Throughout the United States it is common in Novus Ordo liturgies to proclaim the Gospel for Palm Sunday and Good Friday with contributions from the priest, a second reader who is the narrator, a third reader who voices other characters in the Gospel, and the congregation who says the parts of the crowd. Growing up with this format may lead one to conclude this practice is appropriate because the readings are long and it helps keep the congregation engaged or fosters “active” participation in the Mass. Though these are well-intentioned reasons, this method of proclaiming the Gospel appears in discontinuity with the liturgical tradition and the current norms.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal no. 59 for the third typical edition of the Roman Missal (2002) states that the Gospel is proclaimed “by the Deacon or, in his absence, by another Priest. If, however, a Deacon or another Priest is not present, the Priest Celebrant himself should read the Gospel.” The Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW) in 2004, reiterated and clarified this norm.
Within the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, the reading of the Gospel, which is ‘the high point of the Liturgy of the Word’, is reserved by the Church’s tradition to an ordained minister. Thus it is not permitted for a layperson, even a religious, to proclaim the Gospel reading in the celebration of Holy Mass, nor in other cases in which the norms do not explicitly permit it. (Redemptionis Sacramentum no. 63)
Thus, the norms for the celebration of this Mass require the Gospel to be proclaimed by an ordained minister unless there is an explicit permission.
It is often the practice today that lay readers proclaim the Gospel with an ordained minister, usually a priest, during Palm Sunday and Good Friday liturgies. The directive permitting lay readers to perform the ministry of proclaiming the Gospel in these liturgies is found in the circular letter Paschalis Solemnitatis (PS) from the CDW in 1988. For the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday, the letter states,
The passion narrative occupies a special place. It should be sung or read in the traditional way, that is, by three persons who take the part of Christ, the narrator, and the people. The passion is proclaimed by deacons or priests, or by lay readers. In the latter case, the part of the Christ should be reserved to the priest. (no. 33)
For the Good Friday liturgy, the letter says the Gospel is proclaimed in the same way as Palm Sunday (no. 66). The 2002 Roman Missal has a rubric for Palm Sunday similar to the directive in Paschalis Solemnitatis, “The narrative of the Lord’s passion is read…by a Deacon or, if there is no Deacon, by a priest. It may also be read by lay readers, with the part of Christ, if possible, reserved to a priest.” (no. 21) The Missal also states the Gospel is proclaimed for Good Friday like Palm Sunday (no. 9). PS and the Roman Missal agree that the proclamation of the Gospel for these liturgies may be divided into parts and PS specifies three parts. Both the Roman Missal and PS acknowledge that these parts may be read by ordained ministers or a combination of laypersons and ordained clergy.
What is not permitted by PS and the Roman Missal is the addition of the congregation as a fourth part or as the third part of the Passion narrative. The norms guiding the reading of the Passion do have the practical benefit of making the proclamation more manageable and avoids giving the impression that this is a play performance or drama. In conclusion, the laity should not recite the part of the crowd during the Gospel proclamation in keeping with the liturgical norms and heritage of the Modern Roman Rite.1
- More information on this topic can be found in Edward McNamara, “Deviations in Holy Week,” Zenit March 20, 2012, http://www.ewtn.com/library/liturgy/zlitur400.htm, and “Gospel Readings in Lent: Who Reads What—and When?” Adoremus 14, no. 1, Mar 2008 https://adoremus.org/2008/03/15/Gospel-Readings-in-Lent-Who-Reads-What-and-When. ↩