Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Epistle and Gospel at Solemn Mass

In a previous post, "EF" Mass in 1964, we saw that the orientation and ceremonies of the traditional rites were already in a state of flux. Marko asked what traditional practice is supposed to be with regards to transferring the altar missal prior to the Gospel. The Rad Trad thinks this is a good opportunity to discuss the reading of the Epistle and Gospel at solemn Mass in the pre-Conciliar rites more generally.
The 1962 praxis for the Epistle, from the FSSP in Scotland
In the 1962 practice the celebrant and deacon, after the singing of the first—and usually only—collect, sit down and listen to the subdeacon chant the Epistle or lesson of the day. After he finishes the celebrant and deacon return to the missal, the celebrant blesses the subdeacon, reads the gradual, alleluia, and/or tract, and then sits again. At some point, normally at the beginning, of the alleluia the sacred ministers rise and return to the altar the "long" way (genuflecting before the altar rather than just walking up the side). The subdeacon moves the missal from the Epistle side to the "offertory" position (where the missal is from the Offertory through Communion) and the deacon receives the book of the Gospels from the M.C., places it on the altar, and assists the thurifer with the incense boat as the celebrant imposes, then blesses, incense. The deacon kneels, prays the Munda cor meum, rises, receives the celebrant's blessing, and joins the Gospel procession. We saw a variation in the 1964 Mass celebrated in the video earlier, in which the missal is transferred after the celebrant reads the gradual, alleluia, and/or tract and then everyone sits.

Fr. Wach reads the Gospel privately on Mandy Thursday.
Note that the Mass is during the day time. Source:
This stream of ceremony is actually a departure from the older, medieval way of doing the Fore-Mass, in which the celebrant reads all of the texts. Mozarabic rite of Toledo aside, the celebrant's reading of the Epistle and Gospel was very standard in the Latin Church by the time the Council of Trent convened. In the Roman rite as it has existed since the issuing of the 1570 Missal by St. Pius V the celebrant remains at the altar after the collects and, with the deacon by his side, reads the Epistle quietly as the subdeacon sings the text aloud. At the end of the celebrant's reading the deacon responds Deo gratias. The subdeacon then receives the celebrant's blessing. The sacred ministers return to the Introit position and the celebrant reads the gradual, alleluia and/or tract. Depending on the length of these texts the ministers may sit before taking the next step. If there is a sequence they will always sit and rise as some given verse (ex. at Requiem Masses the ministers rise at Qui Mariam absolvisti). The celebrant prays the Munda cor meum and the Jube, Domine benedicere at the center of the altar with the deacon to his right. The subdeacon moves the missal to the Gospel position, as at a low Mass or a sung Mass, and then the celebrant quietly reads the text with the subdeacon next to him. During all this the deacon is given the book of the Gospels by the M.C. and places said book on the altar. At the end of the celebrant's reading the subdeacon says Laus tibi, Christe and the celebrant imposes and blesses incense as normal. The subdeacon may move the missal to the offertory/Canon position or the deacon may do it himself during the Credo after bringing the burse to the altar. The deacon prays the Munda cor meum and the priest blesses him. Everything follows as normal.

Reading the gradual in the Dominican rite
One may wonder why this was once done. John XXIII eliminated the practice in 1960, a practice many saw as a useless repetition. "Doubling," the reading of texts by the celebrant that were sung by other ministers or the choir, was the bugaboo of many reformers. Yet doubling had its reasons. The celebrant is the one who celebrates the Mass and, although the deacon is the one charged with reading the Gospel, the celebrant, out of devotion, would read the Gospel himself. Ditto for the Epistle and other texts. It was a way for the celebrant to remain engaged with the liturgy even when he was not strictly doing his part. The Rad Trad once thought that the pre-1960 Roman practice was a low Mass intrusion because the celebrant does exactly the same things in the exact same places he would at low Mass. After some research into other rites the Rad Trad and gradations of Mass the Rad Trad has changed his mind about this opinion. In the various local rites of the Middle Ages, outside of Rome and similarly ancient rites like Milan, the wine and water were put into the chalice after the Epistle and during the gradual. These liturgies were also sung in large cathedrals and collegiate churches where the exact words of the subdeacon or deacon might be lost. Celebrants would therefor read the texts from the Epistle through the Gospel privately in order to be "up to date" on what was happening at Mass, after having performed other duties and perhaps having had difficulty paying attention to the exact words sung. In the Norman family of uses (which includes the Dominican and Sarum liturgies) the celebrant would read these texts at the sedilia. The celebrant might have read the Introit and Kyrie for the same reason, that he had been occupied with the prayers before the altar and the incensation when these prayer were initially sung by the choir. At a pontifical Mass, which is rooted in Papal Mass, the bishop reads these texts from the throne or faldstool. At Papal Mass there would be any number of interruptions which might require the celebrating Pope to read the texts he had missed; for instance, the Pope would say a certain prayer for himself in silence after the collect while the subdeacon had already gone on to the Epistle. The low Mass-like pre-1960 Roman practice may have been the result of, again, the fact that it is rooted in the 1474 curial Missal, which was used by bureaucratic officials in chapels rather than by diocesan clergy in cathedrals. The chapels of the Lateran Cathedral, St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican, and the Sistine chapel do not have a sedilia, so the sacred ministers remained at the altar and read the related texts there. The Rad Trad sees no reason why this practice had to get axed, other than that it conflicted with the uber-communitarian approach of the reformers. Otherwise there is nothing harmful in it.

source: FSSP Roma
There was even a seasonal variation to the Roman practice. During Lent and Advent, as well as on Ember Days, the deacon and subdeacon wore vestments called "folded" chasubles, a very old custom descended directly from ancient times. When performing one's role the minister would remove his folded chasuble. In the above image the subdeacon has removed his to sing the Epistle (you can see it on his stool, along with the celebrant and deacon's birettas). After the Epistle the subdeacon resumes his folded chasuble for the gradual. While the celebrant reads the Gospel the deacon removes his folded chasuble and re-arranges it into a large stole called a "broad" stole and then gets the book of the Gospels as normal. He keeps the chasuble this way until the ablutions, at which point he returns it to its normal position. An excellent example of how this practice looked can be seen below, in a Mass from the first Sunday of Lent, 2008. The Mass was celebrated by Msgr. Angelo Amodeo (RIP), a liturgically-minded canon of the Milanese cathedral ordained by Archbishop Montini. Along with the "doubling" of the Epistle and Gospel, the folded chasuble, dating to a time before St. Gregory the Great, was axed in 1960.


  1. On a personal note, is it just me, or does the clergy sitting during the singing of the Ordinary of the Mass irk anyone else?

  2. Though not directly related, what message does it send when you allow the laity to read the Epistle and other readings besides the Gospel?
    Was the authorization of the laity to read these texts based on the idea that the Liturgy of the Word is basically a synagogue servive, or was it one of those protestant influenced innovations?

    1. Officially neither, but it was probably protestant influenced. The official reason, given without any real historical citation, was that laymen could do the readings in the "early Church" and that the reservation of lessons to persons in Holy Orders was a clerical corruption. Hence the practice was passed off to people as a restoration. Before, male choir members or altar boys (properly vested in cassock and surplice) could sing the Epistle at a Missa Cantata or the lessons on days which prescribed them or the readings at Mattins. It was not as "clerical" as the reformers wanted people to believe, but the readers still had to vest as if they were performing a liturgical action.

      Initially they authorized "lectors" and "commentators"—the latter would say things like "Let us stand and recite the introit together" or "Now the offertory will begin" or "Let us line up for communion and recite the communion antiphon." These roles were merged by the time the Pauline Ordo became official.

      What message does it send? That we are talking to each other and that the person currently talking, every Sunday, is more special and like by Fr. Whoever than the rest of us. That's the message is sends to me. Having a vested reader speaking from a liturgical lecturn rather than from a podium made the focus on the reading rather than the reader.

  3. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the folded chasuble/broad stole custom was axed in 1955 (Bugnini 1.0 as it were) and not 1960.

    1. As with most of the liturgical reform it was done it stages. In the 1951 and 1952 versions of Holy Saturday they lived! But the 1955 reform of Holy Week eliminated them completely from that week. However they remained for Ember Days, Advent, and the rest of Lent until 1960.