Honouring the Word - 22nd November 2015

Q. I attended Mass at three different parishes recently where the Book of the Gospels was placed open on a stand in front of the ambo after the Gospel reading. In one case, the top of the ambo was rotated so that the open book faced the assembly. Is this something that parishes should be encouraged to emulate?

A. The practice that you witnessed in called “Enthroning the Gospel”.

Paragraph 175 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says: “The deacon may carry the Book of the Gospels to the credence table or to another appropriate and dignified place.” Presumably, this “dignified place” could be a place to enthrone the Book of the Gospel. The fact that the credence table is mentioned suggests however that a solemn enthronement was not intended but simply that the book be treated with due respect after use.

The Book of the Gospels is treated with great honor during the Liturgy of the Word with rites and gestures analogous to those offered toward the altar and the Blessed Sacrament. By doing so the Church shows its belief that Christ is present and speaking in a special way during the liturgical proclamation of the sacred texts. However, as Pope Paul VI taught, while Christ's presence in the word is real, it ceases when the readings are concluded

The permanent setting up of a Book of the Gospels in the sanctuary or some other suitable place to encourage respect and devotion toward sacred Scripture is another matter.  In preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000 Pope John Paul II requested that every parish in Rome set up the Book of the Gospels for public veneration.

The 2010 document “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church” says:

“The Synod Fathers also proposed that churches give a place of honour to the sacred Scriptures, even outside of liturgical celebrations. It is good that the book which contains the word of God should enjoy a visible place of honour inside the Christian temple, without prejudice to the central place proper to the tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament.” (VD 68)

In the context of the liturgy, however, the focus is not on the book but rather on the living word of God “fulfilled in our hearing”. The Liturgy of the Word is both an aural and oral event. This understanding is expressed clearly in the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference guidelines for the construction of places of worship:

“It is not necessary to make provision for the enthronement of the sacred text on the front of the ambo, because, while a beautiful book is a significant sign, the real symbol is the voice of the minister who proclaims the text from faith to faith, and its reception by the faithful from heart to heart.”  (‘And When Churches are to be Built’ #319).

In the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis invites Catholics to bring the joy of the gospel to the world: “May the Church echo the word of God that resounds strong and clear as a message and a sign of pardon, strength, aid, and love.”

Elizabeth Harrington