when he quotes a previous Priest’s comment “Just do the Roman Rite.” Why is this important? First, if you buy into the Church teaching that “We believe as we pray”, then the Liturgy can speak to our faith lives most profoundly when it is done correctly. I have see abuses from both sides of the divide (conservative and liberal) and it can be very frustrating for someone who wants to worship in the tradition they love. Some parishes are nothing more than liturgical minimalists, doing as little as possible and others go too far the other way including Pre-Vatican II rituals that are just out of place in the Novus Ordo. Our Mass is beautiful when done correctly and when each person does their proper part (watch the papal Masses, I think they are rather moving). The Deacon proclaims the Gospel and leads the prayers of the faithful because of who he is by his ordination and what he sacramentally represents. When the Mass is permitted to be the Mass, the Church shines most beautifully and the Gospel is proclaimed holistically and sacramentally so that the faithful may have a profound worship experience. As the GIRM reminds us, the Roman Rite is known for its noble simplicity.

  2. Depending on the deacon and the quality of his formation & education, it may just be that he might not be a good proclaimer of the gospel. In such cases, it might be the prudential and pastoral judgement of the presiding priest to do the gospel himself. I’ve been around enough deacons who were poorly formed and were nothing more than glorified altar servers or frustrated priests-wanna-bees. On the other hand I’ve also experienced some great deacons, like Deacon Greg, who really live up to the model of a deacon. So, if a deacon, regardless of ordination status, is going to do a poor job, it’s better, in my humble opinion, to have someone serve the Word with dignity than put up with lousy proclamation.

    If a deacon’s role is being taken away without just cause, it seems that the matter should be addressed through the Diaconate Office of the (Arch)Diocese.

  3. I would have been very tempted to ask if I should inform the lector that he/she wouldn’t be needed for the first reading either.

  4. I think St. Paul sums it up best in 1 Corinthians 12. To paraphrase….each part has its own function….its own role…and the body is not complete without each part fulfilling its function.
    This goes for the Deacon, configured to Christ the Servant, the priest configured to Christ the Head, the lector, the acolytes, the ushers.
    Each member of the Body of Christ has their function!

  5. I have to turn myself in, here, as a priest who sometimes asks a deacon if I may proclaim the gospel in his stead.

    There are several reasons why I sometimes make this request.

    There are three deacons assigned to my parish (there were four until a year ago) and each one serves once every weekend. As a result, I seldom have the opportunity to proclaim the gospel – which is something I love to do.

    As a preacher of 38 years I’ve come to believe that the proclamation of the gospel is indeed where the day’s preaching begins – there should be and is a real unity between the two. While I believe that unity is often more fully achieved and experienced when the one who proclaims the gospel is one who has spent some number of hours working with that text during the week, most of the time I do not ask to read the gospel.

    There are, as noted in comments above, situations (not referring to my own here) where the deacon who will proclaim the gospel has not looked it over before arriving in the sacristy before Mass. In my estimation, that would be insufficient preparation for carrying out that role which the liturgy assigns to the deacon.

    You’ll be pleased to know that this post and the comments above have given me serious pause on the matter. It will not be easy but I see that I need to change my ways.

  6. Because the proclamation of the Gospel is ministerial neither priest nor deacon who reads is to open his arms in saying:

    “The Lord be with you.”

    ***Hands remain folded.***

    This is the tradition of the Roman Rite in the Ritus Servandus of the extraordinary form.
    It remains the rubric in the ordinary form. (It can be found prescribed in the Roman Pontifical. The GIRM and Missal strangely do not prescribe ANY gesture.)

    Too often, in good faith, both deacons and priests open their arms as the priest does at the beginning and end of Mass.

  7. I am in the class of 2012 in my archdiocese and this is a problem at my parish during Lent and other select times. Our pastor will have whoever is reading the first 2 readings help him proclaim the gospel. One will stand at the ambo, one at the cantor’s podium. The pastor stands at his chair which is dead center behind the altar. Also has the people sit during this and includes musical refrains during the readings.

    In short, I see a problem there after ordination. Not only does he take the reading of the gospel away from the deacon (we have 1 already, but he doesn’t serve or even vest at all Masses he attends due to health I presume), but he illicitly has the laity read the gospel.

    Preferring to read certain Sundays is one thing. Doing the illicit is another.

  8. To @Fr Austin Fleming – I feel as if I have been harsh. I can understand your point. It is difficult and the fact that so many want to share the Word of God… well it is a gift.

  9. Fric — do you mean some other occasion than the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday?

    I’m not sure what reality you occupy, but out here in a sparsely-populated far-flung rural diocese, assembling 3 ordained men in one place on Palm Sunday or Good Friday is pretty much impossible.

  10. Fric,

    I’ll start praying for your pastor now — I can’t imagine what a pain in his ass you will be after ordination.

  11. I don’t know if it’s much clearer than what you cited, but there’s also this:

    “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are. “

  12. The main celebrant is assumed to be the normative preacher at a particular liturgy. The instructions desire to show the symbolism that the preacher is first a hearer of the word– thus the instruction envisions the deacon or in his absence other concelbrants to proclaim the Gospel and after which the main celebrant “breaks open the word”.

    The assumption in the instructions is that the role of proclaiming the Gospel is inherent to the deacon’s liturgical role (evidenced by the accompanying liturgical actions-folded hands at the invitation). So even when main celebrant allows anther to preach (deacon or other concelebrant) the proclamation of the Gospel properly belongs to the deacon.

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