The Book of the Gospels

The Gospels are, for us Catholics and for all Christians, the most important of the books in Sacred Scripture. These four books contain, in very different styles and chronologies, the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

We have a good bit of history about this book, also called an Evangeliary. European museums have in their collections manuscripts of the Gospel books, many beautifully illustrated or illuminated. The earliest extant copies date to the fifth Christian century.

Gospel books have usually contained the Gospel readings for Sundays, solemnities, and other greater liturgical festivals.

These books are not required for your parish celebrations. They are, however, highly recommended, and some of the reasons for this will become obvious as you read the rest of this article.

If your parish has this important liturgical book and uses it during celebrations, you will probably see it in the procession at the beginning of Sunday Mass. The deacon or, in his absence, a reader, may process with the Gospel Book to the sanctuary. Only the Book of the Gospels is carried in the procession, not the Lectionary, nor any other book, such as the Roman Missal. After bowing to the altar, the book is placed flat on the altar by the one who carried it in procession.

Stands of wood or Lucite are not foreseen. One way we know this is that the altar prepared for Mass is to be readied relatively simply by a white covering or altar cloth, with candles on or near the altar arranged so that the sacred action is not obstructed for the assembly. A crucifix may also be placed on the altar, providing that there is not already one in the sanctuary and that it, likewise, does not obstruct the view of the sacred action by the assembly.

The book remains flat on the altar while the first reading, the responsorial psalm, and the second reading are proclaimed. During the chanting of the Gospel acclamation, the deacon or, in his absence, the priest celebrant goes to the altar, raises the Gospel Book slightly and processes with it to the ambo or lectern.

The procession may be simply walking to the ambo with the book slightly raised or accompanied by servers with lighted candles and another server with the incense. The book is placed on the ambo, the greeting is proclaimed, and if incense is to be used, the Gospel Book is incensed. Again, only the Book of the Gospels is incensed, not the Lectionary.

When the Gospel proclamation is finished, the book may be left on the ambo or returned to the sacristy by a server. The book is not raised and shown to the assembly at the conclusion of the proclamation.

You won't be surprised that there is a notable exception to this.

If a bishop is present, the open Book of the Gospels is brought to him. He then reverences the book with a kiss and, if he chooses, may take the book and bless the assembly with it. Once the blessing is finished, a server takes the book from the bishop and removes it to the sacristy. Again, it is only the Book of the Gospels that should bless the assembly and receive this reverence.

Depending on the publisher of the Book of the Gospels, there may be a single volume or three separate volumes, one for each of the three cycles of Sundays A, B, C.

The book's contents reflect that it is reserved for Sundays and other more solemn feasts. In it, we find the Gospel readings arranged by the liturgical year, starting with Advent and the Christmas season, then Lent and the Easter Season, followed by the 33 weeks of ordinary Sundays. Gospels for the solemnities and feasts of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the solemnities of saints in the General Roman Calendar, e.g. Peter and Paul, John the Baptist and Joseph. An interesting inclusion is the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica (the pope's cathedral in Rome). The anniversary of the Dedication of a Church is actually a feast of the Lord, so when this Nov. 9 feast day occurs on a Sunday, it takes the place of that Sunday in Ordinary Time.

The Books of the Gospels and the Lectionary are presently being revised by the bishops of the United States.

The Book of the Gospels is important in solemn liturgical celebrations. From it, the Lord Jesus still speaks to us his word and his promise of salvation. The Book of the Gospels contains, in printed text, the very core of the Paschal Mystery -- Jesus Christ.