May the Lay Presider at a Communion Service Read the Gospel?

Mary Ann Wiesinger

Information Specialist

Catholics United for the Faith

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Dear Catholic Exchange:

Having just become a presider for Communion Services on the day when our priest is not available, is it incorrect for me to read the gospel or to give a short reflection on the readings?

Ms. Bregel

Dear Ms. Bregel,

Peace in Christ!

You asked for an overview on the Church’s norms regarding reading the Gospels and giving a short reflection at Communion Services. This letter will serve as a supplement to our Faith Fact on the subject.

Liturgy of the Word

Concerning the Gospel at a Communion service when no priest or deacon is present, we turn to the “Rite of Distributing Holy Communion Outside Mass,” which is contained in a larger document by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship called Eucharistiae Sacramentum (Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass, 1973; as cited in The Rites of The Catholic Church, Vol. 1 (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press), 1990, pp. 649-658). Eucharistiae Sacramentum is hereinafter referred to as ES.

Under a section entitled “Celebration of the Word of God,” the document provides, “The Liturgy of the Word now takes place as at Mass” (ES, no. 29). There are no other provisions, prohibitions or changes of any kind. Thus, with no specified changes, the customary practices and norms are followed. The same introductions would be said (e.g., “The Gospel of the Lord,” etc.) and postures remain the same, meaning the faithful stand for the altar. This would also allow for a lay person to make the triple sign of the cross before reading the Gospel, as a priest does at Mass. If no ordained minister is present, a lay person would not only read the Gospel but could provide a reflection. Inasmuch as this is not a Mass, in which the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharistic Sacrifice are joined in the same liturgy, there is no problem with a lay person reading the Gospel.

Eucharistiae Sacramentum also simply provides that the readings may be taken “either from the Mass of the day or from the votive Masses of the Holy Eucharist or the Precious Blood, the readings from which are found in the Lectionary” (official book of Mass Readings (ES, no. 29).

The Presider’s Chair

A lay person may not sit in what is called the presidential chair. The Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest (DSCAP), no. 40, states: “He or she (the lay presider) does not use the presidential chair, but another chair prepared outside the sanctuary.” The DSCAP makes reference in a footnote to the General Instruction to the Liturgy of the Hours (GILH), no. 258, which states, “In the absence of a priest or deacon, the one who presides at the office is only one among equals and does not enter the sanctuary or greet or bless the people.” In other words, when lay persons preside over any liturgical celebration in the absence of a priest or deacon, they do not enter the sanctuary until the communion rite, effectively ruling out sitting in the presidential chair. The altar is not used until the “rite of communion, when the consecrated bread is placed on it before communion is given.” This is because “the altar is the table of sacrifice and of the paschal banquet” (DSCAP, no. 40).

United in the Faith,

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