Explanation of the Mass - Liturgy of the Word (part 4)

Through a series of informational articles, we will try to explain terms, prayers, and actions that happen at Mass and why they happen.  You will learn about the prayers the priest prays silently during Mass, as well as the people’s parts.  References to GIRM in italics refer to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the book from which rites related to the Mass are codified.  We hope this information will help to make your participation in Mass more meaningful and understandable.


GIRM 60. The reading of the Gospel constitutes the high point of the Liturgy of the Word.  The Liturgy itself teaches the great reverence that is to be shown to this reading by setting it off from the other readings with special marks of honor, by the fact of which minister is appointed to proclaim it and by the blessing or prayer with which he prepares himself; and also by the fact that through their acclamations the faithful acknowledge and confess that Christ is present and is speaking to them and stand as they listen to the reading; and by the mere fact of the marks of reverence that are given to the Book of the Gospels.

The word “Gospel” comes from the Old English for “Good News.”  What we are about to hear is Jesus speaking to us. 

The Church developed a 3-year cycle in 1970 after Vatican II for proclamation of the Gospels:

                * Year A uses the Gospel of Matthew

                * Year B uses the Gospel of Mark

                * Year C uses the Gospel of Luke

                * Easter season uses the Gospel of John

The first reading and the Gospel are always linked in theme except during the Easter season when all 3 are linked in theme.

The priest stands and bows toward the altar while praying quietly, “Cleanse my heart and my lips, almighty God, that I may worthily proclaim your holy Gospel.”  At the same time, the congregation stands because Jesus is present when the Word is proclaimed – we honor Him by standing.

Then priest takes the Book of Gospels containing the words of Jesus, which was placed on the altar in the opening procession, moves to the ambo, opens to the Gospel reading for that Mass, and says, “The Lord be with you.”  R./ And with your spirit.  Our response should remind us that it is no longer the priest or deacon speaking, but Jesus himself. 

He traces the Sign of the Cross on the book, on his forehead, lips, and heart while saying, “A reading from the holy Gospel according to N.”

The people also trace the Sign of the Cross on their foreheads, lips, and heart while silently praying, “May the Words of the Gospel be in my mind, on my lips, and in my heart.”  Originally this gesture belonged only to the deacon or priest proclaiming the Gospel, and only if the Mass was celebrated by the bishop.  Over time, priests and deacons began to use this gesture at all of the Masses they celebrated, and the laity adopted the same gesture.  Even though this gesture has been used for centuries, there were no regulations requiring this gesture at Mass until the 1980s!  When you make this gesture and silently pray the words above, you are asking God to bless your mind, that you may ponder his Word; your lips, that you may speak His praise; and your heart, that you may love the Word of God!

After proclaiming the Gospel, the priest kisses the Book of Gospels – again showing reverence and he says silently, “May the Words of the Gospel wipe away our sins.”