This popped up today over at OSV’s The Catholic Answer:
Q. If a deacon is assisting at Mass, should he be the one to read the Gospel, or is it merely a preference of the celebrant?
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) observes: “The sacred Order of the diaconate has been held in high honor in the Church, even from the time of the Apostles. At Mass the deacon has his own part in proclaiming the Gospel” (No. 94).
As the text continues, it describes the deacon’s responsibilities in greater detail, noting, “When he is present at the Eucharistic, a deacon should exercise his ministry.… The deacon … assists the priest and walks at his side … proclaims the Gospel and, at the direction of the Priest Celebrant, give the homily” (No. 171).
Although the GIRM seems quite clear, some argue “should” does not mean “must,” and therefore deacons need not always proclaim the Gospel. Moreover, as a deacon’s duties are those of service, the celebrant should have the right to govern his associates.
We must approach this matter carefully and charitably. Liturgy challenges us to witness, in fact, the unity we profess in our words. We are nowhere more visibly the Body of Christ than when we gather to share (and be transformed into) the One Bread and One Cup. The liturgy, thus, is the last place to argue over who is “in charge.”
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.
This seems to indicate that the celebrant proclaims the Gospel only if there’s no deacon or concelebrant present.
Periodically, a priest will say, “I’m doing the homily, so I’ll do the Gospel.” As the above graph indicates, that’s not the way it’s supposed to work—unless, perhaps, there’s some serious issue that prevents the deacon from being able to effectively proclaim the Gospel. Different circumstances require different solutions. But as a rule of thumb, the celebrant doesn’t proclaim the Gospel. If a deacon is in the sanctuary, he does it.
It may have happened at some time, but I’m not aware of a pope or bishop proclaiming the Gospel in any circumstance where there was a deacon by his side able to do it.
(Although, I’m not sure how Pope Francis handles this during his daily Mass, when he may have many other priests present…)
It’s also worth mentioning that the deacon is ordained with these explicit words: “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become…”
This is part of the deacon’s mission and mandate.